And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 22:39
The phrase “as thyself” occurs exactly seven times in the KJV New Testament Bible. Interesting. The context is the same in all seven instances; embedded in the commandment to love God and our neighbor.
The phrase’s positioning at the end of the commandment appears almost as a footnote or afterthought. It is as if Jesus assumed we would have no difficulty in loving ourselves. Love God? Most assuredly. Love our neighbor? Well, we try. Most of the time at least we take a stab at it. Love self? A given.
But, do we? Do we “love thyself” as the commandment demands? Jesus sets the stage once again for a master production. How can one genuinely love themselves when the child of God is called to: deny themselves (Mat. 16:24), esteem other better than themselves (Phil 2:3), die daily (I Cor 15:31), walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8), crucify their flesh (Gal 5:24), present their bodies a “living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1), and to be non-retalitory when faced with reproach and offense? (Mat 5:39) It is paradoxical.
There has to be something else going on here. This business of loving self must be something different from what we are accustomed to. We can only reason that we must love ourselves in a manner pleasing to God and in a way that transcends human understanding:
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9
I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city. Hosea 11:9
We can only love ourselves to the extent and degree that the presence of Jesus Christ actively lives within us (Rom 8:11). It cannot work any other way. Why? Because flesh is at best weak (Mk 14:38), and at worst not good (Gal 5:19-21).
In You or Through You?
It has been said that Jesus is more interested in what he can do “in you” than what he can do “through you“. With that thought in mind, one of the hardest things the Lord faces in dealing with people is getting them on location, positioning them at the place where He wants to do a work.
Reflect a moment on Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Jonah, Ester, Naomi, and John Mark. All of these examples are people God wanted to use, but their GPS systems were not in synch with God’s. Abraham lingered in Haran. Jacob was stuck in a holding pattern outside of Egypt. Joseph spent years in and out of prison. And consider Moses. It took the Lord 40 years to get Moses out of Egypt and another 40 years for Egypt to get out of Moses. Jonah took a cruise away from God’s call to Nineveh.
Ester balked in standing up for her heritage and the Jewish people. Naomi reluctantly heeded the call to return to Bethlehem. And lastly, John Mark got cold feet during a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas. What was the problem with all of them? Their problem was internal in nature. God could not work “through them” because of the internal conflict “in them”. Each of them had an imperfect love, the love “as thyself”.
When we live for God God’s way we enter a zone unbeknownst to ourselves where we can fulfill the commandment to “love thyself” and be on a trajectory to fulfill all three conditions of the greatest commandment of all. Sometimes the bigger mountains are the Mt. Everest’s lying within in contrast to the one located in the Himalayan’s.
We simply cannot love God and our neighbor if we are out of sorts with our own self and our own life.
The Lord desires to do a work “in” His people:
At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. John 14:20
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. John 15:4, 7
May our prayer be that we will yield to Jesus’ work upon our earthen vessels until we have the peace within that removes all internal conflict and be able to say the words: “I love you Lord with my all and I love my neighbor as I love myself”.