On the way to work today, I turned on the radio and stumbled across a national talk radio program. It’s not a station I normally listen to, but this morning the host was interviewing a pastor about a recent situation in which a teenager had shot another teenager. Having tuned in to the program halfway through, I wasn’t sure of all that had been talked about before, but was curious to hear the rest of the interview, because right when I tuned in, the host asked the pastor, “Why? Why do we live in a society where one teenager feels free to take a gun and shoot another teenager?”
The pastor sort of danced around the question a bit, and I thought that perhaps it was because he didn't want to express an opinion that sounded too judgmental. So I started talking to the radio - encouraging the pastor to speak up, and to speak some truth. Finally, he did give an opinion - and what the pastor offered as an explanation was that the shooter probably suffered from low self-esteem. Then he went on to say that developing self-love, and a sense of self-worth was the top priority in raising children today, and that, unfortunately, not enough parents took that responsibility to heart. Then he went on and quoted Jesus, saying, “Throughout the Gospels, Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So that means we have to love ourselves before we can love anyone else. A healthy society starts with a healthy self-esteem.”
It was at that point that I started yelling at the radio again, but this time, my words were a little less encouraging.
When it comes to how we should think of ourselves and of others, the Bible does not teach us to first love ourselves, and then love our neighbor. Instead, it reminds us of what we all know from personal experience - and that is, we already love ourselves enough. Actually, one of our biggest challenges in life is not being as selfish as we're prone to be. So rather than focusing on us, what the Bible teaches us is that we need to shift our focus to God, and then others. It's a point the Apostle Paul drives home in Ephesians 5:29 when he writes, “For no one has ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” The problem is not that we don't have enough self-love, the problem is that we have too much. If we want to look at having a healthy society what we need to do is focus on loving others the same way we love ourselves.
But as I was yelling these thoughts at the radio this morning, the Lord reminded me that we really don’t love others in order to have a healthy society. Instead, we love others because that’s what God calls us to do. So loving others is about being obedient. It's about following Jesus' instructions to lose our life so that we can find it. It's about being obedient to deny ourselves so that we can find ourselves in Him. And if we do that, day in and day out, and if we train our kids to do that - then we'll be doing what God has called us to do. And of course, if everyone were to do it, then we would have a healthy society. But that's not the motivation for doing it - that's just gravy.
So today, let's pray that God will help each of us to be less self-focused, and more others-focused. Let's pray that God will help us to see opportunities to die to ourselves, and to serve others. And in that way, we will help this desperate world see that God's love is the greatest love of all.