Self-Care for Love’s Sake
SELF-CARE FOR LOVE’S SAKE
I want to follow up the July 25 sermon ("The Two Greatest Commandments") with a brief reflection on how self-care fits within the Christian life. As we learned from Mark 12:28-34, the most important commandment is to love the Lord with your whole being, and the second most important commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31 ESV). "There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:31 ESV)
As I mentioned in that sermon, some people mistakenly find another commandment in the above instruction and then smuggle it into the picture and may even put it ahead of the second commandment. Some people argue that since Jesus said "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31 ESV), the implication is that you must love yourself before you can love others. In other words, if you are unable to love yourself, then how can you love others "as yourself", i.e., as you love yourself or as you would want others to love you (see Matthew 7:12). Based on this reasoning, then people re-frame the foundational commandments in this way: 1. love God; 2: love yourself; 3: love others. But this is wrongheaded.
Wrongheadedness is what happens when you mix some helpful reflections with flawed reasoning and you aren't willing to think within the boundaries of Scripture. The reason why it is wrong to invent the command to "love yourself" is because we shouldn't be inventing commands; and the reason we shouldn't insert any command (whether of divine or human origin) ahead of the two that Jesus mentions, is because Jesus rules this out of bounds when he says that "There is no other commandment greater than these." Love the Lord. Love your neighbor. Those are the top two. Live with a heart that is oriented to others: upward to God, and outward to your neighbors.
Self-Care is Normal, Healthy, and Right
That said, the folks who call attention to the importance of "as yourself" are on to something. We shouldn't invent a new command out of it or use it to become preoccupied with the world's version of self-esteem, but clearly Jesus' instruction assumes that ordinary people care for themselves and for their well-being. If God Almighty places value on you and cares for you, then you should live accordingly. You should have accurate self-regard (you are God's image-bearer, not a piece of junk) and you should exercise appropriate self-care (for your body is, in fact, a temple of the Holy Spirit). Paul tells Timothy to care for himself: "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments." (1 Timothy 5:23 ESV) Self-hatred and self-neglect are not virtues, and their presence in a person's life is an indication of how entrenched that person is in a world of lies.
Human beings ordinarily attend to their own needs: "... 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, just as Christ does the church." (Ephesians 5:28-29 ESV) It is simply healthy and normal to rest when you are tired, drink water when you are thirsty, eat your daily bread, put on a sweatshirt when the day turns cool, and so on. What is less common is to care about others with the same attentiveness with which you care for yourself. Thus you must learn to "love your neighbor as yourself."
Self-Care for the Sake of Loving God and Others
What I would like to propose in this reflection is that we should understand the role of moderate self-care as part of our effort to walk in love toward the Lord and toward other people. In other words, we should wake up in the morning with the profound awareness that "my primary job today (and every day!) is to love the Lord and to love the people He puts around me." That is God's will for my life. God's will for my life is not to love myself, as if my daily strivings should terminate on me and my comfort and my honor and my advancement. No! May it never be! And yet, if I am going to love the Lord and seek His honor, and if I am going to love the people around me and bless them in practical ways, then there is going to have to be a nourished me who is able to “spend and be spent” (2 Corinthians 12:15 ESV) in service to others for Jesus' sake.
To use a very simple illustration: if I take one of my sons on a hike with the conscious goal that he have a good time, it is profoundly unloving to him if I have carelessly put myself into the predicament that I am underfed and have no strength, dehydrated and feel faint, and outfitted with a thin pair of sandals that cannot safely navigate the rocky climb. “But it’s all about him!” Well, here’s the point: be properly nourished, well hydrated, and outfitted with adequate footwear (self-care) so that you can actually fulfill your purpose of helping your son have a wonderful hike. Self-care for love’s sake. Are you following me here?
What Self-Care Looks Like
So my question is: what does moderate (not self-indulgent!) self-care look like? What does it look like to pursue health in such a way that the deliberate goal is not an awesome me that draws admiration from others, but a resourceful me that gladly lays down my life for Jesus' sake, for the gospel's sake, and for other people's sake? What does healthy self-care look like?
Place Your Care in God’s Hand
First, the most important aspect of self-care is to place your care in God's hand. Put yourself under the care of the Great Physician! This is critically important: God cares for you and invites you to come into His caring presence. Therefore, the absolute best thing that you can do for yourself is entrust yourself to His care, and let Him care for you.
Sometimes we fail to realize that when God's Word gives us directions to follow, it constantly appeals to our self-interest. God's Word doesn't reason like this: you don't matter and your life doesn't matter, therefore become a compliant and dutiful servant who doesn't care about your own well-being. The Bible DOES NOT reason like that at all. Instead, God's Word reasons like this: you do matter and your life is precious and your soul is priceless, therefore entrust your heart and life and future to the Lord, and He will care for you now and forever. Let me give you two examples of how the Bible appeals to our self-interest.
One Scriptural passage says, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." (Isaiah 55:1-2 ESV) The Lord wants your soul to have a rich feast, to enjoy - spiritually speaking - refreshing water, exhilarating wine, nourishing milk, strengthening bread. The Lord wants you to be satisfied with a rich feast. The Lord wants you to truly live, and not to be unsatisfied and spiritually impoverished: "Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live" (Isaiah 55:3 ESV). So the practical question is: do you want to be refreshed, exhilarated, nourished, strengthened, and satisfied? If so, then pursue these things in God, in His words, in His grace, in His ways.
Another Scriptural passage commends an entire way of life, but doesn't do it by appealing to the rightness of it (though it is profoundly right!). Scripture doesn't say: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for it is right to be poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn, for this too is right. Blessed are the meek, for the opposite of meekness is quite wrong. Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for at least they shall know that they are on the right track.' Do you understand what I am saying? You are fundamentally a creature who desires. Do you desire to be part of God's kingdom? Do you desire to be comforted? Do you desire to inherit the earth? Do you desire to receive mercy? Do you desire to see God? Do you desire to be a son or daughter of God? Do you desire to have a great reward in heaven? I am referring, of course, to the Beatitudes, and the point I am making is that they are pulsating with lavish promises to desiring hearts. Jesus wants you to be truly blessed and full of joy. Thus:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:2-12 ESV)
Jesus' kingdom isn't merely about doing the right things (though this is certainly part of the big picture), but desiring the best things. Nine-fold blessedness! Gladness and joy! Comfort and mercy! Satisfaction and reward! Member of God's family, citizen of God's kingdom, heir of the world! Unhindered fellowship with God and with His people forever! So do yourself a favor? Don't settle for anything less than God's best for you! And that, I contend, is the absolute best way to care for yourself, by placing yourself in God's care and receiving the bounty of His care. “[Cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7 ESV)
God’s Care Program
As you place yourself in God's care, you actually trust Him to care for you in hundreds of ways involving spiritual care for your soul, relational care within the body of Christ and within your own family, and practical care for you and your household. And He delivers!
Here is an example of spiritual care: "You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound." (Psalm 4:7 ESV)
Here is an example of relational care: "But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more." (2 Corinthians 7:6-7 ESV)
Practical care is also part of His 'care program' for us. It is most assuredly in your self-interest not to be plagued by anxiety. So don't be anxious about your practical needs, because you have a heavenly Father who is attending to your needs (Matthew 6:25-32). Therefore: "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33 ESV) The Father will see to it that your livelihood, your food and clothing, your daily bread, is added to you as you live for the sake of His kingdom. As the Father supplies your practical needs, you should make use of them. Receive them with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Eat and drink "with glad and generous hearts" (Acts 2:46 ESV). Enjoy His abundant provisions (1 Timothy 6:17). Let His nourishing and sustaining gifts supply the refreshment you need. And get a good night's rest (Psalm 127:2).
So the fundamental way that we exercise self-care is to place ourselves in God's care and let Him care for us. When we pursue self-care and self-interest in this way, what we will realize is that self-care is not something that we achieve by our own effort, wisdom, and strength. Instead, self-care is a gift that we receive as part of our relationship with the Lord.
Therefore, stay close to Jesus and follow Him wherever He goes, and He will lead you into green pastures, and by still waters, and in right paths (Psalm 23:2-3). The restoration of our soul is a gift of His grace (Psalm 23:3). And when we venture into death-shadowed valleys, He will not abandon us but will care for us and comfort us even there in those dark places (Psalm 23:4). Are you following Him?
God Cares for You So That You Can Care for Others
Then, as you care for yourself by placing yourself in God's care, God actually cares for you and He thus equips and energizes you for a life of service to others. He comforts us so that we can comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). He supplies us with resources so that we can share what we have with others (Ephesians 4:28, 1 Timothy 6:17-19). He equips us with spiritual gifts so that we can deploy those gifts in loving service to our fellow believers (1 Corinthians 12-14). God is our joy, our refuge, and our strength; therefore we can live sacrificially for the good of others (e.g., see Luke 12:13-34). "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor." (1 Corinthians 10:24 ESV) "Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved." (1 Corinthians 10:32-3 ESV) People who drink deeply from "the fountain of living waters" (Jeremiah 2:13 ESV) don't need to seek their own good or their own advantage in their dealings with other people. Since they are well-nourished recipients of God's kindness, they are free to pour themselves out in service to others.
Three Questions to Reflect On
Let me conclude by asking you a few questions to reflect on.
1) Do you care for yourself by placing yourself under God's care?
Placing yourself under God's care includes meditating on His Word, drawing near to Him in prayer, believing His promises, following His instructions, and participating in the fellowship of His people. But that’s not all. Eating (well, but not too much), working (diligently, but not too much), sleeping (adequately, but not too much), enjoying time with your family and friends, and appreciating the beauty of God’s creation are also within the scope of God’s care for you. Don’t over-spiritualize His care. Receive all the care that He gives.
2) Has your legitimate desire for self-care been distorted into a lazy or self-indulgent effort that actually draws you away from God?
I know what it is like to watch forms of entertainment that deaden my soul. I know what it is like to fix my eyes on my smartphone until I feel scattered and anxious. I know what it is like to procrastinate and waste time. Ask yourself a simple question: do your attempts at self-care truly refresh you or do you have to recover from them? Slow down. Always navigate within Scriptural wisdom. Make sure that everything you do is wholesome and worthwhile (Philippians 4:4-9).
3) Do you understand that the whole point of being well-nourished and well-supplied is to be poured out as a living sacrifice unto the Lord and for the good of others?
Note well: well-nourished and well-supplied doesn’t mean a posh upper middle class American lifestyle. What it means is that Almighty God is nourishing your heart and supplying you with resources so that all that you are and have can be poured out for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s sake and love’s sake. To give but one example that is taken from a passage about generous financial giving: “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11 ESV)
Friends, draw freely from the infinite resources of your heavenly Father, and thus become a spiritually and relationally and practically well-resourced steward who gives generously to those around you.
NOTE: Header Image/Featured Image Photo by Sixteen Miles Out on Unsplash