Many people today have a sense of danger. Some fear the nuclear threat that may be posed by nations like Iran and North Korea. Some fear the consequences of global warming and the destruction of our environment. Some fear the threat of the demise of capitalism and of individual liberty. And some may fear a time of discomfort and even of persecution for adherents to biblical Christianity. Interestingly enough, God, who knows all things, has recognized and foretold of dangers about which Christians should be wary. Writing in his Second Epistle to Timothy, Paul says: “Know this also, that in the last days perilous [“fierce,” “difficult,” “grievous”] times shall come” (3:1). Then follows an extensive catalogue of items that God views as “perilous.” Some may be surprised by what constitutes the list. None of the items listed above, for example, is included—not because God was unaware of those things, but because His view of peril differs from ours. We will examine this list so that God’s view may correct or strengthen, as the case may be, our view. What, then, heads the list of perils about which God warns His church to be wary in the last days?
1) “Men shall be lovers of their own selves” (II Tim. 3:2). Were we unfamiliar with this verse, we would probably find this statement shocking. Surely, of all the things deemed perilous, this would never head our list. Self-love? Isn’t that concept being promoted in one way or another by virtually every psychologist, therapist, and counselor, and don’t many popular preachers and pastors advocate the same idea? Are we not being told repeatedly that we can not love anyone else until we love ourselves, that we can not have the proper psychological balance without sufficient self-esteem? Have we not heard again and again that the problem with juvenile offenders and those who are performing beneath their ability is a problem with a lack of self-esteem?
First of all, it is undeniable that God has pegged this age. Parents train their children by rote and by example that the world revolves around them. In far too many households, the god of self reigns, and all are expected to bow to “me.” “We’re number one”—long the cry of various sports teams—has given way to “I’m number one”—the mantra of an entire generation of misguided souls sporting misguided values.
But second, there is not one shred of justification for self-love to be found in Scripture, and the purveyors of such an idea who profess to use the Word of God as a foundation for such a position must twist the Scripture to arrive at that point. That a soul is of inestimable worth is a truth found in Scripture (“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” [Mk. 8:36, 37]). But Scripture never suggests that such value should find expression in self-love and self-esteem. Contrariwise, Paul declared the true value of a believer when he declared that “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). It is Christ that we are to esteem. It is in and through Christ that we have value. And it is Christ who is to be the object of the believer’s affections and the focus of his attention.
The Bible does not advocate self-loathing either. But there must be a constant recognition of and vigilance regarding the fact that “in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom 7:18). The narcissism of these times is both unscriptural and destructive; it serves no beneficial societal purpose because of its tendency to look on every opportunity and every relationship in selfish terms (What’s in it for me.). But most importantly, it stultifies the spirit, robbing God of the honor due Him and denying the scriptural injunction to “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves,” and to “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:3b, 4). God declares self-love, self-esteem, narcissism, or ego-centric behavior to be a grave peril. We who know the Lord should guard against it in our own lives and in the lives of those we love and influence. “For God so loved . . .” is the healthy, holy view and testimony of the believer. Resting in His perfect love is so overwhelmingly satisfying as to show self-love in its true threadbare state.
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