Love…thyself?

Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV):

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

English has this irritating property: “love” is a very poorly defined term. I have heard a variety of definitions offered for it, and most of them are justified, based on how we use it.  In Greek, however, there are four distinct words that we translate as “love”: agape, phileo, storge, and eros.  In the passage above, the love spoken of is “agape”.  There is also a condition: “..as yourself.”  Christians are required to love others in the same way they love themselves.  Unfortunately, I know of several Christians who do not effectively agape themselves.

So, what does “love thyself” look like in each possibility?  Agape is perhaps the easiest.  Agape is a sacrificial, unconditional love.  In personal finance, this would manifest as things like “no credit cards”, “retirement savings”, “big purchase savings”, “emergency funds”, etc.  This is the person who delays gratification so that money works for, not against, him or her.  This is a person who appreciates the truth that “no relationship” is better than “a bad relationship”.  It is better to be single than abused.  It involves using discipline to look out for oneself, dealing in truth rather than idealistic fantasies.

Eros will tend to be the opposite: it is a fleshly, carnal love.  It is not entirely bad, but it needs boundaries (from agape).  Unbridled eros of self would be destructive instant self-gratification.  Massive debt with no savings, one night stands, binge drinking, drugs, anything to give an instant dose of pleasure.  This is a destructive, selfish, unhealthy “love”.

Phileo is an affectionate love.  “Brotherly” love is the love where you are at peace with yourself.  You keep yourself comfortable and happy.  It doesn’t imply the potential excesses of eros, nor the self-discipline of agape.  This is tender and affectionate.  You truly like yourself and feel good about yourself.

Storge is sort of a neutral “family” love.  This is the love you have with family, just because they are family.  Applied to self, it implies taking care of yourself, some minimal efforts.  You are content in your own skin, but may or may not be happy.

ALL of these forms of love are important!  In marriage, for example, you want to treat your mate right (agape), have affection (phileo), get some (eros), and sometimes just hang doing your own things side by side (storge).  The same is true of self, you need to take care of yourself in both the long and short term (agape), like yourself (phileo), allow yourself some pleasure (I’m partial to video games and board games), and be comfortable with yourself.

If your love of self is unbalanced, however, your love of neighbor will be too.  I know people who do not agape themselves.  That is bad enough, but that translates into not agapeing their spouses, friends, children, etc.  They are loving their neighbor as themselves, but the net result is destructive for everyone.

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