The Importance of Loving Yourself First

The Importance of Loving Yourself First June 22, 2017

I remember, as a child, learning the acronym JOY:

Image credit: Ed Gregory,
  • Jesus first
  • Others second
  • Yourself last

At the time, it seemed to make enough sense. Obviously, God should be your first priority, and you’re supposed to put others before yourself, so it fits, right?

But does it really work to love in that order? I don’t think so. I believe that’s actually backward.

You have to start by loving yourself. This concept of self love was pretty much considered heresy in the fundamentalist circles I grew up in, but it really is essential.

Jesus taught, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39, CEB). If your love for others is to be measured against your love for self, then self love has to be in place before you truly can love others. This is not selfishness; it is merely maintaining a healthy balance.

There’s a reason airlines tell you, in case of an emergency, to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping anyone else. If you try to help others before helping yourself, you risk running out of oxygen and causing much greater harm to both yourself and the people you’d like to help.

Likewise, if your love of self is lacking, your love of neighbor will be lacking as well.

As for loving Jesus, he taught that you love him by loving others. “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me” (Matthew 25:40, CEB).

You may show your love for God in an abstract way via songs and prayers, but it’s impossible to truly love God in any concrete and practical manner without first loving others. Loving others is how you love God.

So you can’t love God until you first love others. And you can’t love others until you first love yourself. And since love of God and love of others are the two greatest commandments, that makes love of self pretty damn important.

So go love yourself!

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  • Oscar Scott Oliver

    Excellent article! There is such an emphasis on denying ourselves, that we unbalance the Biblical teaching (“teaching” is what “torah” means). Through the years I have been astounded by the how the biblical truths have been supported by the social sciences. While the rhetoric is different, functionally they are both saying the same things.
    The sad thing also is that if we do not love ourselves, then our dark side will be projected onto others.

  • Mike Dunster

    Part of the trouble is the way that grace is often presented, along the lines of “God loves you but it’s not because you’re worth loving but because God is good” – if you are internalising messages like that, it is rather hard to love yourself.

  • Joel M

    I did grow up in a context where it seemed you weren’t supposed to like yourself. I think part of this was the interpretation of total depravity, and part of it was a guilt-by-association reaction to the idea of self-esteem, which was seen as associated with liberalism and sounded like it meant pride, even though it doesn’t matter where it’s from and that’s not what it means.

    However, I think you’re talking about two different things here. I understand the JOY thing as a statement of priorities: you follow God even if it’s unpopular, and you do good to others even if it’s inconvenient to yourself. You’re talking about an order of operations: we assume you love yourself, which we use as a reference for how much you should love others, which is a means by which you love God.

    I can relate to, “This concept of self love was pretty much considered heresy,” and I think that was an issue in my upbringing as well. I would agree that teaching people to hate themselves is wrong and undermines our ability to love others “as ourselves” and love God. But at least in my experience, I don’t think your idea and the JOY thing are actually contradictory.