by Jennifer Slattery
It brings out the ugly in me. It makes me fight to be right, to demand that I elevate myself and seek accolades and admiration that feed my pride but often starve my soul. It causes me to avoid difficult conversations and engage in those I shouldn’t. But worst of all, it distorts Christ in me.
You might be surprised that love is actually the root of this nasty, unity-destroying behavior. But not the biblical kind of love.
1 Corinthians 8: 1 says, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” (NIV) Knowledge, when lacking love puffs us up, like a puffer fish with its cheeks swelled and spikes protruding—demanding we elevate ourselves at the expense of others. But love, agape love, the kind that flows from God, doesn’t focus on self at all.
About ten years ago, I began to ask some hard questions regarding my faith and the credibility of the Bible. I wanted to know—was Jonah really swallowed by a whale? Was there really a worldwide flood? Did Lot’s wife really turn into a pillar of salt?
Those questions led to an in-depth study I soon wanted to share with others. My motive to teach stemmed from my love for God and His Word. Each week, I’d meet with a group of women while volunteers taught our little ones arts and crafts. The discussions and interactions between the group members were beautiful.
But then “Sue” arrived. Right away she began to challenge my teaching. As I reacted to her confrontational behavior, it wasn’t long before I was more concerned with saving face than keeping the group’s focus on God. It became all about winning the argument. It wasn’t long before the pleasant, Christ-centered discussion among a handful of moms had turned into a tense battle over words.
Pride (self-love) pulled me in when I should’ve walked away. My lapse in judgment allowed the woman to dominate and divert the focus of the conversation. I had veered away from the selfless love that comes from Christ.
At other times I’ve erred in the opposite direction, like when I watched a young lady become enslaved in legalism and drift away from Christ while I remained silent.
I had numerous opportunities to speak to her, but did not, in fear that she would become angry and our relationship would crumble. Once again, I acted in self-protection. It was just another side to self-love. She’s since abandoned the faith entirely.
Truth and love are intertwined.
How do we know when we have crossed over into the dangerous motivation of self-love? We do a heart check, asking God to cleanse us from anything within that could get in the way of kindly speaking truth or responding to someone in anything less than the love of Christ. When we seek, He will be faithful to show us when bad motivations eclipse those that reflect agape love: the pure, self-less love of Christ.
“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Timothy 5:1
About the author: Jennifer Slattery is a writer and international speaker who addresses women’s groups, church groups, Bible studies, and other writers across the nation. She’s the author of six contemporary novels and maintains a devotional blog. Jennifer has a passion for helping women discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she and her team partner with churches to facilitate events designed to help women rest in their true worth and live with maximum impact. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.
Join the conversation: When has ugly self-love reared its ugly head in you?