I am led to examine closely what Jesus means by “love your neighbor as yourself.” In particular the “love yourself,” part. I have been strongly influenced by Dallas Willard on this topic.
We start with a biblical definition of love.
Dallas says, Love is not desire — it is to will the good of others. We say, “I love chocolate cake!” But really we want to eat it. We love something or someone when we promote it’s good for its own sake.
To will the good of others.
So, to love your neighbor as yourself is to work for your neighbor’s good and to love yourself is to work for your own good. As you are able. As you have resources to do this.
What does Jesus mean by this?
First, let’s think about what he is not saying.
Jesus is not saying “love the whole world.”
Jesus never tells us to love the whole world. It is God who is capable of loving the whole world, not us. Loving everyone is God’s job, not ours.
No, love the whole world is not a general command from Jesus for us. He is quite specific in what he is saying about love.
Jesus gives us three commandments about what our love looks like.
The three-fold commandment of Jesus to his students is to love our neighbor as ourselves, lay down our lives for our friends, and love God above all else.
Nothing about loving everyone.
Another thing Jesus doesn’t say about love is to work for the good of others and not ourselves. In fact, the opposite is true. We cannot work for the good of others unless we are taking care of ourselves. Seeking our own good. Consider this.
In his most recent book, Dr. Jordan Peterson talks about how we need to care for ourselves in a chapter entitled, “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”
Consider this fascinating insight.
There is a study done recently about prescription medication in the United States. The results are not very encouraging.
One third of all patients who receive a prescription, and have access to the medication, don’t get the prescription filled.
33% of all people who go to a doctor and are prescribed medication don’t get the prescription filled and don’t take the medicine.
Another 33% of the rest of the patients, will fill the prescription, but then won’t take the medication correctly- they’ll miss doses, they’ll quit taking it early, or they won’t take it at all.
So, 66% of people who need medicine, have it prescribed and have access to the medicine- don’t take it or take it wrong.
What an eye opener this is.
We speak of a health care crisis in the United States but in this case it has little to do with health insurance or ability to pay and such. No.
This is about 2/3 of the people in the United States who do see a doctor and are prescribed medicine, either ignore the medicine or get the medicine, and then take it sporadically, or don’t take it at all.
Yes, we do have a real heath care crisis if 2/3 of people are not being responsible for their own health care. They are not loving themselves.
But wait, it gets worse.
Another study was done specifically on kidney transplant patients. As you probably know, without a properly functioning kidney there are two choices. Dialysis or transplant. Some of you have had dialysis or know someone who does. Some of you know someone who has needed a kidney transplant or had one.
Here’s what we know. To get a kidney transplant is not easy. Donors are rare and you have to wait in a long line to find a match and then if you receive one your body has to accept the new organ.
But, the alternative is worse. Dialysis is very difficult. From 3 to 7 days a week, up to 8 hours at a time, for the rest of your life?
Sure, a transplant it’s challenging, but at least you have a chance.
So, let’s say you find a donor. You find a match. You have the surgery. But, you’re not done, yet. Your body still has to accept the new organ. If your body rejects the kidney, it’s back to square one.
Fortunately, there are drugs to fight the body rejecting the kidney.
These anti-rejection drugs, do weaken immunity and increase the susceptibility to infectious diseases, but, most people are happy to accept the trade-off.
Unfortunately, there are recipients of transplants who still suffer the effects of organ rejection, despite the existence and utility of these drugs. But, many times this is not because the drugs fail. No, it’s more often the case that when there is organ rejection it is because those who were prescribed the medication did not take it!
Can you imagine? How can this be?
Jesus has the answer.
People who do not take their medication even though it is available have not learned what it means to love yourself.
Now, consider this. What if you have a dog who needs medicine? You bring the dog to the vet and the vet prescribes medicine. You use a vet so obviously you care for your pet. If the vet prescribes medication, would you get the pills for your dog and make sure he takes them? Of course you would. What kind of monster would deny their pet?
And actually in fact, studies bear this out. According to the research, people are better at filling and properly administering prescription medication to their pets than to themselves.
That’s not good. Even from your pet’s perspective, it’s not good. Your pet (probably) loves you, and would be happier if you took your medication.
So to work for the good of a person who is created in God’s image, in other words, you, means working for your own good. Treating yourself with respect. Being responsible for caring for yourself.