I read a book once in which the author said we should interpret the Bible through the lens of the Greatest Commandment.
The Greatest Commandment
If you aren’t familiar with the greatest commandment, there is a passage in the Bible where a religious teacher asked Jesus which of the commandments was the most important.
Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
What if You Don’t Love Yourself?
I like the idea of using the greatest commandment as the interpretive lens for the Bible. However, I was talking about this idea to a friend of mine, and he asked: “What happens if you don’t love yourself?”
I thought he brought up a great point. I sometimes talk to people who are depressed and don’t like themselves very much. It can be difficult for people to forgive themselves and give themselves grace. I know at times I have struggled to love myself well.
To Love Others Well, You Have to Love Yourself
I think that implicit in the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is the command to actually love yourself. I believe we are called to treat others with love, mercy, and compassion, AND God wants us to experience these gifts as well.
I also think it is difficult to give something to another person if we are unable to give that thing to ourselves.
My Own Experience
I have experienced this connection between loving others and loving myself in my own life. When I was younger, I was very judgmental toward myself and others, even about picky details of the Christian faith. I thought I was doing pretty well and had religion pretty much figured out, and I judged others who weren’t living up to the standard I set for myself. Also, as much as I tried, I wasn’t perfect, so during the times when I wasn’t living up to my own standards, I was judgmental toward myself, feeling angry and sad. I didn’t love myself well, and so I struggled to love others well.
I have also experienced this dynamic in my relationships with others. There are certain people in my life that do love me well. They “get grace,” and are able to extend grace and love to me when I need it. I appreciate these people very much, and rely on them in my times of struggle. One thing I have noticed about these kinds of people is they are very much in tune with their own brokenness, and they are able to give themselves grace and love. Since they love themselves well, they are able to love others well.
Love Others and Love Yourself
I think it is tough (maybe impossible) to offer something to someone if you haven’t experienced it yourself. If you want to love others well and be a person who truly offers grace and compassion to the people in your life, check in with yourself about how you are doing in regard to loving yourself and offering grace to yourself.
Discussion: What do you think about the connection between loving others and loving yourself? In what ways do you struggle to love yourself and extend grace to yourself?