Leviticus 19:18b “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
For the longest time I thought that the order of things in the universe was God at the top, everybody else next, and me at the bottom. Needless to say, that outlook gave me some self-esteem problems. Then one day I really read this verse and realized that it doesn’t say “love your neighbor and hate yourself.” It doesn’t say, “love your neighbor more than yourself.” It says, “Love your neighbor AS yourself.” Love of neighbor and love of self are equal in importance. I was blown away.
First of all, there was a commandment to love myself. It wasn’t an option. Secondly, love of neighbor and love of self serve as a balance for each other. I find that most people are better at one side of that equation than the other. Some tend to focus on others and neglect themselves. Others focus on themselves and neglect others. In my old way of thinking, loving others was right and loving self was wrong. But when I realized what the verse actually said, I could see that both types of people had it half right. Those who did a good job of loving themselves didn’t have to stop that. They didn’t have to love themselves less, they just had to love their neighbors every bit as much. On the other side, I didn’t have to love my neighbor any less, I just had to bring my love of myself up to the same caring level.
This verse from Leviticus is easy to miss in the long litany of God’s commands to Moses. It’s only half a verse long. That goes to show how well Jesus knew the Scriptures. When Jesus was asked (in Matt. 22:36) which of God’s commands was the most important, Jesus picked two…neither of which is part of the Ten Commandments. He selected the verse from Deuteronomy 6 that says we should love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and he picked this little half verse in Leviticus, saying that this verse was “like unto” the Deuteronomy verse.
The way that Jesus groups these two verses together gives us some great information. Jesus is implying that both verses say essentially the same thing…that there is little to no distinction between loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves. The more I grow, the more I have come to believe that is true. Loving others and loving myself are two different expressions of the love of God. God made both me and my neighbor. In treating all that God has made with love, we are expressing complete and total love for God. Self-hatred and abasement is not a required act of humility. It is evidence that our love of God is not yet complete.
It wasn’t easy to learn to love myself, and I’m still not sure that the two things are perfectly in balance, but they’re a heck of a lot closer than they used to be, and I no longer feel so guilty about doing something to care for myself. I am a healthier person, which also makes me better able to care for others. And those two things together move me closer to being able to fulfill the greatest commandment to love God with my all.
Help me, Lord, to keep the love of others and the love of myself in balance. Amen.
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