There is remarkably little said in the Bible about loving yourself.
When such is mentioned, it tends to be as a given, an assumption that you will love yourself. For instance, in giving instruction to husbands concerning how to love their wives, we read, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” (Ephesians 5:28-29a; ESV) Or let us notice the commandment which tells us, “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18; cf. Matthew 22:39)
As we consider the two greatest commandments, “Love God,” and “Love your Neighbor,” (cf. Matthew 22:36-40) we also consider that there is not, in the Bible, a third great commandment which says to make sure to look out for yourself as number one. Instead, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27; ESV).”
God expects us, in being mindful of ourselves, to exercise self-control and restraint in the face of temptation. But when it comes to doing good, God’s pure religion teaches us to put others first and do good for them, especially those who are most in need, such as orphans and widows.
The Bible gets pretty explicit to Christians, trying to make it crystal clear what God expects from them in this regard: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Philippians 2:3; ESV).” It is in doing this that we display the mindset of Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us. (cf. Philippians 2:4-8) If we truly want to be like Christ, letting Christ live in us for all the world to see there is no other way to be.
Which brings us to the text we want to take a moment and focus on: Galatians 2:10. To properly appreciate this text, it helps to do a little background reading in Acts 15:1-35, and then Galatians 1:11–2:10. You are urged to read both. But, in summary, Paul is admonishing the Galatians for trying to add Judaism to Christianity, and the Law of Moses to the Gospel of Christ and is reminding them that this was not the first time men had taught such false doctrine. It was an issue Paul had dealt with some time before when he had been one of the ministers serving the church in Antioch.
At that time false teachers had come from Jerusalem, and Paul was sent by God to deal with the matter in Jerusalem, the source of the controversy. Acts 15 details the conference that followed. In this conference, the elders and the apostles and all the church studied the Scriptures and reviewed what God had said and done through both Peter and Paul. Finally they concluded that such a new doctrine was not only unhelpful but that it was actually contrary to God’s revealed will.
This issue, which was one of the first great doctrinal disputes in the church, is at the heart of the book of Galatians, for the same Judaizing doctrine was now being taught in Galatia and it was troubling the church.
In Galatians 2:9-10, as Paul, recalls those momentous events from previous years, he writes concerning the leaders in the Jerusalem church, saying, “they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (ESV)
Those in Jerusalem, as well as Paul, wanted to get Christianity right. They wanted to teach the right things, but they also knew that it was important to do the right things. Circumcision in the church? That was not something God cared about or demanded. But remembering the poor? There was an issue that all the apostles knew needed to be done properly. This too was an issue that Paul was eager to be involved in, for he wanted to be like Christ (cf. Galatians 2:20). In the middle of this great doctrinal discussion concerning things others thought to be important, the apostles all wanted to focus on what truly mattered.
It’s important to get Christian doctrine right. The apostle Paul told Timothy that it was in keeping a close watch on his doctrine that he would be able to save both himself and his listeners. (cf. 1 Timothy 4:16) But let us make sure that we understand proper doctrine is not necessarily a complicated affair demanding great learning. Proper doctrine teaches us, in the simplicity of Christ, that we need to be eager to help others, putting their interests before our own, even as Christ did for us. If we miss this doctrine, we’ve missed the true heart of Christianity, and the religion that God approves of.
If you would like to learn more of the doctrine of Christ, the church of Christ invites you to come worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any question you would like answered or addressed, please share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.