It brings out the ugly in me. It makes me fight to be right, to elevate myself, and seek temporary fillers like accolades and admiration that feed my pride but fail to feed my soul. This thing lurking within my heart causes me to avoid difficult conversations and engage in those I shouldn’t.
But worst of all, it distorts Christ in me.
Love is the root of this nasty, unity-destroying behavior. Self-love.
I’ve lived the truth of 1 Corinthians 8:1: “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (NIV).
Puffs up, like an inflated balloon or a puffer fish with its cheeks swelled and spikes protruding—seeking to elevate myself at the expense of others. But love, pure love, agape love, the kind that flows from God, doesn’t focus on self at all.
About ten years ago, I began to ask some hard questions regarding my faith and the credibility of the Bible. I wanted to know—was Jonah really swallowed by a big fish? Was there really a worldwide flood? Did Lot’s wife really turn into a pillar of salt?
Those questions led to an in-depth study I soon wanted to share with others. My motives were pure and stemmed from my love for God and His Word. The results were beautiful. Each week, I’d meet with a group of women while volunteers taught our little ones arts and crafts.
Until Sue* arrived and quickly turned argumentative. I took her challenge as an invitation and, puffed up with “knowledge”, accepted. Like the elders who were creating such division in Ephesus, I stopped focusing on making God known and instead focused on making myself look good and smart. Before long, the pleasant, Christ-centered discussion among a handful of moms turned into a tense battle over words.
No longer was I focused on God, others, and the truth. Instead, I wanted to win the argument. My self-love, my pride, pulled me in when I should’ve walked away, and I allowed the woman to dominate and divert the focus of the conversation.
Though I wasn’t blasphemous like the elders Paul spoke about in 1 Timothy 1:3-6, I became like them when I veered from the love that comes from Christ.
I’ve erred in the other direction also, when, remaining silent, I watched a young lady become enslaved in legalism and drift further and further from Christ.
She’s since abandoned the faith entirely.
I had numerous opportunities to speak, as Paul urged Timothy to do, but I chose to walk away. Out of fear that the woman would become angry and our relationship would crumble. In other words, out of self-protection. Self-love.
Truth and love, real love, are intertwined. Scripture tells us God has entrusted us with the gospel. This saving truth has the power to set man free—from sin, self-destruction, emptiness, death. With each word, we’re either pointing others to our Savior and an eternity with Him, or we’re getting in the way.
And how do we know which is which? We do a heart check and ask God to cleanse us from everything within not motivated by the love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith (1 Tim. 1:5 NLT).
May we, regularly, pray David’s words in Psalm 19:12-14:
“How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer” (NLT).
Let’s talk about this! Can you relate to either of my stories? When has fear (self-love) caused you to walk away from a conversation you knew God was calling you to engage in? Can you relate to the converse? When has your pride motivated you to elevate yourself and fight to be right? What are some ways we can guard against this?
Share your thoughts here in the comments below then visit our Facebook discussion page for suggested reading, further discussion, and daily devotional questions.
*Name changed to protect privacy.