Read His Words Before Ours!
Pastor John E. Brown read Matthew 22:34-39 to the congregation from the church stage. A part of verse 39 reverberated in my head as the Spirit prompted my heart with His Word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Yeah, Lord. I know.
I’m supposed to love others.
I do Lord.
You know I do.
In fact, I’m the ultimate people-pleaser.
I seem to live my life for others.
I give and give.
It exhausts me.
Lord, I try to fulfill this verse to the best of my ability.
“No, you do not.”
I felt, rather than heard, His response.
No, I do not? What more can I do? I protested in my continued inward dialogue with the Lord. I’ve knocked myself out for people.
“The last part of the verse you’re forgetting,”
Love your neighbor as yourself.
I pulled out my Bible and reread the verse.
As yourself, I repeated.
The download came upon me with force.
Loving neighbors = Loving yourself.
My engineering background came forward. If it’s equal, then one end of the sentence is equal to the opposite end of the sentence. It’s also equal, in reverse.
Loving yourself = Loving neighbors.
Oh my! This put a whole new slant on the verse.
I’m to love myself as much as I love others?
Give love to myself? No—that’s not me.
The Lord’s right —I’ve never before fully understood that simple verse. I thought it was only about the amount of love that should be bestowed on others. This was a life-changing difference, especially for this people-pleaser.
I have not equated loving myself with loving my neighbor. Others were more important, isn’t that what the Bible teaches? I have spent a lot of time learning to love others, especially the ones who are really hard to love. However, I had never felt it important to learn to love myself. More often, I struggled with self-condemnation.
And this was the Lord’s purpose in speaking to me through His Word that day.
Yes, He intends us to love others with as much care and concern as we love ourselves. But we are also called to love and accept and care for ourselves just as He loves us. Jesus isn’t pointing us solely towards self-focus or others-focus, but a dual “both-and” dynamic.
I pondered this for a while and wondered at what the Bible says about self-condemnation.
Especially for those who have been forgiven by Christ,
but still fight a daily battle to actually live in that freedom of being forgiven.
For me, the voices of shame and guilt and “should have” swirl around me on a regular basis, and are quick to speak condemnation over me, even though I’ve already been forgiven.
John 7:53-8:11 is the story of the woman caught in adultery: …the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”
Jesus’ reply was amazing, especially for that era. In verse 8:7 He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Verses 9-11 tell how those who heard dispersed, the more mature first, then the less mature, until only Jesus remained with the woman.
Jesus then asked, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, ”I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on, sin no more.”
None of us are without sin, except Jesus, and Jesus did not condemn the woman. Likewise, neither are we to condemn others who sin. The beauty of the gospel is that the perfectly sin-less One took our condemnation and punishment on Himself that we might be free.
These are truths we all need, but there was one more person at the scene who hasn’t been mentioned.
What about the woman herself?
Do you think she found it easy to drop her own condemnation?
I’m not so sure I would have just dropped my own guilt.
I’m more likely to have beaten myself up over and over.
Can we forgive and love ourselves, as easily as we forgive and love others?
Yet, we are commanded to do just that in Matthew 22:39!
Jesus, above every other example, poured Himself out for others.
Listening. Healing. Preaching. Becoming weary for another.
And yet, He still cared for Himself, His needs, and His private relationship with God the Father.
Does God intend for me to meet my own needs for peace and downtime?
As much as I try to be uplifting to others, I am to allow refreshment for myself?
As much as I make time for others, does accepting God’s grace over me mean making space for myself?
We are called to rest, care for ourselves, and cease harsh condemnation of ourselves.
Love yourself as you love others.
With this revelation, my faith journey took a new direction.
For the first time, I understood why I shouldn’t be a people-pleaser,
neither a pleaser of myself, nor a pleaser of others.
Instead, not trying to please men, but God (1 Thessalonians 2:4),
I should be a God-pleaser.
If we obediently offer Christ’s grace to others and ourselves,
both parties will be well cared for.
What a wonderful God to love us so well!
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!