What Does the Bible Say About Self-Love?
The self-love movement claims to provide many benefits. Does self-love really deliver on its promises? Does the Bible provide a better alternative?
The concept of self-love is gaining popularity in our society, with many singing its praises for its supposed ability to provide mankind with greater happiness, inner peace, increased resilience and more.
Many even claim that self-love is a critical factor in improving our ability to love and serve others.
As we watch our society become increasingly enamored with this concept, it’s worth examining self-love to learn what it is, what it is not and what results it yields over time.
But most importantly, what does the Bible teach about self-love? Is the concept of self-love found in the Bible?
What is self-love?
One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of self-love is “an appreciation of one’s own worth or virtue.” On the surface, this definition appears to be positive. However, it leaves out one very critical component: God.
When considering our personal worth and virtue, we must recognize that our worth is intrinsically tied to God, our Creator, who gave us life and created us in His image (Genesis 1:26).
Everything that makes us who we are—our skills, talents, knowledge, etc.—comes from Him. Without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).
Consider the apostle Paul, one of the most intelligent and prominent of all the biblical writers. He accomplished much in his life, including traveling the world and writing more books of the Bible than anyone else. But to whom did Paul attribute his success and accomplishments?
He addressed this in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (For more insight, read “What Is the Meaning of Philippians 4:13?”)
Self-love, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is not completely wrong, but it is incomplete.
We cannot recognize our value without acknowledging its source. If we don’t recognize God’s involvement, the idea of self-love can tempt us to focus exclusively on self, attributing our abilities and successes to ourselves.
What does God say about self-love?
God understands our minds and how we think. He teaches us how to think properly. He knows what kinds of thoughts are best for us, and He instructs us to focus on those things.
The 10 Commandments reveal something very important about the approach God wants us to take in life. The first four commandments show us how to love God, while the last six show us how to love our neighbor (Deuteronomy 5:6-21).
Therefore, our lives should be spent exercising that kind of love. God wants our love to be focused outward—toward Him and other people. Notice how love toward self, or self-love, is not included.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:39 assumes that we do have a natural care for ourselves, but the Bible does not teach that we need to focus on self-love. Instead, God teaches us to take a different and better approach.
Through His Word, God provides a superior alternative to self-love, one that includes all the benefits people hope to receive from self-love and more.
This alternative is godly love.
Godly love is simply God’s love, the love that He shows His children and expects us to learn and emulate—giving back to Him and to our fellow man.
The Bible tells us that “we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).
Through godly love, we can truly appreciate our value in God’s eyes, while attributing everything we are and have to Him in genuine thankfulness.
Many of the key concepts behind the self-love movement originated from good intentions. But because they fail to consider God, they can distort our thinking. The message of self-love can develop and promote self-centeredness and self-reliance, while failing to deliver on the benefits promised.
The Bible cautions us about having an ungodly love for ourselves. Paul warned that one of the societal problems in the end time would be people becoming “lovers of themselves” and “lovers of pleasure” in place of being “lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2, 4).
Let’s take a look at a few common myths of self-love and compare them to biblical godly love.
Self-love myth #1: You need to put yourself first
This concept teaches us to focus our time and energy on ourselves first so that we can better love and serve those around us. While this may sound admirable on the surface, it has its problems.
Self-love can be a selfish, self-indulgent love; godly love is willing to sacrifice its desires. Yes, it is important that we take care of ourselves, and God tasks us with the responsibility to maintain our health and wellness to the best of our abilities. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, emphasis added). That means there is a natural expectation that we will care about our well-being. Good health enables us to properly serve others.
If we make ourselves our first priority, we hinder our ability to develop godly love, the key ingredient needed for us to love others. We can see from Scripture that we are to nourish and take care of our bodies just as God nourishes and takes care of His Church (Ephesians 5:29). We also see that God considers our bodies to be temples of the Holy Spirit and that He instructs us to glorify Him in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
In order to be at our best spiritually, we must take care of our physical, mental and emotional health as well. This includes things like eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting adequate rest, continuing to learn new things and setting aside time for prayer and Bible study. If we neglect our own health, we will curtail our ability to serve others.
To learn more about what the Bible says about personal health, check out our articles under “Health.”
While maintaining our health is crucial, self-love—making self our primary focus—does not better prepare us to love and serve others. Quite the opposite.
If we make ourselves our first priority, we hinder our ability to develop godly love, the key ingredient needed for us to love others. God expects us to do what we can, but He also wants us to trust that He will take care of the things outside of our control.
While God does require us to be wise and take care of our own needs, if we are primarily focused on loving and obeying God first and foremost, He promises to take care of the rest (Matthew 6:33). Our needs will be met, and we will develop godly love in the process.
Self-love myth #2: You need to accept yourself as you are
Psalm 139:14 states that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God gifted us with a variety of abilities and talents. With a proper perspective, we can appreciate the qualities God gave us, while still recognizing our need for growth and repentance when we sin.
Our Heavenly Father created us with the purpose of one day being part of His family, reigning and serving alongside our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ.
Because of this amazing purpose, God expects us to continuously grow and overcome sin, not allowing ourselves to become complacent.
God does expect us to recognize our shortcomings and seek His forgiveness when we sin; however, He does not want us to develop an attitude of self-loathing.
In 1 John 1:9 we see that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This scripture provides reassurance that if we are sincere in our request for God’s forgiveness, He will grant it.
Once God forgives our sin, we are able to move forward without the burden of prolonged guilt or shame, which could grow into self-hate.
God extends forgiveness to us out of love. Only by recognizing our imperfection and our need for His mercy can we fully appreciate godly love and learn how to express it. We cannot afford to simply accept ourselves as we are.
To learn more about the problem with just accepting ourselves as we are, read “The Problem With ‘Just as I Am’ Christianity.”
Self-love myth #3: You should not compare yourself
While it is true that we should not compare ourselves to each other (2 Corinthians 10:12), there is one individual whose life and example we should compare ourselves to regularly: Jesus Christ. The Bible instructs us to take up His yoke and learn from Him (Matthew 11:29) and “to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6).
Christ set the perfect example of godly love and instructs us to strive to love one another as He loves us. When we examine Christ’s example during His earthly ministry, we see that He perfectly exemplified love for God and man in everything He did. As a result of this selfless way of life, He grew in favor with both God and men even before His public ministry (Luke 2:52).
In the midst of His most difficult trial, Christ demonstrated love completely devoid of selfishness. He was not concerned with loving Himself. Not only did He willingly give up His life for mankind, He also asked God to forgive those who crucified Him (Luke 23:33-34).
Christ set the perfect example of godly love and instructs us to strive to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34). This is by no means an easy standard to reach, but God is patient and merciful with us as we work on incorporating godly love in our lives.
For more guidance on how to follow Christ’s example, explore our “Walk as He Walked” series in Discern magazine.
Who else benefits from godly love?
Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that godly love, not self-love, is the critical component that allows us to properly love God and our neighbor.
However, God and others are not the only ones who benefit when we express godly love. We also benefit.
As we practice it, we will come to understand that godly love is more beneficial to ourselves and others than self-love ever could be.