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The Problem with Relationships: It’s All About Me!

I don’t like myself, I’m crazy about myself.
~ Mae West~

I celebrate myself, and sing myself.
~Walt Whitman~

A basic truth of life is this: you can’t get it right with others until you get it right with self and you can’t get it right with self until you get it right with God. We should accept and see ourselves as God see us but there is a big difference in that and the self-absorbed life. Alan Bloom was right when he said, “We are being told the healthy inner-directed person will really take care of others. To which I can only respond: If you can believe that, you can believe anything.” It is healthy to take a look at ourselves from time to time, but it is neither wise nor called for to erect a monument there.

Putting Self- Love in Its Place

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength … You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30-31 ESV)

Based on what you see in our culture, what percentage of people would underline “as yourself” in those words of Jesus? It has even become popular for those who call themselves Christ followers to emphasize the need to love one’s self. “How can we love others,” they ask, “if we don’t love ourselves?”

The best way to understand what Jesus was really saying is to read the context of where he said it. In Mark 12, Jesus was quoting from Leviticus 19:9-17. The broader context of that passage has to do with God’s people being so aware of His presence that that they remember to not take advantage of those around them. Israel was being commanded to treat all people equally both in business, personal dealings, and justice.

What is sometimes called the Golden rule is repeated in James 2:8. But the broader context of that entire chapter has to do with a warning against playing favorites in the church because of how people look or how much they possess.

We should accept ourselves and see ourselves as loved and valued by God, this is true. But too many have misapplied Jesus’ Great Commandment to mean we need to love ourselves in order to love others. Consider these quotes from some popular preachers of our day:

  • “The core of original sin, then … could be considered an innate inability to adequately value ourselves. Label it a ‘negative self-image,’ but do not say that the central core of the human soul is wickedness.”
  • “You cannot love your neighbor until you already have a healthy love for yourself.”
  • “Classical theology defines sin as `rebellion against God.’ The answer is not incorrect as much as it is shallow and insulting to the human being. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity …”

This kind of thinking is getting the proverbial cart in front of the horse. The real question should be, “Is our problem how little we love ourselves or how little we love others?” Both Jesus and James make the assumption that we already love ourselves enough and tend to look out for our own self interest to the exclusion of others.

The Real Problem

Ironically, the “self-love” gospel is what the Bible identifies as the root of the worst kind of relationship problems. A quick reading of Isaiah 14:13-14 shows that before Satan was cast from heaven, he had a very healthy sense of self-love. His battle cry became “I Will!” It was Satan’s self-love and self-will that caused his expulsion from heaven and all the misery he brought with him to earth.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:1-3 ESV)

The root source of all relationship problems is an unhealthy focus on self! Some translations label this focus as “lust” and others as “pleasures.” Lust isn’t a word most of us feel very comfortable about and perhaps that is a good thing. However you translate it, James is talking about self-love that is out of control. It is allowing what seems and feels good to us to control our lives regardless of how it affects our relationship with God or others.  That abnormal focus on self:

  • Creates all the problems named in James 4:-13.
  • Destroys everything it touches (family, church, relationships).
  • Is always internal before it becomes external (Matthew 5:21-28).

It Begins and Ends with God

Eugene Delacroix "Christ on the Cross" 1845

Read Mark 12:29-31 again and ask yourself, “Where do healthy relationships really begin?” Rather than focusing on the way the Golden Rule ends we should focus on how it begins! It’s all about our relationship to God. You can’t get it right with others until you get it right with God.

Entropy and destruction are the effects that sin has had on the perfect design God created us with. Three things occurred initially with Adam and Eve and remain a part of our collective DNA to this day.

      • Concealment – a failure to be transparent
      • Fear – a basic distrust of other’s motives
      • Blame – a prideful determination to find fault everywhere but in one’s self

Focusing on ourselves rather than God and others can be seen in each of these conditions. When we quit thinking and acting like life is all about us, then much of the concealment, fear, and blame are resolved.

As we enter into the Christmas season, celebrating the most selfless act of love imaginable, let us look to God as our example. He emptied Himself of all power, rights, and authority to become a man. He became a servant to His created. He became the atonement for their sin. He endured the death and punishment they deserved to give them a chance at life everlasting. All this He did willingly, because of love.

We, too, must learn to look at the world through God’s eyes. We must learn to live and act in the way that Christ did, looking to His life to guide us through our own. When we learn to do this, it will be at this point that true restoration can begin—both with God and the other people in our lives.

© 2011 Off the Grid News


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