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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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JOY = Jesus, Others, Yourself? | Love Commandments

The Love Commandments: We attach so many meanings to the word love, but what about love as a command, what is God doing in his commands? Unpack with us in this five part bible series. This is part five.

“The most important [commandment],’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:29-31

‘The key to JOY,’ my Sunday school teacher said, ‘is to love Jesus first, then Others, and last Yourself.’

A lesson well taught, given that I remember it 17 years on. It counters a worldly culture of selfishness, where travel agents tell me I deserve a holiday and cosmetic companies tells me I’m ‘worth it’, with a Christian culture, giving all of myself without limit to the service of others.

But is it true? Jesus doesn’t say love others better than, or more than, or instead of yourself. No, he says ‘love others as you love yourself’, in the same way that you love yourself.

I can’t help but think Jesus did exactly that. Sure, he fed 5,000 people, but I suspect he shared in the meal. He promised rest for the weary, but he also modelled rest by taking time for himself. The early church provided for themselves as well as others. And Paul’s teaching on marriage says the same thing: ‘husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies’ (Ephesians 5:28).

The better I learn to love myself, the better I can love others. If I recognise my need for rest more readily, I can respond to my spouse’s need for rest at the end of the day. If I forgive myself when I am snappy under stress, I can forgive my colleague when they snap too. If I take up exercise to care better for my body, I can encourage someone else to join me.

As a mum at home, I battle to be good enough. I need to take my children to toddler groups, read them stories, feed them, wash their clothes (endlessly), keep the house clean, and after all that, what’s for dinner? When I learn to love myself, take a nap instead of washing up, stay at home instead of running to yet another playgroup, I also learn to show love to others. I congratulate the mum of a three-week-old who makes it out of the house for some adult conversation. I encourage the friend with a colicky baby who is worn down by the constant crying. I swap survival tips and disaster stories, sharing life in all its fullness.

So, where is God asking you to love yourself better? And how does that help you love those on your frontline better? Learn to love yourself more fully so that you can love others in the same way.

For Further Reflection

  • Do you find it easier to love others, or to love yourself? Why might that be the case, what can you do about it?
  • How do we prevent appropriate love for ourselves slipping into narcissism and selfishness?