This is one “note to self” that I have always believed in. And it is very liberating to hear it from church. I was affirmed this last weekend through the preaching of Christian apologist and author, Josh McDowell.
“I cannot give what I don’t have” —this is how my heart was prior to coming to Jesus. In July of 2011 when I first entered CCF, I was searching for what seemed like the last resort to fixing my relationship with the father of my child, and at the same time, seeking wisdom on how to raise my daughter. What good can I possibly teach her? and how I lived my life were not exactly good examples of proper living. Where do I base what I will teach her? How do I know it is what is truly right, if what is right has become so relative? I realized my need to be taught first what is true, right and just before I could teach my child. I certainly cannot teach what I do not know. And what I know, I must truly understand well first in order for me to effectively preach and practice.
It’s the same thing with love. How can you give love if you don’t have it, let alone know what it is? This is what McDowell’s revelatory message was about. Most of the time, our wrong view of love leads us to wrong convictions and expressions of it (for example, a boy can say to a girl if you love me, prove it by having sex with me). Before you can give love to others, you must first give it to yourself. Selfish? Of course not. His perfect illustration is how emergency oxygen masks in flights are instructed to be used. Put it on FIRST, before onto your child and others. How can you help others if you yourself are running out of air? What makes you capable of giving and sustaining them if you yourself are ‘empty’?
What does it mean then to love? What is the definition of love? Josh McDowell drew the biblical definition from Ephesians 5:29. Love is to nourish (provide) and cherish (protect). “No one ever hated his own body, but feeds (provides nourishment) and cares for (protects) it, just as Christ also does the church.” And how are we nourished, and consequently others? Read Luke 2:52 on how Jesus grew in 4 areas: “in wisdom (mental), stature (physical), and in favor with God (spiritual) and with men (relational).” This is overall, holistic growth. Now, as we are equipped in these areas, then we become able to love (to provide) for our loved ones properly. Because we loved ourselves first to care for ourselves, then we can give the same to others. We love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37).
I remember encountering a man who seemed like a good father candidate. Only, I did not see that he loved himself enough to take care of his body. Now do not get me wrong, I do not look at the physical, I look at the heart. BUT, the way a man presents himself physically reflects the internal – his beliefs and the way he views his body. If one has no respect for one’s own body, s/he cannot respect another’s. How can he take care of my child and me if he cannot take care of himself? How can I say that he loves me if he doesn’t love himself enough? If he doesn’t give his body what is best for it—sleep, exercise, proper diet etc. how can he treat mine with love and respect? Have it first, before you can give it.
I also know for a fact that failure to love one’s self first paves for insecurity that destroys interpersonal relationships (insecurity is a foothold of the devil, did you know). Because you look for reassurance and appreciation from other people first in order for you to feel loved, and when those are not met you are disappointed and feeling more unloved. But then love is not a feeling. It is a decision. An act of will (that’s why God can command it). You choose to love yourself. To provide for it and protect it, not because someone will benefit from it (a spouse) but because that’s what it means to love. You do it for yourself. How can you serve [love]others when you are unable to serve the needs of [love]your own?
Furthermore, as parents, McDowell emphasized the need to define love to our kids and to model it. We don’t just tell them what it is, we show it. Through the way we protect and love our bodies, and our spouse (if we have any) and them (our kids) so that love will be imprinted in their minds growing up as they are constant witnesses and receivers of it. And then in their teenage and adolescent years, they will not be swayed by peers or potential partners to sin against their bodies (aka engage in pre-marital sex to prove love). We must explain to our children that [we and]God loves them that [we]He commands them to flee from sexual immorality to protect them from the disasters of ‘wrong love,’ unnecessary hurts, sexual bondage and even diseases. We tell them what not to do because we love them, not because we do not want them to be happy.
Now that love has been defined, I pray that we can love ourselves better and others truly.
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