Of the six types of love according to the Greeks, agape was the only one that came to mind in thinking on love tonight. Now that I’ve looked them up, I remember some of the others. However, it isn’t Greek types of love floating through the inner chambers of my mind at this late hour, but rather relational types of love. There are three types that come to mind: self love, God love, and others love. I realized for the first time tonight that these three forms of love can be arranged in several different ways, and that we as human beings may fluctuate the order of these three types of love throughout our lifespan. The combination of the three types may be viewed in order of priority, being first, second, and third in importance and practice to us.
1) God, self, others: Someone who loves God first, self second, and others last
2) Self, God, others: Someone who loves the self first, God second, and others last
3) Others, God, self: Someone who loves others first, God second, and self last
4) Self, others, God: Someone who loves the self first, others second, and God last
5) Others, self, God: Someone who loves others first, self second, and God last
6) God, others, self: Someone who loves God first, others second, and self last
Growing up I learned that #6 was the way that Christians are suppose to love. We are to put God first, others second and ourselves last. We are to love God first, others second, and ourselves last. This was drilled into me through the cute little praise song which made an acronym of the word JOY. J is for Jesus, O is for others, Y is for you. But is this proper order of the three types of relational love? Perhaps you’re thinking how a self-professed Christian could even question such a thing? But what does it mean when Jesus said to love God first and your neighbor as yourself? Is Jesus saying we should love God, others, and self or is He saying we should love God, self, and others?
I always interpreted this to mean that Jesus assumed our fallible nature to love ourselves before others, and that He was saying the proper order would be God, others, and self. It makes sense doesn’t it? Putting God first, others second, self last. It seems the loving and selfless thing to do.
But it just doesn’t settle well with me. I think Jesus was advocating self love in a verse we interpret as implying selfish love. I think He was hinting at a God kind of love for the self, and that the true order of love should indeed be God, self, and others and here is why:
Naturally we are to love God first, because we are His creation and when born again, we are His children. We are to love self second, because we are beings made in God’s image, and that is how He loved before anything was created. Before creation God existed in perfect Triune love: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit loved self in the sense that they are One. Perfect love existed in the oneness and three-in-oneness of God. Then God took the perfect, self love (very distinct from selfish love) and applied it to others by creating a world that He loved. The natural order for God is to love self and then to love others. As created beings, we must follow that perfect order.
The challenge is, how do we rightly love self in a holy, pure, God’s-heart kind of way?
My answer is this: spending time in the presence of God, soaking in His love, meditating on verses which reveal God’s love towards us, and asking God to root His love for us within us. We cannot love ourselves and extend it to others unless we experience love first hand from God – knowledge and experience are very different. I used to know that God loved me, but until I invited Christ into my heart, I didn’t fully experience it. The idea made me happy and secure, but the inward reality was an entirely new awakening, quickening, enlivening of my inner senses and awareness.
I read a quote by Soren Kierkegaard that seems to support this view that the proper order is God, self, and others:
“The commandment said, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’, but if the commandment is properly understood it also says the opposite: You shall love yourself in the right way.”
I’d like to conclude by saying that the last 5 arrangements of the three types of love listed above are all imperfect. Since “God is love” according to the bible, those which do not start with God cannot be true love towards God, self, or others. Number #6 (God, others, self – the typical Christian view) cannot be correct, though it starts with God and puts Him first, because the nature of love is to come from within (God loved self first) and then to flow outward. “Self” must be the proper second love in the order, because “self” must experience love first (from God), understand it within and rightly apply it (to self) before it is able to pass that pure, holy, proper God-like love to others.
In this proper order that I believe Jesus was implicating (God, self, others), all love comes from God, honors Him, and is given back to Him. Again I refer to Kierkegaard:
“But to love oneself in the divine sense is to love God, and truly to love another person is to help that person to love God or in loving God.”
I picture a triangle upside down to illustrate this, with God and others listed at the top and self listed at the bottom: God’s love comes down to self, which then goes up to God, up to (reaches out to) others, which then enables others to connect to and love God, and connect to and love others.