The following is an excerpt from “When People Are Big and God is Small” by Dr. Ed Welch.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 19:19
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is considered the Biblical proof-text (for those who need one). When interpreted through cultural spectacles, this verse means that we must love ourselves in order to love other people. But in reality, the passage doesn’t even suggest such an interpretation. Jesus spoke these words to a rich young man who clearly loved himself and his possessions too much. There is only one command in the passage and it is “love your neighbor.” Nobody, including the writers of scripture, could have dreamed that this passage taught self-love. It took some cultural changes to reinterpret it and turn our eyes inward.
The Bible assumes that we have more than enough self-concern. We dress ourselves. We get depressed when things don’t go our way. We can be consumed with what someone thinks about us. But cultural assumptions have blinded us. We no longer see the smog we live in. So pastors of many growing churches preach almost weekly about healthy self-esteem, as if it were taught on every page of scripture. Too many Christians never see that self-love comes out of a culture that prizes the individual over the community and then reads that basic principle into the pages of scripture. The Bible, however, rightly understood, asks the question, “why are you so concerned about yourself?” Furthermore, it indicates that our culture’s proposed cure – increased self-love – is actually the disease. If we fail to recognize the reality and depth of our sin problem, God will become less important and people will become more important.