Q: I am confused as to what my attitude needs to be towards myself. I have been told that I must love myself, but the Bible instructs me to deny self. Is there some middle ground or truth between these two instructions that will make sense to me as to what kind of attitude I must adopt towards myself to ensure a healthy, godly perspective?
A: You are not the only one who is trying to find the godly balance between these two ideas. Granted, they appear to be contrary to one another. How can you love or prefer yourself, while trying to deny yourself at the same time?
To me the right answer lies in terminology. It is important to point out that according to our understanding of the words we use, they will erect an idea or image in our minds as to how it will look or manifest itself. For example, when we think of loving someone, we think about being absolutely caught up with that individual. Therefore, to love self in this way would prove to be contrary to the instruction that declares before we can be a true disciple of Christ, we must first deny any such preference towards self.
Another concept of love is to make someone preeminent. To make self first would be classified as idolatry, for only Christ must be in such a position. Again, to love self in this manner would be sin and destructive.
The reality of self is that it is quite in love with its idea of who it is. It naturally prefers itself over others. Its main agenda is to survive regardless of who is sacrificed in the process. Self wants to be adored, honored, worshipped, and coddled. It is for this reason we are told to love God first, and our neighbor second in order to keep the perspective of self in the right arena.
It is also for this reason that the Apostle Paul gave this instruction in Ephesians 5:28-29, “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”
This brings us down to the problem. It seems that many people are destroying their lives and bodies (temple). This disregard for themselves has caused many in the Church to try to encourage a right attitude. I have even struggled with it and sought the Lord about it. The truth is that these people are not destroying themselves because they hate their bodies or themselves, but because they are pursuing those things that are pleasing to their flesh and pride. They perceive that they have a right to experience such things because it makes their flesh and the pride of the self-life quite happy. Clearly, a person in this state is serving self rather than abasing it. Although in the end they may hate their lives, and are tormented in their souls about the emptiness that is produced, they still do not really hate themselves.
The terminology that I sense would be best to use in this matter is self-respect and not self-love. Self-respect has a lot to do with doing what is conducive to what one perceives is honorable and right in a situation. In self-respect people do right according their conscience, character, and moral convictions. They refuse to betray themselves, knowing that, if they do, they will not be able to face themselves.
In my opinion self-respect is what is missing today. If people do not know how to respect themselves, they will have no idea how to respect others. This respect also includes our attitude towards others’ rights to hold to their personal convictions and property.
I do hope this brings another perspective to you in light of this subject.