I’m a big fan of a television series called Supernatural. In it two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, hunt monsters. The actor who plays Sam is a guy named Jared Padalecki. Jared has struggled off and on throughout his life with depression. Through his success on the show he has started a charity for people who struggle with depression called Always Keep Fighting1. I follow him on Facebook and he occasionally will launch a line of T-shirts in order to raise money for this charity. His most recent one was emblazoned with the slogan “love yourself first.”
I will be honest, while I thought I understood what he meant by that, there was just something about it that did not sit right with me. As Christians, we are called to put God first and to put others first. That includes loving our neighbors and even loving our enemies. You see it in places like Paul‘s instruction to husbands in Ephesians 5:17, where he commands husbands to love their wives “even as Christ loved the church.” Christ loved the church so much that he sacrificed himself to save us, and so husbands are called upon to make sacrifices for their wives.
This is just one example of how we are called to put others first. How then can we say love yourself first and not have it violate the command to unselfishly love our neighbor? Isn’t it selfish to love yourself first? I think this comic strip from Coffee with Jesus2 can help us find the answer.
I think there is a lot of truth in this. The command to love your neighbor as yourself presupposes that we do indeed love ourselves. For most people this is not a problem, since most of us tend towards selfishness. But for some (and perhaps for all of us at times) it is difficult. It is difficult when we, like Jared, suffer from depression. It can also be difficult because of past life experiences that have taught us to have a low self-esteem about ourselves. No matter what the root cause may be, like the character in this comic strip, if you do not love yourself you will probably not do a very good job of loving your neighbor.
The truth is, God is the one who loves us first! That absolutely means we are worth loving. God sent his son Jesus to die for us, and that says something about our value. So, while I still might not ever wear one of these T-shirts because of how easily it could be misunderstood, it is indeed OK, and even necessary to love yourself first before you can love others. Just make sure you don’t also love yourself last, but follow it up with loving your neighbor.
Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39)