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Christian Life
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Healthy vs. Unhealthy Self-Esteem - Part 1

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Much of today’s self-esteem teaching is centered around the love of the self, or rather the old self, fallen nature or the carnal person. Paul refers to this when he says, “...people will be lovers of self” (2 Timothy 3:2 ESV). This is the carnal self and it is not a good thing.

This is why the Christian community has been scratching its head over the self-esteem teaching. Should there be self-love or should there not be self-love?

Actually there is both, and we must know the difference.

Godly Self-Love Is Vital To Loving Others

Christians know there should be a measure of self-love, which enables us to love others, and the Bible reveals healthy self-love as the standard for loving others.

Ephesians 5:28,29 declares, “He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.” Husbands are to love their wives as they love themselves.

Truth be told, when a husband does not have a healthy self-love, he fails to love his wife as he ought. When he does not care for himself, he fails to care for his wife.

A drunk in the gutter who has lost all self-esteem will not love his wife as he ought to love her.

Or an angry, harsh husband reveals self-hate.

This is not about his wife’s failure to be lovable, but about his failure to love himself as God intended.

How can a husband with healthy self-love habitually mistreat his wife? He cannot.

Interestingly I had one husband tell me, “I fail to love my wife as I ought to love her because I hate myself.” His self-hate spilled over onto her as hatred of her.

She would ask, “Why do you hate me?” He replied, “I don’t. I hate myself.” Of course that answer falls short of what God reveals to the husband in Ephesians 5:28,29. That husband needed to learn to stop hating himself and loving himself as God intended.

On the other hand, a husband who respects himself and his own needs will respect his wife and her needs.

A husband who cares for his daily burdens will care for his wife’s daily burdens. He will treat her as he treats himself. He will treat her as he wishes to be treated. His proper love of self guides his proper love of her.

Self-hate undermines all of this.

Godly Self-Love Resists Temptation

We need to love ourselves as God loves. When we don’t, we might seek out love in the wrong places in order to feel good about ourselves.

Think about an unhappy wife tempted to commit adultery. She must act on the truth that God loves her. She must not let her guard down and conclude she is no good, giving into the advances of a male co-worker who makes her feel loved.

She is God!

She must hold her head up high and resist this man’s wooing of her and telling her that he loves her. She need not yield to the temptation to be loved in this way because God loves her at the core of her being, and will forever and ever.

Because of this, she must possess a healthy self-love.

She must love herself as God loves her. She must be able to echo what the Apostle John wrote, “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us” (1 John 4:16).

When she does, she stiff-arms the advances that entice her into an affair, which inevitably lead to self-hate for the Christ-follower.

Though she has a human need for touch and affection, she will not compromise her spiritual self for a momentary fling that satisfies her carnal flesh.  She will live in accordance with her “new self,” not the “old self."

She is a loved daughter of the King of kings. She loves herself enough that she refuses to succumb to the seduction that says, “Let’s have an affair so you can feel good about yourself, so you can feel alive again, so you can feel special.”

Healthy self-love is vital in resisting temptation.

Carnal Self-Love

But, Emerson, can’t this kind of self-love get out of control? Can people become “lovers of self” in a horrible, selfish way?

To these questions, we might echo Philippians 2:21: “For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”

Paul says they are “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4).

There’s a line over which one must not step. There is a carnal self-love that appeals to the sinful flesh.

For instance, people with great beauty, intelligence, abilities, status, wealth and power can wrongly love themselves. Many such folks have an arrogant self-regard. They feel as though they are better than others. They seek to be first and see themselves as deserving to be first. They love themselves more than they love others, though they engage in photo-shoots on behalf of the starving in Africa. Watch them when they are off-camera!

This carnal self-love differs from spiritual self-love.

Unhealthy self-love makes “self” the ultimate end, but healthy self-love makes loving God and others the ultimate end.

In part 2 of this series, I will address ways to gain a healthy self-love. In the meantime, let us hear from you! In your experience and opinion, what is the difference between healthy self-love and carnal self-love?

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider