Twisted Scripture Number 20: Matthew 22:37-40 Does NOT Teach That People Need to Love Themselves

By Brannon Howse

The Scripture: Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

The Twist: People misuse this verse to say, “Jesus says we’re to love ourselves. So you need to love yourself. It could be that your problem is that you don’t love yourself enough.”


In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus is essentially talking about the Golden Rule, which is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The problem with many people is that they actually love themselves too much. In fact, we’re going to look at some scripture that clearly shows that we’re not to love ourselves. But look at what one popular twister, Joel Osteen, says:  


Some of you, if you would change the opinion you have of yourselves, if you would quit focusing on your flaws and everything you wish was different, if you’d quit comparing yourself to somebody else that you think is better and start loving yourself in a healthy way, being proud of who God made you to be, then as you send out these different messages, it’s going to bring new opportunities, new relationships, new levels of God’s favor.[1]


Osteen is dead wrong. In Matthew 22, Jesus is not saying you need to love yourself. He is quoting Leviticus 19:18 which says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” The point is not to love yourself but to love others. Earlier, in Matthew 7:12, Jesus said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” In other words, do unto others as you would have them do unto you—similar to Matthew 22:39, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” the Golden Rule.

Jesus implies that we naturally love ourselves; we tend to look out for “number one” without being told to. We get up in the morning and brush our teeth, take a shower, comb our hair, feed ourselves. When we get a cut, we put on ointment and perhaps a Band-Aid to avoid infection. We do what is in our best interest. When we cross a busy road, we look both ways to make sure we don’t get run over by a bus. Why? Because we naturally love ourselves.

If you go mountain biking in rough terrain, you put on a helmet to protect your head because protecting yourself is an instinctual reflex you don’t have to be taught. We see this from the very beginning of each person’s life. A child’s first words are often “mine, mine.” Why? Because it is hardwired into our flesh to look out for ourselves.

The instruction in Ephesians 5:28-29 regarding how a husband is to treat his wife even relies on this instinct:


So husbands ought to love their own 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 the Lord does the church.


Clearly Paul is teaching that a man needs to care for his wife. And he uses the measure of how much a man naturally loves himself as the standard for how much to care for a spouse. No one ever hated his own flesh. Husbands ought to love their wives just as they love their own bodies, because it is common knowledge that a person naturally loves himself.

So when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” what He means is, “You naturally look out for your own best interests, but why don’t you put the best interest of your neighbor ahead of yourself? Treat people the way you also want to be treated. Don’t be selfish. Don’t be self-centered. Think of others.”

It is because we love ourselves that we at times don’t look out for the best interest of others or treat others as we would want to be treated. It is because of the sin of self-love that we are sometimes selfish and self-centered. That’s why we are not to love ourselves but to die to ourselves.

In Luke 14:26-27, Jesus says you need to hate—not love—yourself. Look at these verses:


If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.


     Is Jesus saying that we are to hate our mothers and fathers? Not really. What He’s saying is, “You are to love me above all else. You’re to be so committed to Me and sold out to Me that you are willing to forsake even your family relations, if necessary.” Similarly, in Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus declares:


Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to “set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law”; and “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.


This was a crucial admonition, because in first century Jewish culture, a person who believed Jesus was the Messiah would sometimes lose his or her whole family. Jesus warns that this may happen—that He is going to divide families. Some will stand with Christ, will accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior through faith and repentance, and it will cost them the relationships with their families.

Jesus does not encourage hatred toward your mother or father but simply states that your commitment to Christ is so great in comparison that it looks like hate. In Luke 14:26, Jesus even says you are to “hate” your own life. You must be willing to lay down your life, lay down your will, and surrender your life to Christ. To bear the cross means to die to self. If we don’t die to self, then how can He be the Lord of our lives?

This idea of Christ’s lordship is what Romans 6 and 8 are about. Romans 6:1-3 makes it clear:


What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?


We need to be willing to die to self, die to that old flesh, that old man, and to live according to the will of God as found in His Word.

The bottom line is that when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He’s not pointing out that you should love yourself. He’s saying you naturally do love yourself, and that’s the problem with mankind. Contrary to the twist, you need to die to yourself, to treat your neighbor as you want to be treated, and let Jesus be Lord.


Copyright 2014 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative. 


[1] Joel Osteen message “See Yourself as a Master Piece” Banner