This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
That’s what I called our new series of services.
I would like to think with you about what actually defines us.
What God has put into us, how we can develop it and how we deal with ourselves.
This is what the flyer for our series looks like for those who have not seen it yet.
And I’m showing it for a very specific reason. Because the first reaction was: Wow, the focus on me so big, that’s actually not right.
I don’t know what this flyer triggers for you, maybe such an oppressive feeling. There are so many people who are totally selfish according to the motto: If everyone thinks of themselves, everyone is thought of.
And the Christian faith says the opposite. He warns against selfishness. We’re supposed to deny ourselves. We should take a back seat. Do you now also go among those who put the self on such a pedestal.
No, I do not do it.
And I’ll also say something about self-denial and selfishness afterwards.
But I would like to take a look at the Bible with you. Because Jesus gives us a command.
We read in the various Gospels, e.g. in Luke 22, 37-39.
A scribe comes and asks:
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
In Gal. 5.14 we read:
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
And in Jak. 2.8 stands:
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well
There are more passages in the Bible, but love of neighbor never stands apart from our love of self.
The very subtle say there are only two imperatives here:
You should love God
And you should love your neighbor.
But that is not true, because the second commandment is a coupling, charity is coupled with self-love. And that is no automatism according to the motto: I love myself that is what I do anyway.
I would argue that very few of us have learned to love ourselves in a healthy way.
That is why I called the topic today self-love versus selfishness.
And let’s first take a look at the relationship between self-love and love for God and love for one’s neighbor.
1. Relationship between love of self and love of God and love of neighbor
I’ve preached a lot on the other two subjects:
Love God, love his neighbor. But never in 10 years about self-love. Maybe because I also have a queasy feeling.
Unconsciously, I have the following picture in my head:
First comes God.
Then comes the next one.
And then at some point I’ll come.
Loving myself is selfish, unspiritual, dangerous and unbiblical. My life should revolve around God and my neighbor and I can forget myself.
But there is something else in this commandment from God, namely that it is important to love yourself.
The picture that Jesus paints here is different from the one just painted.
Namely, first we should love God, but then our neighbor and myself on the same level, but in a certain way self-love even comes before neighborly love, because I can only love the other as I love myself. All three are related: love of God, love of neighbor and love of self. We should love God with all our hearts, with all our devotion and with all our mind. We shouldn’t love our neighbors like God, so we destroy them.
Do you know how we should love our neighbor and ourselves compared to God?
Jesus says: If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
Hate is not really hate here, it actually means loving less. The relationship between our love for God and our love for us and our neighbor should be so strong that it seems like hate, simply because we love God so much.
I’m not going to open a sermon now about what that means for our time, our priorities, our listening to God compared to people, but that’s quite a challenge.
God loves my neighbor, and therefore I should love him too.
And here again I could open a secondary sermon, what it means to be interested in him, to work, to stand up for justice for the other and to make him known to God. Because God wants the neighbor to begin to love him too.
If I really love God, then what is important to me is important to me, and that is me and that is other people. So you can use your love for your neighbor as a yardstick for your love for God.
And God goes so far that he says 1 John 4:20:
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
But now to this corner …
God gave us life, a liberated, full life, and we can live it that way, as a gift. And what prevents us from doing this is how we treat ourselves.
Our life should honor God, make him happy. But it doesn’t do that if we don’t love ourselves, because then we devalue what God created, namely ourselves. And you cannot love your neighbor either if you do not love yourself.
Have you ever met someone who doesn’t love himself? Who is constantly dissatisfied with himself? He will always complain to others. And if you are not aware of your worth, you will always compare yourself and try to pull the other person down. And … those who do not love themselves often cannot perceive that they are loved by others because they do not consider themselves lovable.
Have you ever noticed yourself? If we dismiss the other person’s words, praise or whatever and think, that can’t be entirely true. If he only knew what I am actually?
So what does it mean to love myself?
2. What does it mean to love myself?
And that may be a little difficult to answer at first, so the other way around, what does it mean to love my neighbor, my wife, my children, my friends.
I have summarized this in three generic terms, there are certainly more facets:
It means accepting them for who they are.
It means to perceive them in their needs.
And it means promoting and supporting them.
Now, before I transfer that to loving ourselves, one more very important interim remark:
We cannot really love ourselves or others without God. In 1 John 4,7 we read:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
The starting point for our love is not in us, but in God and in his love for us, for you.
And do you know that God is much more loving to you than you are? We often have such a strange image of God that he actually doesn’t mean it well to me and think that the way I treat myself, God is actually like that too. There are often inner drivers in us from our childhood and our parental home experiences, we will take a closer look next Sunday, and we will transfer that to God. He gives himself a whole day of rest, not because he needs it, but simply because he wants to, and he gives you a break too.
He puts Adam and Eve in a garden.
He could have put them in a factory if he’d wanted them to be his workers. But no, it creates a place to enjoy and meet him. Jesus’ message is a life in abundance and breadth and not a narrow set of rules that we have to adhere to precisely. He likes to give you good, he gives you fun that we forbid ourselves. We don’t even need God to tell us, but now it’s too much, we’ll do it ourselves.
I mean, Jesus is coming to this earth and the first miracle people hear from him is 600 liters of wine at a party.
Jesus doesn’t say, but that’s enough now. He doesn’t say you get addicted or you can have fun without alcohol.
You can, too, but we just have to see it. And then Jesus tells the parables of the prodigal sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son, and they all end with a party.
What kind of strange image do we often have of God? Jesus comes to this earth and sacrifices his own life for you, for your guilt. God forgives you and we find it so difficult to forgive ourselves.
Zef. 3.17 we read:
“The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”
God is more gracious and tender and benevolent to you than you are yourself. And can you believe that you are wanted, not an accident, but wonderfully conceived and created, valuable, accepted, cared for, loved, held and blessed?
David writes in Psalm 139, 13-16
For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. 15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
To love yourself, that means first of all looking at Jesus and letting his love flow to me.
It is not for nothing that Paul writes in Ephesians, chapter 3: 14-19:
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
I realize I need his view of my life. Then I can love myself better. For some who find it very difficult, it is sometimes a longer journey.
To love yourself, when I transfer the love of your neighbor from before, means to accept me for who I am without having to stay as I am.
We also have our downsides and God wants to change us. But I can accept myself. With my strengths and my weaknesses.
Stop comparing yourself, for you are incomparable and God willed you and made you wonderful as well. And accept with my story too.
For many of us, this means that if we haven’t already, we need to reconcile with our past. Because everything didn’t always go as we wanted it to.
Influences from others, injuries, experiences of sadness, wrong decisions that we have made, guilt that we have taken upon ourselves.
But if I learn to trust God, then it will be easier for me to believe what the writer Fyodor Dostoevsky once said:
Love your destiny because it is God’s way with your soul.
I like to think of Joseph, who had to go so many incomprehensible ways, but was not bitter and was also able to forgive his brothers because he knew that God leads his life:
But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Genesis 50:21
Loving yourself also means being aware of myself and my needs.
Peter Scazerro writes in his book Faith giants soul dwarves that this relates to 5 areas of my human personality, namely the emotional side, i.e. my feelings, the social, my relationships with other people, the physical, what does my body need, the spiritual, how does it actually look in my relationship with God and the intellectual. And I think that at first it is difficult for many to even notice it.
We find it difficult to listen to others and it takes time to listen to ourselves.
Some dismiss this as nonsense, others are afraid of what will happen to them, and then we throw ourselves either into work or into distractions or even addictions in order not to deal with it, because it can be painful. But let’s say, what’s inside of us, we can maybe push it down for a while, but at some point it breaks like a seething volcano. And that’s why it’s better to look beforehand. Many crises in our life arise because we haven’t looked early enough.
Suddenly our body is on strike because we have run over the signals it has sent us that we cannot keep the pace of life and work as high as before and that we urgently need a rest. A relationship breaks up because we have never put ourselves right with what has happened inside us emotionally, perhaps disappointments, anger, injuries.
I become listless because I no longer have a vision.
Take a little time at home and ask yourself the question: How am I really doing? And then allow what you discover there. Especially with feelings. We lock them up so often because such negative feelings are not allowed in the Christian faith. But that’s not true. Feelings are allowed, but we should then bring them to God and learn to deal with them properly with His help.
And if you notice that abysses are opening up, then get someone to support you and look together.
It will be a healing process in your life.
Loving yourself then also means encouraging myself and being good with myself.
And sometimes it’s not so easy for us to see what’s really good now. But when dealing with others, we know that. Would we keep verbally abusing others we love? No. Do I support my neighbor by constantly criticizing and not forgiving?No. Do I promote my neighbor by being impatient and merciless with him? No.
And how do you love yourself?
But we do it with ourselves.
I’m an idiot.
I’m not beautiful.
I am not gifted.
How could I.
Do you know such inner dialogues? Isn’t it better if we learn to speak God’s truths about our lives?
The Bible says that words have power, and so do our internal dialogues. That’s why what Armin said earlier is not exaggerated at all, even if it seems a bit strange to us at first. But do that every morning for the next few weeks and start to believe yourself, or rather, believe God, because he says about you that you are the best gift to the people around you, because he created you!
But now there are also people who are total egoists.
Up to narcissists who are so in love with themselves. In America you can now marry yourself.
Under the motto: First I have to take care of myself, the wildest things are done. And sometimes after a crisis people come out of a clinic with this credo and throw everything overboard.
I believe that many marriages end in divorce because of this.
Paul specifically warns us against this.
He writes to Timothy, 2nd Tim. 3.1-5:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves,
and I think that’s at the beginning like a colon for everything that follows:
greedy, cocky and arrogant. They will offend those around them, disobey their parents, be ungrateful and have neither awe nor compassion. They will be unforgiving, slanderous, uncontrolled, violent, hateful of all good and ready for any betrayal. They will stop at nothing to achieve their goals and will be blinded with arrogance. They are all interested in pleasure, while they are indifferent to God. You give yourself a pious appearance
Dear people, listen to this because it affects us too.
They give oneself a pious appearance
but they do not want to know anything about the power of God, which could change them so that they would really lead a pious life. Stay away from such people!
Where is the line between selfishness and self-love?
3. Differentiating between selfishness and self-love
Selfishness is an addiction. And addiction is almost always characterized by trying to fill a void. And I believe that selfish people have not understood this love of God or do not want to accept it, and therefore constantly turn around themselves to meet their needs, in order to suppress their emptiness. Notice why you are doing something. Is it to fill a void in you that only God can fill?
Phil 2: 3-4
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Humility means knowing your own position.
To know who you are and who you are not, especially important to God.
Only those who know about their own strength don’t have to constantly prove them.
Only those who do not attach their self-worth to positions can, if necessary, free up their place for someone else.
Those who know about their weaknesses and that they are also loved in them can deal with them in a relaxed manner.
In all of this, we should not only look at ourselves but also at the other, and respect him even more than ourselves.
But it also says here that this does not mean that we are drowned in the process, but that we look together to ensure that everyone is taken care of.
There where I love the other like myself, there is no place for selfishness.
And now one last thing:
Doesn’t Jesus say:
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
So where is the line between self-denial and self-love?
4. Differentiation between self-denial and self-love
One idea of me as a child was that if I live with Jesus, then I have to stop doing everything I enjoy and he will want me to have to do exactly what I least want to do later.
I hear such statements again and again from others, for example that they are afraid that God would now want them to go to Africa as missionaries. Funnily enough, I can now imagine that more and more.
But actually this attitude also says a lot about our image of God and I already said something about it earlier.
God created us with our talents, strengths and interests and he uses us right there with, and sometimes despite our weaknesses.
Living with him doesn’t mean giving up on ourselves. We also see in Jesus that he went to parties, that he worked normally for 30 years of his life, that he spent time with his friends. that he withdrew to have time alone, and thus set a limit. Its sphere of activity was limited to a few people and for a short time, and yet it had global and eternal effects.
The secret of Jesus was that he lived this relationship with his Heavenly Father so closely that he knew what God wanted from him and then did it. And he did that even if it cost him something. His reputation for not having a permanent home, and in the end even his life.
In this sense, self-denial means to follow Jesus and to listen to him and to put his will above my own, to do what he says and maybe also very consciously to give up something and to renounce something. But knowing that God will take care of me then. Because he has promised. If we strive for his kingdom, Mat. 6,33, that means exactly that, then he will take care of me, where I replace myself at the back, for his sake.
So I don’t have to take care of myself all the time; God takes care of me. To love him, I said at the beginning, that should be so much higher than loving yourself and your neighbor. Respecting him more highly, listening to him should stand so much higher. To do what he wants. These can be very special things that he only wants from me. But that can also be a lot of what he has already said in his word, where we don’t have to wonder what his will is, but can just do it, even if it costs us something. If I follow His plans, can I trust that God will take care of me and that He means well to me?
We saw how important it is that we learn to love ourselves.
Because that saves us from becoming selfish, because this is the only way we can love others, because this is the only way our life glorifies God and we radiate his love and because this is the only way we grow into the fullness of life that he would like to give us.
Jesus loves you infinitely. He gave his own life for you. We can learn to love ourselves by looking to God and his love for us, by accepting ourselves as we are without having to remain as we are, by perceiving ourselves and our needs and by promoting ourselves and treating ourselves well, and all of this without being selfish, but also paying attention to the other and listen to God and do what he says, even if we have to give something up or forego something, but we can trust that God takes care of us and our lives.
I would like to pray, and then we want to give God the glory that is his due, today with songs, in our everyday life with our lives.