By Ron Price
Perhaps the best-known text in the Bible is John 3:16. Even non-Bible readers have likely heard this verse, or at least seen it on a placard at a sports event. I believe the second best-known verse might well be “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These words, attributed to our Lord Jesus, have long been interpreted as an instruction to His followers for how we are to live. I have no problem with this interpretation, but I want to give you another perspective to consider as well. My favorite professor once posed this question to our class: “Is ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’ a prophecy as much as a command?” He asked us to consider whether Christ’s followers would only be able to love their neighbor to the degree that they love themselves. Interesting question isn’t it? And, as they say, therein lies the rub, for I firmly believe that most of us do not love ourselves.
At church recently I asked a friend how he was doing. He gave me a somewhat common response of “better than I deserve.” Little did he know he just pushed one of my hot buttons. I asked him why, if he is a child of God, he did not deserve to “prosper and be in good health?” (3 John 2).
Now, I get what he meant—that he was grateful for all of God’s blessings and that in and of himself he is not worthy. And on that note we agree–none of us are. But is that the focus God wants for His children? Do we bring a smile to God’s heart when we grovel and tell Him how worthless we are? Would you enjoy hearing such talk from your children?
I believe God wants us to walk in our new identity as a child of the King, a joint heir with Christ of all that God wants for us. I believe we have every right to love ourselves, and see ourselves as righteous saints (His definition, not mine), and to accept the fact that God the Father loves us every bit as much as He loves His only begotten Son. We should see ourselves as He sees us—not as the world or the enemy would have us see ourselves.
We are not talking about a Muhammad Ali “I am the greatest” type of self-love. I don’t for one moment believe Christians should be boastful and self-aggrandizing—none of this is of our own doing lest any man should boast (see Eph. 2:9). When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we voluntarily give up our rights to pursue our own agenda. As Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ; therefore, I no longer live, and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God Who loved me and gave His life for me.”
Paul also writes, under the influence of the Holy Spirit of course, that in our redeemed state “we are God’s master- piece” (Eph. 2:10, NLT). If we could truly get a handle on that concept we would be so much freer to love others and treat everyone with kindness, and respect. We would feel less need to defend ourselves from perceived attacks and to retaliate.
Can you imagine what life would be like if all of Christ’s followers truly loved their neighbors as they properly, and justifiably loved themselves? It wouldn’t take too long before we all got to go Home.
So let me leave you with a challenge—one I give myself, by the way. Each morning, before you get out of bed, thank God for choosing to give you a new day. Thank Him for the many blessings which you can readily identify and acknowledge, and the many more of which you are likely unaware. Accept His perception of who you are and invite Him to love through you all with whom you come in contact that day.
It also wouldn’t hurt to adopt as a theme song the southern gospel classic “Give the World a Smile Each Day.” Type those words into YouTube and you’ll be able to hear the song performed by numerous artists. If it fails to put a smile on your face and a bounce in your step, then we need to talk!
Just to get started, consider the lyrics of the first verse:
Are you giving to the world a smile (sunny smile) Helping lessen someone’s dreary mile (dreary mile) Do you greet the world with song as through life you pass along Cheering those you may meet along life’s way
As redeemed children of the King, we have every right to love ourselves and the great privilege to love others in the same way. I’ll close with the last words of the chorus:
Let your life so be that all the world may see the joy of serving Jesus with a Smile. Sounds good to me!
Ron Price is a member of the RMC executive committee from Farmington, New Mexico. His new book is Play Nice in Your Sandbox at Work.