I read it all the time. I hear it all the time. It sounds more and more reasonable every time I read it and hear it. You have to love yourself first. First before you can love another as spouse. First before you can love God above all. First before you can love your neighbor. You have to love yourself first or you will be no good to spouse, family, neighbor, or God.
The sentiment is good. We have all known folks who seemed intent upon making themselves doormats for all sorts of abusive people who used them up literally! We have all known people who wasted their lives loving people who could not love them back. We have all known those who do not seem to have any self-respect and will literally do anything to be loved, to be recognized, and to be accepted. But I am not at all sure that urging them to love themselves will repair the damage or lead them out of the abyss of their poor choices and empty souls.
The fact is that we love ourselves more today than ever before. We pamper ourselves with things we cannot afford. We consider ourselves worth the best -- from the newest and best of the technological toys for sale to the way we think we ought to be treated. The advertising pushes this self-love on us all the time. It is nearly impossible not to feel pushed to love ourselves first and before all. But this is not Christian. . .
If the Law were all there was, love your neighbor as yourself might seem to imply, even require that we love ourselves first and most of all in order to be equipped to love others. But this call to love others as you love yourself is no promotion of self. Love one another as I have loved you, says Jesus, tying the commandment's use as guide to His own example. He does not abrogate this Law but fulfills it and defines it that we may be no longer mistaken by its intent. Our Lord does not practice self-love but sacrificial love for the sake of others. Love for God and for neighbor comes not from me and how I value or view me. No, it comes from Him whose love is servant love, suffering love, and even dying love. He frees us not for ego but from it.
It is one thing to challenge those who surrender morality and integrity in order to find love, acceptance, and fame. It is quite another to encourage self-love as the preliminary requirement of love, acceptance, and fame. Our self-esteem does not come from looking in the mirror, from the approval of others, or even from the mountain of accomplishments we have to our credit. Our self-esteem is rooted and planted in the sacrificial love of God at work in Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. Not with silver or gold but with His holy and precious body and blood given and shed for us -- this is the price our Lord has placed upon us and it is what He expended that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom. This is the value He has applied to our lives and from this value we learn who we are, what we are, and what we are here to accomplish. Unworthy though we are, God has esteemed us worth nothing less than the priceless body and blood of Christ given and shed for us.
Robert Schuller is surely one of the modern fathers of this self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-love movement but he is not alone. The fact is that too many popular preachers today have incorporated the tragic dead end of pop psychology into Christian theology as if it is God's will and intent for us to love ourselves first and foremost before and as the means to love Him and love others. Baloney. To this false and misleading dream of self-love that gives birth to love for others and for God, the Law must be spoken to kill the lie and silence the liar who speaks it. What is love? Not that we loved God but that He first loved us -- the love we know from the cross.
We are not called by God to preserve ourselves or to save ourselves from sacrificial service but to give ourselves up for Him, for our spouse, for our children, for our neighbors, and even for the stranger on the street corner. Ours is not a self-love with safe boundaries that make sure we are always taking care of ourselves first. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me. It seems to me that the myth of self love hardly ever leads to having any love for others and almost always means that we are too busy caring for ourselves to care about God or anyone else.