Letter 1: Excessive Self Love
These letters are written with the assumption that you hope to be married some day. If so, one of the most important things you can do at this point in your life is to work on getting rid of excessive self love. Calvin reminds us that the Bible says nothing about the need to love ourselves because self love is universal and so strong that it needs no encouragement. The Bible assumes this when it says that we should love our neighbor as our self and more importantly (for the purpose of these letters), that a man should love his wife as he loves himself. As Don Matzat put it: "I would challenge anyone to demonstrate where the Bible teaches us to be consciously concerned with our self image. ...Jesus tells us to deny ourselves."1
The problem is that most young men (and young women for that matter), are not really aware of this overgenerous self love and so they don’t take steps to curb its corrosive power. To make matters worse, it seems impossible to escape the pervasiveness of the self esteem gospel these days. It hammers us at every turn; the schools, the media and all too often, even the Church preach the doctrine of self love. The result is that many young men enter the marriage relationship not having learned how to love another sacrificially.
I have a bit of experience in this area myself. I grew up a self centered young man and it has taken me years to make headway in my battle against self love. Being part of the "in" crowd throughout school didn’t help; it never occurred to me that I should think of others more highly than myself. Certainly I knew what the Bible said on the subject, but in the area of self sacrificing love, I was a hearer of the word and not a doer.
Later, when God was pleased to bless me by bringing a beautiful and personable young woman into my life, I expertly hid my self centered character long enough to convince her that I was the man of her dreams. It was only after I was married and began to raise a family that God had me in a position where I could no longer ignore the need to think of others before myself.
I don’t want you to think that I was some sort of a monster - a freakish youth with an unusual abundance of self love. The truth is I was pretty much like everyone else in this regard. It is the rare Christian that doesn’t struggle with self centeredness (whether one cares to admit it or not). Certainly proper training in childhood does much to curb excessive self love. But I’m of the opinion that self centeredness is seldom adequately dealt with until one is joined with another in the covenant bond of marriage. Among the unregenerate even those singular people who naturally look out for the interests of others do so as a means of bolstering their own self esteem. Their care for others is self centered because without faith it is impossible to please God - in this or any other regard.
It would be easy to think, "Williams was a jerk - but I’m not. I’d never treat my wife and children with the lack of love that he apparently did." Well, I’ve talked to many married couples over the years and I’ve found that self centeredness in husbands is a rather common malady.2 To make matters worse, most husbands aren’t even aware that there's a problem. I’m not saying that most men are unfaithful to their marriage vows or that they sit at home, refusing to work and expecting their wife to support them - nothing that glaringly obvious. I’m simply saying that many (if not most), men don’t really know what it means to think of others more highly then themselves and thus to love their wives sacrificially.
For instance, one of the most important things a man can provide his wife and children is time. When a man takes time to focus attention on his wife and kids he makes them feel protected, secure and cared for. Simply listening - with attention, as if you truly want to hear what she has to say will go a long way toward making your wife feel loved. Failure to give of your time to your wife and children is just one example of excessive self love. Nevertheless, thousands of Christian men leave their wife and children home alone night after night as they work to climb the corporate ladder or worse yet, to "do the work of the Lord" at yet another Church meeting. Basically any time a man thinks of himself and his own needs before those of his wife and kids he is guilty of disproportionate self love.
In the weeks to come we’ll find ourselves coming back to this matter again and again as we look at other issues in this series. Right now, suffice it to say that it is important for you to deal violently with self centeredness. You need to work on denying self now so that when you marry, you will have already begun to train yourself in the habit of self sacrificing love.
For further study, read and meditate on: Romans 12:1-21 and Ephesians 5:22-33.
1. Don Matzat, Christ Esteem: Where The Search for Self Esteem Ends, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1990), 72.
2. Hence Paul’s command to men to love their wives even as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). A lack of self sacrificing love among husbands was a problem 2000 years ago and it remains a problem today.
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