Get in shape
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, NLT)
I don’t know if you’ve caught yourself in a misunderstanding, but for many years when I read the words in this verse, I would consistently reinterpret them in my brain as “Love your neighbor,” leaving off the last two key words, “as yourself” because in some way it seemed prideful or selfish to include self in that. Mnemonic devices I encountered in my youth like “J-O-Y = Jesus – Others – You”, although meaning well, only compounded my misunderstanding. I’ve come to realize over the years that while it sounds very noble and good to focus on loving others, and we absolutely are called to do that, it isn’t the full and complete picture of what Jesus said to do. He instructed us to love others as ourselves, in other words, to love others in the same manner in which we love ourselves. The Message version puts it simply: “Love others as well as you love yourself.” If we are generous in loving ourselves, we will be able to love others generously. If we are stingy or neglectful in loving ourselves, we won’t be able to love others well. We just can’t give what we don’t have.
That’s not to say that we should live narcissistic and conceited lives. That’s not love. Love is beautifully defined for us in 1 Corinthians 13, and has nothing to do with self-absorption, and everything to do with God’s nature. God is in His very essence – love.
1 Corinthians 13 (ESV) – “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
One of the banes of our existence in the 21st century is our ability to artificially prop ourselves up for extended periods of time in order to cover over our neglectful ways of not loving ourselves properly. Not getting enough sleep? Drink more coffee! Too busy to spend much time with loved ones? Have quality time! Too many things on the schedule? Multitask! Can’t fit in a “quiet time”? Do it on the fly! Too rushed to prepare healthful meals? Take more vitamins! Sooner or later these things will catch up with us and we’ll find our wells depleted.
Jeremiah 2:13 talks about this (NLT) – “My people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!”
Jesus promised believers that “streams of living water will flow from within” us. This living water is for us and for others. Let’s get in shape by loving ourselves well so that as we encounter others along our courses, whether our own families or complete strangers, we’ll have something to give them – God’s water of life.