The Problem of Self-Love
By Dave Hunt
The last two months we have pointed out examples indicating a sad fulfillment in our day of Paul’s warning that in the last days prior to Christ’s return sound doctrine would be scorned and in its place professing Christians would turn to myths. We noted that as a result there is a diminishing biblical and increasing humanistic content in Christian books and sermons. The very foundations of the Christian faith are being undermined by many of those who are looked to as its chief defenders. Yet at the same time, most if not all of those involved in this destructive process stoutly and sincerely insist that what they teach is “biblical.”
How is such delusion possible? It has been accomplished by a subtle redefinition. Whereas to be “biblical” used to mean that a teaching was derived from Scripture, it now means that it may be derived from anywhere so long as it can somehow be interpreted as being compatible with Scripture. Thus the Bible and Christ the Living Word are no longer “The Truth” as Scripture so clearly claims. Instead, under the specious slogan that “all truth is God’s truth,” Holy Writ is now seen as only one of many ingredients in a new recipe for happiness to which anything may be added so long as the mixture still tastes somewhat “biblical.” As a result, Christians are losing their taste and appetite for unadulterated Truth.
This accelerating erosion of spiritual discernment is compounded by the fact that exegesis of Scripture has fallen into disfavor with both shepherds and sheep. Ears are being tickled instead with humanistic concepts which are introduced as allegedly necessary and helpful supplements to God’s Word, complete and sufficient though it is in itself. Far from being helpful, however, these “supplements” subtly effect reinterpretations of Scripture—and a generation grows up with a “Christianity” whose foundations have been undermined without their knowing it.
Let’s take a simple example. Jesus commanded His disciples, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things [food, clothing, shelter] shall be added unto you” (Mt 6:25-33). From humanistic psychology, however (now a legitimate source of revelation according to the “all truth is God’s truth” thesis) so-called “Christian psychologists” have borrowed another myth: Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” It states that man’s physical needs for such things as food, clothing and shelter must first be met, then so-called psychological needs, and last of all spiritual needs. Although it blatantly turns Christ’s command upside down, Maslow’s theory and its derivatives now permeate the books and sermons of many church leaders and influence evangelism. Biblical exegesis has been abandoned for a new source of “truth.”
Let’s take one more example. Paul solemnly warns, “…in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves…” (2 Tim 3:1-2). Then follows a list of sins which peculiarly characterize our world today and all of which have their root in self-love. Once again from humanistic psychology, however, “Christian” psychologists have borrowed the seductive myth that self-love (along with its concomitant self-esteem/worth/acceptance, etc.) is a vital ingredient for “mental health.” Thus, instead of the prevalence of self-love, as the Bible declares, a lack of it is now stated to be the root of the sins listed in verses 2-4, which have been redefined as “behavior problems” requiring newly discovered “psychological solutions.”
As we have so often noted and documented, this pop psychology myth, having been introduced into Christianity by leaders of impeccable reputation, has become so popular that today it is the prevailing belief throughout the church. It is as though Paul actually wrote, “…in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be haters of their own selves, and as a consequence will need to undergo therapy and attend seminars in order to learn to love themselves properly….” Such mutilations would be required before one could derive the current self-love/self-worth fad from Scripture.
Acceptance of psychology’s delusion that a lack of self-love is our major problem meant that Christ’s statement to “love your neighbor as yourself” had to be re-interpreted as a command to love ourselves. Why would Christ command us, if we all lack self-love, to love our neighbors as we [fail to] love ourselves? Christ’s apparent error is now corrected by books and seminars teaching us how to first of all love self so that we can fulfill His command.
In contrast, simple exegesis of Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” would derive from Scripture the following: (1) clearly we must already love ourselves, or such a command would be foolish; (2) this is confirmed by Ephesians 5:29 (“For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it….), which is substantiated by the obvious fact that we feed, clothe and care for ourselves and seek to satisfy our own desires; (3) we are thus commanded to manifest love for our neighbors in the same way; ie., by caring for them as we care for ourselves; and (4) the fact that this command is necessary indicates that, rather than lacking in self-love, our problem is an excessive amount of it, which causes us to be selfish and thus to neglect caring for others. It is this self-centeredness that Christ seeks to correct. Such had been the consistent interpretation of this Scripture for 1,900 years until humanistic psychology was embraced as a valid source of “God’s truth.”
As a result, Christian leaders now promote the very love of self that Paul warned would characterize men in the last days and from which Christ came to deliver us by His cross!
That we must derive Truth from the Bible itself and from no other source is clear from Christ’s statement: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:31-32). Simple exegesis indicates that the Truth which alone sets us free from sin and self is (1) revealed only through His Word; (2) understood only by those who “are of God” and obey (“if ye continue”) His Word; and (3) hidden to all others (see vv 43-47). Each of these points is denied by the “all truth is God’s truth” myth. It credits those “not of God” with revelations of “God’s truth” which supplement the very Word of God which they oppose.
Solomon wrote, “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways. For a whore is a deep ditch; and a strange woman is a narrow pit” (Prov 23:26-27). Here we have the simple ingredients of a godly life. There must first of all be the relationship to God as children (“My son…”) born into His family by His Spirit. Then follows surrender of our hearts to Him (“give me thine heart”), which involves both love and commitment. Next we observe His ways, follow His example, obey His Word. How can we do this? Motivation comes through our love for Him and the wisdom imparted by His Word. No matter how pleasurable for the moment, unfaithfulness to God (as to one’s spouse) and disobedience to His Word eventually become a deep ditch and a narrow pit bitter as death itself.
Why should husband and wife be faithful to one another? Why not so-called free sex? For one thing, sex is never “free,” but always carries obligations and consequences that cannot be escaped. Of course it is possible for a husband or wife to “tire” of each other and to “fall in love” with someone else—but that is not real love. God’s Word tells us that “love” is more than sexual passion or pleasure. The God-ordained relationship between male and female (like our relationship to Him) involves total commitment. The man who cheats on his wife or divorces her to marry a “more attractive” woman may enjoy what seems to be pleasure and fulfillment for a time. Eventually, however, the remorse for having broken his marriage vows and having dishonored the God who created him will turn illicit pleasure into great pain. Obedience to God’s Word gives joy now and eternally. Exchanging that deep and lasting satisfaction for temporary pleasure is a bad bargain indeed.
Psychology allows one to say, “I can’t love my wife or husband or parent.” Yet we are commanded to love: first of all God, then neighbor as ourselves, and finally even our enemies. True love comes from obedience to God’s Word and is thus based upon commitment to sound doctrine. Nor is there any excuse under any circumstances for not loving spouse or parent, friend or foe, whether they mistreat or even hate us. The same is true of all of the ingredients of a happy, productive, fruitful, victorious life: they come from obedience to sound doctrine. Far from being divisive as some complain, doctrine is our very life. Those who will not endure it delude themselves with a false “Christianity” that will be severely judged for its fundamental disobedience.
The Bible does not say, “Rejoice in the Lord always…unless you are unable to do so because of an unhappy childhood, a bout of ‘depression,’ or adverse circumstances.” It does not say, “Be anxious for nothing…unless you have a nervous disposition.” It does not say, “Forgive…unless you are unable to because of abuse, etc.” We are not excused from obeying the command, “Be not afraid,” because we happen to be timid and fearful. Nor are we excused from the command, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts,” because we have been diagnosed as susceptible to stress. Nor are we excused from the command to love because we find certain people unlovable. Unfortunately, however, the simple obedience to God’s Word that sound doctrine compels has been undermined by psychological “counseling” that nourishes unbelief and rebellion. Therapy then offers to justify our disobedience, to comfort us in our rebellion, and to provide the peace and joy that only God can give to those who trust and obey Him.
Love, joy, peace, etc. are clearly declared to be the fruit not of therapy but of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. How? Through some magic process by which God “zaps” us and we are transformed? No, but as God’s Truth so grips our hearts that we are fully persuaded to be ruled by His Word, to obey Him and to trust Him to fulfill in us what He has promised. This is not to deny the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit powerfully in our hearts and through us in others, in ways beyond human comprehension. It is merely to say that the Bible clearly declares that God works in our lives through our obedience to His Word. As Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:31-32).
The litmus test of truth for victorious Christian living must be: Is it derived from Scripture, or is it the wisdom of this world, packaged in Christian terminology in order to make it appear to be compatible with Scripture? This test should not only be applied to the sermons and writings of others, but to ourselves. We should each get on our knees and ask God, “How much of my daily life is rooted in Your Word, and how much is rooted in the world? When I am happiest, is it because I know I have pleased my Heavenly Father, am rejoicing in His grace and love, and ‘the joy of the Lord is my strength’ (Neh 8:10); or is it because I have achieved worldly goals that bring the same joy to those who ‘know not God and obey not the gospel’?”
Jesus accused the Pharisees of establishing traditions that nullified Scripture. Even the clear command to “Honour thy father and mother” had been turned completely around by the Pharisees (Mt 15:1-6). Christ indicted them with their having established a system of religion that allowed men seemingly to honor God outwardly while in their hearts they remained committed to self. What left men’s hearts far from God while their lips seemed to praise Him? Christ summed up His indictment by declaring that Israel’s religious leaders had substituted the traditions of men for the true doctrine of God’s Word (vv 7-9). This same “leaven of the Pharisees” is fermenting in today’s church. May God help us to boldly expose it and to stand uncompromisingly for obedience to His Word. TBC