Must We Love Ourselves to Love Others?

loveLove. Such a confusing, abstract emotion. It’s something we “fall into” and “out of”,  something we chase after…

There’s a notion that says “You must love yourself in order to love others.”

Is this true? Biblical?

I’m no theologian, but I can’t locate a verse that says this. In fact, again and again, God tells us to take the position of a servant, and to honor others above ourselves.

To die to ourselves so we can live for God.

It’s hard to die to something you love.

Perhaps biblical love isn’t so much an emotion as it is an action.

Consider 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

For you see, emotions wane. Therefore, true love must be a choice and an action, the moment-by-moment discipline of laying ourselves aside so that God can love others through us.

The Bible says we love because God first loved us. Therefore, our love comes not from us but from Him. It is when we completely surrender ourselves to God that we are fulfilled. That is when we begin to live lives of passion and purpose, of courage and impact.


Learning to love is receiving and giving the love only God can give.


Consider insecurity and fear of rejection and all those negative emotions that supposedly stem from a lack of self-love. What if the opposite is true? What if those emotions stem from love of self and a desire to protect self.
We protect that which we love.


But when we die to ourselves, there is but one focus, what God would do throughAshleywithElSalvadororphan us. 


And that is the most freeing occurrence we can experience.


Let me provide an example. I have a less than glamorous past, and for years, I vehemently longed to hide that past. This fear kept me from embracing God’s call to write for many years. I told Him again and again, “I’ll only write if you protect me from exposure.”


I’m sure you can imagine God’s response. He knew His grace is best seen when revealed through an imperfect sinner.


But still I fought Him. I was afraid to tell my story for fear of what others would think and for fear of losing friends. Until I started hanging out with at risk teens and the homeless. Suddenly, I wanted for them to see Jesus and what He could do so badly, I no longer cared about embarrassing or shaming myself. My fear and insecurity went away because I found something more important–the saving of another life.


The results were glorious, inspiring, fulfilling, because the more I died to myself and lived for God, the more I experienced His all-consuming love pour through me.


You cannot be fearful, prideful, envious, and insecure when God’s Spirit invades your core. It’s impossible.


So what does this all mean?


1. If you want to experience an abundant, joy-filled, peace-saturated life, ask God to help you die to yourself–your fears, desires, pride, insecurities. All of it. Then ask Him to replace those things with His all-consuming love as you follow after Him with surrendered obedience.


2. Parents, if you want your children to rise above the toxicity of their clique-infested schools, if you want for them to grab hold of a purpose that will propel them forward with a God-given passion, teach them to see others through God-sized lenses and to get involved in His mission. Then sit back and watch them thrive.


livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Looking back on your journey, when have you felt most fulfilled? What do you think of my take on love? Consider a time when you’ve felt God’s love coursing through you. What were you doing? What did His love motivate you to do?
Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Livng by Grace on Facebook.


And congrats to Lillianne Kohler! You won a copy of Cara Putman’s novel, Shadowed by Grace! I’ll be contacting you soon to get that book to you.


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  1. When you love others first, your eyes are off yourself. Selfishness and pride … gone! So much about Christianity is the opposite of what our society tells us.

  2. I’ve found that when I choose to act out of love for another, his/her love comes back to me in ways that I could have never given to myself. It begins a delicious circle of love. Sometimes, the person or object of my love is simply unable to love me back…in those cases I found that I can be loved by circumstances and outcomes. It is almost as if love given will always be returned. But, we must learn over time how to recognize when love has been given back to us. It may be in an entirely different form, but it is love nevertheless!

    1. What a great point and truth, Audrey! There’s a verse I love. It’s Proverbs 11:25 “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”

      During a period of my life, I had… a large number of friends with needs. For a year, I felt God calling me to set my needs, my schedule, my desires aside to meet the needs of these individuals, but later, when I found myself in a place of need, it seemed those friends disappeared.

      This hurt, and I reminded God of the verse from Proverbs. (Like He needs reminding, I know. lol) He showed me He would indeed refresh me, in His way and in His time, and that it doesn’t always happen reciprocally.

      As you so wisely remind us, those we love may not be able to love us in return, but God does and will pour His love over us, perhaps through our spouses or maybe an unexpected afternoon to sit on our porch soaking up the sun, or maybe a week later when someone gives us a hug and tells us they’ve been praying for us. 🙂

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