What Does “Lovers of Themselves” Mean?

When it comes to the subject of loving yourself, Christianity faces some understandable confusion. Especially when we see a Scriptural warning by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:2, that in the last days, people would become “lovers of themselves.” 

So when loving yourself is brought up, this verse can keep believers nervous about entertaining this subject. They would never want to engage something if it means falling into a last-days deception. 

Many believers will even say to me, “We don’t need to learn to love ourselves, we already do” or “loving yourself is selfish.” 

It is understandable that confusion exists, but we need to dig a little deeper to get some clarity. 

Meaning of “Lovers of Themselves”

The translation “lovers of themselves” is actually one Greek word, philautos, that originates from the combination of two words: one word meaning “friend” and the other word meaning “self.” The first part is philos, which means “fond, friendly or to wish well” and is often translated as “friend” in the New Testament. It is an aspect of love that is meant to be directed from one friend to another, releasing brother love and extending affection to another person. When you live in philos, you think outwardly, putting a high priority on how to bless and extend wellness to someone else. 

The second part is autos, which directs the full attention to self. For example, an autobiography is a biography written by self about self. When you take “autos” and combine it with “philo,” it is friendly love, that is meant to flow outward, however it has now been hijacked to only focus inward. It is selfish, self-consumed and self-focused. You are now living in a world that is solely focused on “what is in it for me.” It becomes a narcissistic, self-centered view. 

This is counterfeit to what love is meant to accomplish. The heart of loving yourself must be connected to how you love others. It first begins with you receiving love from God and seeing yourself through the lens of His love for you. The end result is that others are blessed with a genuine love that flows through you.  

“Lovers of themselves” as mentioned in Scriptural warnings, takes the concept of true love and hijacks it. 

“Lovers of Themselves” Does Not Involve True Love

True love does not focus on self as the end target. In fact, love has a flow to it. Any place where love gets backed up or clogged, the more it actually fizzles. Love is meant to be a flowing river, from God to you and out to others. 

The end mission of love is not for it to stop at you. If it does, this is not true love. By its very nature, love creates an atmosphere in your heart where what you have received, you freely give out. 

For example, it would seem from a surface standpoint that a narcissist loves themselves too much. When in reality, they love themselves very little. In fact, self-hatred is a driving force. All psychologists know that narcissists have deep shame and animosity about themselves. Their posturing and drawing attention to themselves is a really a cover up for a lack of healthy self-love. 

The growing narcissism in our culture actually reflects the missing presence of true love. We are covering over our brokenness and shame with modern day fig leaves of self-exaltation, self-elevation and self-focus. That’s not love at all. 

When looking at 2 Timothy 3:2, I have a little bit of trouble with this word being translated as “lovers of” because people can mistakenly think this is true love being referenced. Its not. When you see a couple walking down the street, showing a lot of public displays of affection, people often say, “Look at those two lovers.” But their affection does not guarantee they are walking in true love. They could just happen to be living in a burst of infatuation. 

Lovers of themselves could be translated as “affection and attention directed solely at self” or “lusters of self.” Lovers of themselves is the plague of narcissism we see in culture, an unregulated self focus with little moral compass, leading people to live apart from truth. They are trained to focus solely on self, while detaching from the God of truth. 

“Lovers of Themselves” Elevates Man

People who are in the category of “lovers of themselves” have not come to God and allowed Him to heal their shame and self-hating struggles. They seek to find life in a love apart from God, which was never His design. Mankind begins to elevate himself as the solution to everything. 

True love does not obsess about self. It allows one to settle in who God made them to be, without inner torment and battles against themselves. It allows love to settle in the heart so it can flow out to others in great power. 

Love is always a flow, meant to be received from God Almighty and then given out to others. The problem is we live in a generation that has not known how to truly receive the love of God and love themselves with the love He offers them. Therefore, inner battles against self are waging all over the planet. What we often see as a display of “love yourself” from the world’s perspective can disconnect the truth of God from the picture. 

“Lovers of Themselves” has Nothing to do with Agape Love

Agape love demonstrates the highest level of love’s power. There is a reality to loving yourself with agape love. Jesus taught in the Gospels that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus would not even mention loving your neighbor “as yourself” if loving yourself in a healthy way was not possible or even part of the equation. 

Loving others is connected to loving yourself. They must both be involved in the flow. When you love others without loving yourself, you will burn out. When you focus on yourself without loving on others, you become selfish. Both are unhealthy. 

Loving others with genuine agape love occurs best when we give out of what we have received. 

Paul exhorted in Ephesians 5:28 that husbands who love their wives, love themselves. Here is an example of healthy self-love that can be reflected in a healthy marriage. On the reverse; a man who does not love his wife, struggles with self-hatred. A man cannot love his wife the way He needs to, with sacrificial, God’ given love, unless he learns to love himself properly. 

So there is a legitimate aspect to loving yourself. It just needs to be brought into proper context. The goal of loving yourself is actually to enhance the love that you give out. 

The End Focus of “Lovers of Themselves” is Self

In the Kingdom of God, “self” is not the end all. It is not the center of existence. The epicenter of all things is the Godhead. God the Father lifts up the name of Jesus, while Jesus turns around and gives all glory back to the Father. The Holy Spirit bears witness of this exchange throughout the unity of the Godhead. They flow in unison towards humanity with love and redemption. 

A healthy response to that agape love is to receive it and respond back with that love you have been given. 

“Lovers of themselves” also puts “self” on the highest pedestal, removing God from His rightful position in our lives. It makes “self” an idol, where mankind seeks to find life apart from God. 

When this happens, the system of the world plagiarizes the precepts of God, without giving credit to where it came from. God is love, so when you experience love, it should direct you to God in gratitude. Lovers of themselves seeks love without understanding God’s definition of love and distorting what that love looks like. 

“Lovers of Themselves” Spends Inordinate Amounts of Time Looking Out for Self

Another healthy response to God’s love is to pour it out to those around you. The end result of love is outward to others. 

“Lovers of themselves” is focused solely on self, to the neglect of others. This is not love at all. 

Lovers of themselves focuses on feeding the self to the detriment of pouring out to others. 

You Can actually do Good Deeds with the Wrong Motive

It is possible to do loving deeds towards others without love, even though it may look like love is present. 

Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians that he could give his body to be burned, but not have love. How could such a sacrificial act be void of love?  

So could it be possible to give out and it not be in love? 

How could that be? Here are some reasons:

  1. Trying to earn a sense of love by what you do. Out of emptiness, you hope that in doing things for others, you will find fulfillment. But you still feel empty, as you have been lured into performance based living.  
  2. Living a life of doing, doing, doing, while ignoring yourself and neglecting the life of your heart. You find yourself in burnout and unending emptiness. 
  3. While doing things for others, the attention is brought back to how you are doing so much for others. The work brings attention back to self and include the social pattern of humble bragging. “So honored to be here and help so many people!”

Many who do not love themselves in a healthy way can also get lost in pouring out while ignoring their own lack of love in themselves. In Christianity, it can be easy for people to live in vile hate towards themselves, but give out constantly without ever inviting God to heal the hate within. 

Those who do not love themselves can hide this issue by trying to love on other people more. Yet they get very uncomfortable when people genuinely love on them. They cover up their lack of self-love by being busy and focusing on others, while ignoring the needs of their own life. 

Furthermore, narcissists are known for doing kind deeds for others, but it’s always done to bring heaping loads of attention back to themselves. 

When you love yourself in a healthy way, you allow love to be received, so that you can love others through what you’ve experienced. Authentic Christianity is freely giving out of what you have been given. 

Too many people are giving out of empty tanks, performing and living a fabricated presentation, because they have neglected to receive and process love in their own hearts on a regular basis. 

You can even see a hidden narcissism on social media where people incessantly promote how they are “giving back” and humble bragging about how many people they are doing things for. It can be a subtle act of self-centered narcissism. 

“Lovers of Themselves” Live in Self-Preservation

Others, in line with living as “lovers of themselves,” end up taking what was meant to be given out and they focus only on self, leading them to an isolated life of selfish intent and survival. 

Their thought response to situations is “what’s in it for me?” They don’t consider others around them, especially considering we are a part of the family of God. They instead live as an isolated person in survival for themselves. 

Their mode of living is self-protection, self-preserving and self-gain. Everything ends in self, self, self . . . me, me, me, me. They develop a “kingdom of me” by which love is actually absent. By walling up and protecting yourself in an extreme manner, you block the flow that love is meant to be in. 

When you truly love yourself the way God loves you, there is no need to live in survival or to construct giant walls of constant protection. In fact, healthy self-love allows us to let our guard down and surrender the need to self-preserve. 

One of the greatest freedoms is when we let go of self-survival and let God’s love flow freely. When you love yourself the way God loves you, it becomes easier to let things go, to overlook offenses and steer clear of toxic thinking. 

“Lovers of Themselves” is Extremely Selfish

True selfishness reveals that someone has not been taught and nurtured in what love looks like. Most people who are selfish were often raised with little discipline and correction; which are huge pieces of love’s operation. No guardrails were given, setting up a person to live “entitled,” all in the name of love. But again, this is not love. True love welcomes truth, which has the power to center us, discipline our hearts and mature us. 

“Lovers of Themselves” Hijacks True Friendship

Every have a friend who only talks about themselves when you get together? This is what “lovers of themselves” does to people. Healthy friendship arrives at a get-together and says “how are you?” “Lovers of themselves” people start off friendships saying, “Here is what’s going on with me.” 

Two healthy people in a friendship think first to listen to what the other is going through and then in healthy back and forth, share their own heart. Healthy friendship is neither self-obsessed or self-ignored. It’s grounded in mutual love for each other. This is what builds long term friendships. 

Friendships get destroyed the moment someone starts focusing only on themselves. 

Philos was designed to be how you love those around you; it’s your heart releasing blessing to others in a genuine way. Philos is the connection of relationship. You have to have another person receiving philos for it to operate. You cannot have philos by yourself. It’s meant to be given out. 

Autophilos means giving yourself what was meant to be given outwards. It’s friendship hijacked. 

  • At a wedding, you don’t stand up and pray blessing for yourself. You pray blessing for the bride and groom. 
  • At a birthday party, you don’t buy a present for yourself, you buy one for the one who’s birthday it is. 
  • Conversations are about exchanging with another person. You don’t make conversations all about yourself. 
  • You don’t constantly speak in a way that draws attention to yourself. 
  • It’s not healthy to live obsessing about your autobiography or introspecting on every problem you have in your life. 
  • You don’t walk around saying, “what about me?” 

When you give to yourself what was meant to be given out, you get blocked off to the world and thrown into a spiritual and emotional isolation and self-consumed prison. You lose genuine connection and the power of friendships that you could have in your life. 

“Lovers of Themselves” is a Result of Seeking Love apart from God

Love is meant to lead you to God, because that is who He is. 

The biggest problem is with this end times plague is that God is being removed from the picture of love. Therefore, the term love is being redefined every day. Mankind redefines who God is, forming Him into our own image, rather than coming into alignment with who He says He is. Over time, God becomes someone to serve our every demand or He gets removed from the picture all together. 

This is satan’s ultimate desire on the earth, to create a man centered culture apart from the honor and glory of God. His ultimate mission of the devil is not worship of himself, but the elevation and worship of man. That is why when Jesus said, “Get behind me satan,” and followed it by saying he was “mindful of the things of man.”

Notice the cultural movement, which says that people can accomplish anything. On the surface, this is a great statement, but there is an undercurrent that is chipping away at the foundation of dependency upon God. You cannot fully experience the power of love apart from God. You will become self-consumed and self-righteous, with waves of secular humanism infecting your lifestyle. 

“Lovers of Themselves” Will Lead You to Lose True Family Connection. 

True philo is connected to a brotherly love and affection. 

The body of Christ is meant to act as a family, brothers and sisters learning to love each other under one Father and one Lord and one Spirit. 

The key ingredient of healthy philo is learning to truly love each other as brothers and sisters. 

This can be very challenging, since very few have reference for what a real brother or sister should be. Our family histories are littered with broken references. Therefore, people become more easily prone in their brokenness to cut themselves off from the beauty of philo connection–friendship based on living as family. 

When you live in philoautos, you lose what it means to live in a family with brothers and sisters and your sole compass is looking out for yourself. This will lead many in the last days to betray others in relationships, mainly because they are looking out for themselves. This blockage will also lead the love of many to grow cold. Love that was meant to flow out, has not been blocked and therefore, loses it power. 

Avoiding “Lovers of Themselves” Should Not Lead Us to Completely Ignore Ourselves

Many well intentioned believers spend their lives “loving” on others while completely ignoring themselves. I have sat down with some amazing pastors, personal coaches, teachers and trainers who have spent their lives helping others and ignoring themselves. The wear and tear of this dysfunctional lifestyle has left them empty and without any clear identity apart from helping others. Their intention was self-sacrifice, but it was really a life of ignoring the issues of their own heart. 

To love others and completely ignore yourself is unhealthy, but we can all fall into that pattern so easily. Tell someone who’s been working like a mule their whole life to take some time off and they will shrug it off. Even if it means that their health will decline, they are completely uncomfortable with rest, refreshment and self-care. 

Airline stewardesses instruct passengers, during the event of an emergency, to put on your own oxygen mask first, before putting it on any loved ones you are with. This sets a protocol of flow: you give out what you have worked on in your own life. 

Loving yourself as God loves you does not mean you are more important than someone. It’s about aligning with God’s order of flow. You give out of what you have received. 

Love involves having healthy boundaries, knowing when to say no and being connected to our needs in a healthy way. Loving yourself honors that you need to care for yourself, live in a healthy rhythm and keep your output grounded with healthy input and refreshment. Without it, we burn out in our people pleasing, false burden bearing and living as responders to every one’s demands. 

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