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RELIGION COLUMN: Telling yourself to get lost

Published 8:21pm Thursday, April 24, 2014

By Jake McCall

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t learn to love someone else until you learn to love yourself”? Maybe you’ve even said it. Many have concluded that love begins with loving oneself. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther challenged that notion when he said, “The command to love your neighbor as yourself is a command to love your neighbor as you already love yourself. There is no commandment needed to love oneself. In 1 Corinthians 13:5, Paul says that love is not self-seeking, and in Mark 8:34, Christ commands us to deny ourselves. These commandments presuppose that we already love ourselves (Martin Luther, Faith Alone, edited by James C. Galvin).

Now some may have a real problem with that because people often claim that they dislike themselves or even hate themselves. What about all of us who wish we were different in certain areas or wish we were more like someone else? Wouldn’t those things fall under the category of not loving oneself? But in actuality, even those sentiments are self-centered or self-loving. Have you ever heard the term, “I really let myself down”? That common phrase describes being disappointed or angry at yourself because you were unable to give your “self” what you selfishly desired.

This is all to say that the answer is not to better love yourself, or better find yourself, or spend more time on yourself, etc. I mean I hear that stuff all the time. I’ve probably said it on multiple occasions. The answer is that we must lose ourselves. Imagine if we were not so burdened with our selfish selves. Imagine if we could just get out of our way! Wow, at the possibilities. And it almost sounds reckless, foolish even. It almost sounds like the early church doesn’t it? Laying down their lives, considering others more important than themselves, doing all things for the sake of the Gospel. These early Christians weren’t focused on making sure that they adequately and sufficiently loved themselves first. They sacrificially loved others first because they had lost their “selves.”

Acts 14:26 tells us, “From there, [Paul and Barnabas] sailed to Antioch where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled.” The word commended means given or abandoned, and it expresses that Paul and Barnabas had abandoned their comforts and privileges and given themselves over to God’s grace and God’s heart for the sake of the Gospel. We must see that our self prevents us from loving others, loving God and giving our life to his work. We can be a real problem and we desperately need the heart of Christ, who showed his willingness to lose himself for us.

As one pastor, Tim Keller puts it: “We don’t need more self-focus or self-love, we need blessed self-forgetfulness.”

—Jake McCall is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. He is the pastor at Grace Fellowship Presbyterian Church. His column appears each Thursday.

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