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Description: Love Yourself Last
Love Yourself Last
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Let’s read Deuteronomy 6:5, “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all
your soul, and with all your might.” I was hoping that it would include the rest of it, “and your
neighbor as yourself”. That may only come when Jesus makes the reference. Yes, let’s read Matthew
22:37-40, “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all
your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like
it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the
Both Irene and I were bewildered when back in the enthusiasm of the Jesus revival on campus, there
was an interpretation of these verses that many college students took for granted. We thought it was
crazy because it was turning God’s word upside down. They would say, you love your neighbor as
yourself but you must first love yourself. It’s because you love yourself that you will know how to
love your neighbor. You should love him the way you love yourself. It was very important to love
yourself and the “me” generation was strong on emphasizing that. First you must love yourself and
then you’ll know how to love your neighbor.
As a different generation coming through WWII, we were very conscious of Churchill’s statement,
“Never have so many, owed so much, to so few.” He was talking about the RAF pilots that managed to
win the battle of Britain against overwhelming numbers of German Luftwaffe that were softening
Britain up for Hitler to invade. So we came up in that whole atmosphere that we owed a lot to these
few brave pilots. Twenty of them would go out and five would come back in a day. So we were very
conscious that that was loving your neighbor even if it cost you your life.
We were very clear that when Jesus said “love your neighbor” that you forget yourself. You love your
neighbor the way you used to love yourself. And so when this other interpretation came in we were
baffled. But young people were quite adamant that that’s what it said. We were to love our neighbor
the same way that we loved ourselves.
But being the “me” generation we are so busy practicing the first part that we never get around to
the second part. We want to get the loving ourselves right first. Of course it led then to the whole
emphasis of the “me” generation, that we must take care to look after ourselves. All those things
are right in that you do need to take care of the body God has given you. But of course it was
turned into self-centeredness. It became the war cry of the “me” generation — first comes yourself
and then other people after that.
For Irene and me it was “1984” — George Orwell speaking where he says, “good will become evil and
evil will become good.” And unfortunately you probably would have to say that that still is the
general attitude people have. Whether they actually turn the commandment upside down in
interpretation or not, I don’t know. But certainly it’s the attitude today. First you must take care
of yourself and then you must do what you can for others.
Irene and I joke with each other at times because this interpretation is often used by
philanthropists and especially by Christian philanthropists. You can give to the orphans and while
you help them you can help yourself. You can help yourself because you get a tax break. And so there
is emphasis on helping others while you are helping yourself. The emphasis is still on helping
yourself. Let us help others as long as I don’t have to stop helping myself.
But really the truth is opposite of that. We get it from the verse we are studying today in
Ephesians 5:28. At first it appears to have some of that ambiguity. Eph 5:28, “Even so husbands
should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” And it all
becomes very clear when you see the whole context in which Paul applies it. It explains too why he
seems to introduce a little detour.
You see up in verse 21 he is talking about marriage. Eph 5:21-22, “Be subject to one another out of
reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord.”
And then suddenly he makes a detour. He gets into ecclesiology, which is the study of the church.
Eph 5:21-22, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your
husbands, as to the Lord.” Why does Paul suddenly turn around from the marriage question to the
relationship of Jesus to the church?
Then you begin to see in Paul’s mind the whole picture of marriage is an expression of the great
mystery of the relationship of Christ to the church. It’s the relationship that Christ has to the
church that actually defines the attitude of the husband to the wife. He’s saying that’s the kind of
relationship it is. It’s that kind of love that the marriage must experience. It’s the same love as
Christ had for the church. And then you begin to see how Christ’s attitude to the church defines
what loving another person is.
There is just no way in which you can say, “Oh yes, Christ first loved himself and whenever loving
the church began to touch him he backed off. The first point of the sword that touched his flesh he
backed off right away because he loved himself. And then after that he loved others.”
That is such a lie that it breaks your heart. In no way did he love himself. In no way did his
protect himself. In no way did he say, “I love you but I’m about to lose my life so there my love
for others ceases.” And it becomes clear to us all that Jesus’ attitude to the church and to us is
what real love is. It’s loving God first, loving others and then somewhere down the line is
yourself. Generally it’s to ignore yourself, die to yourself, and deny yourself. It’s God first,
others next and yourself last.
It helps then to apply that in what he says in Ephesians 5:28, “Even so husbands should love their
wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Love your wife in place of
yourself. The paradox is that he who does love his wife does love himself. That’s because you put
your wife in place of yourself as Jesus put his own life last and put the church first.
That brings up this whole issue; if Colleen is married to someone, where does that put me in her
love? Or if Irene is married to me where does that put Marty in her love? It seems to me the whole
world has led us into a misconception of love in this regard. The world knows little of real love
and so the only way it can define love is in a kind of exclusivity. This person is married to that
person and so they love that person more than anybody else. It makes foolishness of the whole idea
of love and marriage.
There is no possibility of a degree of love like that where you say; your father loves you more than
he loves your sister. Or, he loves you more than he loves your mother. Or, he loves you more than he
loves his brother. Or he loves you more than somebody else whom he is very close to for years. No,
love has not degrees like that. It has different relationships and expresses itself in different
ways in those relationships but it doesn’t in anyway mean that this person loves his wife more than
he loves his friend. Or this person loves his father more than he loves his brother. No, the love
does not have degrees, only different relationships.
There are things that we pass through as husband and wife together that we have not passed through
with other people. Those will always be there and those are always experiences that we look back
upon. They are experiences that color our attitude to each other. But similarly, you who have lived
through the auction of the stuff in Garden Court have lived through an experience that Irene and I
haven’t lived through. All of us have different relationships and different ways that we are close
to each other or understand each other. But it’s not a degree of love. The degree of love is always
the same in all cases.
It’s God first, others next and yourself last. It seems to me that’s what the Father has called us
to. I do think that’s a little of what came through to the customer that you visited last week. I’m
talking about Colleen and I probably will be able to tell it more or less correctly.
She went into this store and the people had forgotten that she was coming. They said, “Oh we forgot
about the appointment.” Of course Colleen was set for having the appointment but replied, “Oh
that’s OK. I don’t take long.” So the store people said, “Alright bring your things in.” So she
brought her jewelry in and went through things with a light, cheerful heart. And the buyers seemed
to catch fire as she did the presentation.
When the presentation was over she gathered up her samples and took the first lot back to the car.
When she came back in she realized they had been talking about her. They were just delighted and
said, “Your jewelry is beautiful. And we’re so glad that you’re our rep. You’re just a great rep.”
And so the whole thing was turned around into an upbeat enjoyable interaction. I really do think
it’s because you put yourself last. You put out of your mind any thought that you were losing your
commission. But you were delighted to do it by throwing self away.
You forget whether this is a good experience or bad experience and take the attitude, “Let me enjoy
this and let me do what Jesus wants for me to do.” It seems to me that’s the difference. It’s loving
your neighbor as yourself. It’s doing unto others what you would have them do unto you. It’s
treating them as you treat yourself. And for me that’s always been the heart of what God was after
in Christian Corps.
How does Peg feel when it’s not too good on the physical side? And how is she feeling now? Would she
like her favorite food (popcorn) or would it do her harm and make her feel sick? What is she going
to do this afternoon or this evening? It seems to me that’s what love is. It’s about treating each
other the way you used to treat yourself.
If you press me and say, “Is it like having no self?” Yes, that’s what I’d say. I’m not saying that
I always do that, but that’s what I say it is. It’s forgetting that you exist. It’s accepting that
God took the old you that used to be respected and looked after here on earth. He destroyed that in
Christ and so ‘you’ are finished with. Now you are a new being, (an angel somewhere in the middle)
and you’re mainly a carrier of Christ. It’s his life.
Then the love of Christ comes, fills your heart and goes out to others. You are really like Mr. and
Mrs. DeHues who owned Hotel Centropa that said, “Everything for the guest!” You live for God and for
other people. You don’t live for yourself at all. And if you say to me, “What will happen to
‘yourself’?” Well, I’d say if God doesn’t look after you, you are lost. His business is to look
after you. Your business is to look after Him and others. Wherever we do that we actually end up
loving ourselves without intending to. That’s because you’re looking after other people in the same
self-forgetful way that Jesus did and the Father is looking after you.
Let us pray.