BIBLE READING: Leviticus 19:1-18
TEXT: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)
This is a big question that is obviously important to many people – which is why there are hundreds of books in print about how to feel better about yourself. You can search the Internet and find lots of answers. Most of them offer feel-good advice.
Take this one random example I have just read – in order to feel better about yourself you should 1) figure out your needs, 2) live authentically, 3) forgive yourself and 4) celebrate your quirks. There you go – sorted. Except its not – which is why there will be many more books, courses, therapies and solutions for those of us who struggle with how we think about ourselves.
The trouble is that some of us think far too highly of ourselves, and we cannot understand why everyone does not join in our self-praise. But many of us go the opposite direction and we have a degree of self-pity if not self-loathing. We cannot imagine that anyone would really like us because we don’t really like ourselves. How can we have a better attitude to ourselves?
What does the Bible say? Turning to the book of Leviticus may not seem the obvious answer but starting with our verse for today we can see a way ahead. We are to love our neighbours as ourselves. Ah – but what if the problem is that we don’t love ourselves? The trouble is the same as if we think too highly of ourselves. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:3).
It’s always about self. It’s always about me. We are to think of ourselves in the light of something bigger. The difference between low self-esteem and high self-esteem is minimal. Both are wrong and both do a great deal of harm to others and ourselves. The trick is to think of ourselves less. Which is very hard to do – unless we get the bigger picture.
One part – as we can see by reading the verses in Leviticus 19– is that we should consider the needs of others. Care for your family, look out for the poor, don’t take others goods, don’t lie, take care of your neighbour, protect the disabled, don’t slander, don’t hate and don’t take revenge. I don’t think this passage is telling us – wait until you love yourself and then you can love others. It’s pointing out that one way to love ourselves is to care for others. We look after our own bodies so we ought also to look after the collective body.
But there is more. We are to be holy. We are to offer right worship. We are to remember who is the Lord. We can love others and we can love ourselves when we know the love of God. He is the source of all love.
We live in a society in the West where human beings and human life is being increasingly devalued. I know that many of our cultural leaders will deny this – but it is the fruit of their philosophies. If we are just a blob of carbon floating from one meaningless existence to another – then what ultimate value do we have? If there is no absolute right or wrong and each person just makes up their own – what value is that? If there is an unwanted baby in the womb, or an unwanted older person who we consider to have lost their value for society – then why not just get rid of them? If you feel useless and unloved, why not just take your own life?
But when you think of God. When you understand what Jesus thinks of you. When you grasp the immense value of every human life – including yours – then what a difference that makes. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14). That gives you a whole different perspective.
Most of all when you come to know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour there is a wonderful change in your life – so that the centre of your life no longer becomes you, but him. As Paul tells the Galatians – it’s only when we stop focusing on ourselves and realize that our life is Christ centred – not me centred, that we are truly set free to live. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
CONSIDER: Why is it so hard to forget about ourselves? Why do we so often feel bad about ourselves? Can you see a solution in what we have looked at above? How would you encourage someone who was really discouraged about themselves? What difference does Jesus make?
RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING: The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness – Tim Keller
PRAYER: Lord, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. But sometimes I don’t feel that. The trouble is when I try to stop thinking about myself, I am thinking about myself and often I don’t like what I see. Please give me a different perspective. Help me to see myself in Christ. Forgiven and clothed in his righteousness, not my own self-righteous filthy rags. Help me to serve and love others because I have come to see how infinitely
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