Friday, March 22, 2013

Love.....a Biblical Perspective

 It was once generally accepted that man's greatest problem was pride, an inordinate self-interest. Now society tells us that man's greatest problem is that he thinks, not too highly of himself, but too lowly. He has "low self-esteem." Virtually every vice, from disruptive behavior to murder, is interpreted as an expression of low self-esteem. Interpreting human behavior through the philosophical grid of "victimism," psychotherapists suggest that the perpetrator cannot really be blamed for his conduct. He is merely reacting to circumstances that displease him because he has no inner sense of significance and personal worth. What he needs, they say, before he can function properly in a social context, is a new appreciation for his own uniqueness, a new sense of his own importance and dignity. Once he has developed this "love of self," we are told, he will have the motivation to resist drugs, make good grades, and overcome the feelings of despair that come with life's inevitable disappointments. Pop singer Whitney Houston promotes the gospel of self-love in a contemporary song:
I believe that children are our future; Teach them well, and let them learn the way; Teach them all the beauty they possess inside; Give them a sense of pride...
The message is subtly packaged in a beautiful musical arrangement, accented by Houston's captivating voice. She continues:
I determined long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadow, If I fail, if I succeed, at least I'll live and die, believing, No matter what they take from me, They can't take away my dignity; Because the greatest love of all, is happening to me; Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.
Is "the gospel according to Whitney" consistent with the gospel according to Jesus? What did Jesus say was "the greatest love of all?" Learning to love yourself? Absolutely not! According to the Lord Jesus Christ, "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (Jno. 15:13). The Lord interprets love in terms of self-sacrifice, or if you please, unselfishness, not self-centeredness and self-concern.

Far from producing happiness and stability, self-love breeds heartache and confusion. Marriages disintegrate, not thrive, when selfishness prevails. The moment each partner begins to prioritize self before the other, the relationship is destined to fail. What would happen to a family of five if every member adopted a self-absorbed mentality? If each lived for himself and not for the other, what would become of the family? Sadly, the answer to that question is all too apparent in the demise of the home in western culture.

"I'm not getting what I want out of this relationship," one mate says to another. "I don't think I love you anymore." I suggest that this person has not even started to understand the meaning of love. In fact, I maintain that many people who say "I love you" are really saying, in the words of the automobile commercial, "I love what you do for me." Self-love is not missing; love is. "I don't think I love you anymore" means "You don't do for me what you once did and I love myself too much to stay here any longer." Self-love, expressing itself in self-protection, self-defensiveness, self-assertiveness, and self-righteousness destroys relationships. It doesn't build them. Christianity, on the other hand, expressing itself in self-denial, self-humbling, self-forgetfulness, and self-sacrifice provides a rock-solid foundation for a marriage that sings.

People do not have to "learn" to love themselves. Because man was created in the image of God, he is a self-conscious creature. Sin has perverted and distorted this natural self-awareness, however, so that fallen man tends to idolize and deify the self, devoting his every energy and affection to the service of the self. "No man ever yet hated his own flesh" argues Paul (Eph. 5:29). If a man has a headache, he takes an aspirin, because he loves himself too much to allow his body to hurt. If he is fatigued, he rests, because he loves himself too much to allow himself to be uncomfortable. On the basis of this principle, Paul argues that men should love their wives like they love their own bodies. In other words, a man should take the same pains to relieve his wife's burdens and promote her welfare that he takes for his own body. His primary interest should be her well being, not his own comfort. That is real love - selfless, sacrificial behavior that "esteems others more important than self" (Phi. 2:3). This kind of love must be "learned" and developed, for it doesn't come naturally. But in a fallen world, it is the only kind of love that will produce the happiness that comes from a stable relationship.

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