Recently, I have heard several people say this and read it a good bit in some on-line articles. I don’t really watch television much but what tiny bit I do, I have heard this or something very similar on several occasions. It is a little saying that lots of people say but really, it’s an underlying life philosophy. Here it is:
I need to learn to love myself.
Or some variation of this. Learn to love yourself or something along those lines.
I have some problems with this idea. If you are a Christian, you should have some issues with it as well. Let’s talk, first, about our society for a sec. We live in a self-obsessed society. I’m almost 50 years old and I cannot remember a time in my life that this has become so obvious. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is a recent phenomenon. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden, giving in to an inflated sense of their own power and dreams of grandeur (“ye shall be as gods”), this has been part of the human condition. People loving them some themselves is obvious and rampant throughout Holy Scripture and world history.
At the root of this notion of self-love is really pure selfishness. I think we can all see from even a cursory browsing of most news outlets or social media..heck, even a walk through a local mall, that self-love is rampant these days.
I want to take a quick second and tell you that there is a difference between thinking you’re a piece of crap and self-loathing and humility. Of course, we are to be humble. But humility is not thinking that you are worthless. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who defined humility as not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.
St. Paul is helpful for us as we consider humility. Philippians 2:3-8 tells us,
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”(emphasis mine)
St. Paul tells us that we are to have a lowliness of mind and that we are to follow the example of our Lord Jesus who humbled Himself and became obedient. St. Paul ties obedience and humility to each other. We’re going to come back to that later. St. Paul further reminds us in Romans 12:3 that a man is to “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly..” We are to examine our hearts and souls and actions and compare it to the standard.
Icontinually hear people say, “I’m a good person.” My response to that is always, “Good according to whom or by what standard?”
And what standard are we to judge ourselves by? Did Christ have anything to say about being good? As a matter of fact, He did. In Luke 18:19, we read this,
“And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.” This was in response to a man asking Jesus a question and calling Him, “good teacher.” So, when we say that we’re a good person, perhaps we need to check our standard. Only One is good, our Lord tells us…and it ain’t you or me.
I think before we dare to call ourselves good, we need to take a really hard and honest look at ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I am a very great sinner. The thoughts that come from my heart and mind are many times so vile that I am shocked. I shouldn’t be but I sometimes am. As Jesus reminds us, we are defiled by what comes from within us (Matthew 15:11, Mark 7:15). Why would we love ourselves when what comes from inside us is so vile and filthy and wretched? The prophet Isaiah tells us,
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” (Is. 64:6-8)
Love ourselves? Our righteousness is as filthy rags. Our iniquities have taken us away. We are merely the clay; He is the potter. We are entirely in His hands.
Rather than “loving ourselves,” we should rather take a sober assessment of ourselves and the condition of our soul and heart. St. Maximos the Confessor wrote quite a bit about self-love. He said it was rooted in selfishness and pride and was the “mother of all passions.” By the way, passions are a bad thing.
So, how do we have a proper view of ourselves and not fall into “the mother of all passions?” I want to go back to something really quick for that answer. Remember what St. Paul talks about in Philippians and the mind of Christ. What did he tie together?
Humility and obedience.
I think obedience is one of the major keys to a proper opinion of oneself and humility. After all, our Lord Jesus Himself was obedient, as St. Paul reminds us, even to the point of death. Christ Himself said He came not to do His own will but the will of the Father (John 4:34, 5:30 and 6:38). And Christ gave us commands that we are to follow. After all, our life is not our own just to be lived for our enjoyment (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Rather, as the Psalmist reminds us in Ps. 143:10, we are to cry, “Teach me to do Thy will.”
Christ said hard things that don’t sound like we’re supposed to “love ourselves.” He said things like, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” and “He who loves his father or mother, or son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” and “He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom.”
None of that sounds like, “love yourself.” That sounds like, “Give yourself away. Recognize who you really are and how dark your heart is without me.”
As Father Seraphim Rose (+1982) said,
“Carry your cross without complaint. Don’t think you are anything special. Don’t justify your sins and weaknesses, but see yourself as you really are.”
Pray for me, brothers and sisters. Pray for yourself and each other.
I’ve been talking about this a lot recently so I recognize that some of this will sound redundant, but I refuse to be silent. Besides, repetition is the mother of learning and we, as a nation, don’t seem to be getting it so I’ll just keep saying it. Besides, far too many “Christians” are silent these days.
I want us to consider a question in this post. I want to say at the outset that this is something that I take very seriously and am struggling with right now for various reasons. Here’s the question:
At what point do Christians say enough?
I’m serious. At what point do we say that we’re done with the ultra-pagan society that we have become? This morning there was a conversation at my workplace which I want to use as an illustration that this woke madness and moral degradation is completely overwhelming the United States. In this little town and county where we live, there are plans for a “pride parade.” I guess this is “pride month” or something like that. Anyways, two local churches (both Protestant I believe) asked the city to cancel the parade. It got posted about on Facebook. So, some of my coworkers were talking about this today. These coworkers call themselves “Christians” and are members of local churches and/or parishes (Roman Catholic). They began to criticize said churches for their stance.
I couldn’t take it. I just walked out of the room. I was furious and ashamed of “Christians.” Since when do those who claim to follow Christ defend public displays of sodomy and debauchery?! I’m not talking about their constitutional right to assembly. Sure, they can do that. I’m talking about Christians defending this public display of flaunting unnatural sexual acts!
At what point do Christians say enough?
Consider the warning of the Prophet Isaiah,
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
Woe unto them. Judgment is coming, says the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, we cannot be silent any longer. All sin is evil in the eyes of God. All. And we should confess and repent and turn back to our Lord when we have committed any sin. But for Christians to stand by as this is happening in our society and either say nothing or (God forbid) defend this is unconscionable. Woe to us if we are silent. Woe to us if we call evil good and good evil.
So, when do we say enough? When do we stop going along to get along? Even Jesus says that there comes a time when we have to just leave it. At least that’s what He told His disciples. Look at Matthew 10. Jesus sends out His disciples and tells them to preach the Gospel to the lost sheep of Israel. These were God’s people and Jesus calls them lost sheep. There is a warning here for us I believe. Don’t assume you’re in just because you go to a weekly worship service and pay lip service to Christ as King. The people of Israel assumed as well, and we see how that worked out. They were sent into exile and dispersed all over the world; their land was taken away and God was silent for about 400 years.
So, Jesus sends out the Twelve. And what does He say to them?
Look at verse 14-15,
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”
Shake the dust off. What does that mean? It’s basically the same as us saying we have “washed our hands” of something. It was akin to a curse that God’s judgment would come. Jesus said that those people, those cities would have it worse than Sodom and Gomorrha. Lest we forget, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrha by raining down fire from heaven on them (see Genesis 18-19). That’s pretty bad.
Our society has rejected God. If you don’t believe that, you are simply not paying attention. What do you think God is going to do to us in His judgment if we continue in this way?
Now, here’s a hard question. What do we do in our own lives when we find this in members of our family or our friends? What do we do when they reject God? What do we do when they have embraced the world and don’t follow the commands of Christ? At what point do we say to them, “I’m done. I’ve tried, I’ve prayed, I’ve talked with you, I’ve modeled it for you (make sure you are) but you’re still refusing to turn away from sin and turn to God.” When do we say enough?
I get the arguments against this attitude. We’re supposed to be merciful and loving and kind and show grace and all that. Yes, yes, we are. We’re supposed to love them anyway, you might say. Yes, that is true. But which is more loving, to continue to let them live in their sin or to say, “Repent and turn back to Christ and His Church”? Is it loving of us to find a brother or sister in danger of hell and not call them to repentance?! If you were about to get ran over by a train, wouldn’t you want someone to try to save you? Or would you rather them say, “Oh well, you do you”?
I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know if true Christians should leave America like the moral sinking ship it is. I don’t know if we should turn away from our friends or relatives or family who have turned away from God and embraced the world. What I do know is that Jesus demands all. He calls us to love and fidelity to Him and His Church above all. What else can we do if we say we love Him?
Brothers and sisters, pray for me. I pray for you. Pray for others who are without Christ. Pray for those who call themselves by the name of Jesus who have embraced the world. Pray that Jesus would return soon!