- Before going further it would be well to look at the question, what is biblical self-esteem or self-love. When Jesus was asked what the greatest moral commandment was, he replied by quoting two commands from the Old Testament. "'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 neighbour as yourself'" (Matthew 22:37-39).
- As we are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves, statement naturally assumes that we have a certain desire for our own wellbeing. Thus, the command is to have an equal concern for the wellbeing of others.
Self-love is not a virtue that Scripture commends, but one of the facts of our humanity that it recognises and tells us to use as a standard. So what should this concern for our own wellbeing entail?
God is a relational being, existing from eternity as three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, in loving relationship with one another. In creating us in his likeness (Genesis 1:26, 27), God also made us relational beings, intended to exist in a loving relationship with him and with one another as additional members of his family. Our true wellbeing will come from sorting out those relationships.
In turning away from God we have become centred upon ourselves rather than upon God and others. It is the cause of many of our problems with ourselves and our problems with others.
It therefore stands to reason that any idea of self-love or self-esteem that does not get us turned around and cause us to be equally concerned for the wellbeing of others, is not going to be in our own best interest. Neither will it be in the interest of others. In other words, a self-love that leads to selfishness is not going to do me any good. However, a proper self-esteem that leaves me feeling comfortable with who I am and frees me to give myself in service to God and to others, is the kind of self-esteem we are looking for.
One difficulty lies in the fact that the word self-love has a double meaning. It can mean self-acceptance as well as self-centredness. An example of self-love in the negative sense is illustrated by the Greek myth about Narcissus. He was a youth who, while gazing at his reflection in a well, fell in love with himself. Totally engrossed with his own image he tumbled into the water and drowned. From this myth the word narcissism is derived.
The problem is that if we do not feel comfortable with who we are, then we will spend more time focusing on ourselves, trying to find our true identity, searching for satisfaction and meaning. Self-doubt, or worse, self-hatred, invariably leads to self-centredness.
A different problem is the tendency to think too much of ourselves.
A. W. Tozer, in The Pursuit of God, writes: The labour of self-love is a heavy one indeed. Think for yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking badly of you. As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol. How then can you hope to have inward peace? The heart's fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honour from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest.