This morning the Washington Post business section ran a column called, “To Me, With Love: Retailers Embrace Valentine’s Day as an Excuse for Singles to Celebrate Themselves.” Among other interesting facts, the article reports that Piperlime, an online shoe store owned by Gap, has a “Be your own Valentine” category. Sales are strong for Valentine’s Day gifts you can give to the person you love the most – yourself.
You may not have the nerve to give a Valentine’s gift to yourself, but you’re probably no stranger to self-love. There is an appropriate way to humbly acknowledge that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). However that is worlds apart from our therapeutic culture which views low self-esteem as the worst of all evils. We’re told we don’t love ourselves enough. In contrast, God warns that in the last days people will be “lovers of self” (2 Tim. 3:2). From God’s perspective, we love ourselves too much.
I’ve been using The Gospel Primer, by Milton Vincent, in my private devotions, and the section I read this morning happened to address this very issue. The author points out that self-love is rooted in at least two lies. The first is the lie that no one can love me better than me. If I don’t love myself, who will be left to give me special treatment, watch out for my comfort, and protect me from danger? Who will buy me presents I don’t have to return? A second falsehood is the belief that no one is more worthy of love than me. That lie leads me to think excessively about how people view me, and to react sinfully when people ignore, criticize, or forget me. “I deserve better!” is the common refrain of a self-consumed heart.
In specific ways, the Gospel liberates us from the lie, lure, and lameness of self-love. First, it shows me God’s love is better than mine. “The Gospel assures me that the love of God is infinitely superior to any love that I could ever give to myself. ‘Greater love has no one than this,’ says Jesus while speaking of His love” (p. 33). My fickle, sin-stained, temporary love will never compare to God’s eternal and unchanging displayed in the atoning sacrifice of his Son. Do I think I can love myself better than God can or does? If so, I’m grossly deceived.
Second, the Gospel shows me that God is more worthy of love than me. “The gospel reveals to me the breathtaking glory and loveliness of God, and in so doing, it lures my heart away from love of self and leaves me enthralled by Him instead. The more I behold God’s glory in the gospel, the more lovely He appears to me. And the more lovely He appears, the more self fades into the background like a former love interest who can no longer compete for my affections” (p. 34). I can be tempted to think that I should be loved more. But if I’m in Jesus Christ, I can’t be loved any more than I already am (Rom. 8:38-39)! No, God is the one who should be loved more. I should spend my time making sure that people love God, not me.
Every time we gather to worship God is one more opportunity to confront the idol of self-love. We should proclaim that we exist to love God as our duty and delight. We should gladly confess that God’s steadfast love extends to the heavens (Ps. 36:5) and that the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge (Eph. 3:19). We should acknowledge that this is the way we know love: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). He gave himself as our substitute, securing our redemption and adoption, and overcoming the powers of hell and the grave.
Meditating on God’s perfect and holy love for his people will cause us to see how great God himself is, and cause us to love him more. Do you leave the Sunday meeting in awe that God loves you? You should! It is a glorious truth that Christ loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). But the fact that God loves me is only part of the good news. I am not the end of the Gospel. God is. And he has freed me from the bondage of loving myself so that I might love and enjoy him forever. THAT is great news!
So don’t get yourself a Valentine’s Day present this year. Or any year. It’s our privilege to demonstrate to the world that we know the Savior who loves us like no other, and who is worthy of our love for eternity.