Unholy Lovers: The Love Of Self (Part 1)
In a famous novel by Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859) the famous opening sentence went, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...” Have you ever considered about the times we live in? We have such great possibilities with the great advancement in technology and living standards. Yet what is happening in our society? What we see in the news and read about in the papers? Have you asked yourself why bad things seem to be happening more and more?
Some of the reasons are found in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV) But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
This passage of Scripture talks about those who love, but with an unholy love. A love that is not pleasing to God. A love that is so prevalent in our society today. A love that is also permeating the church of Jesus Christ. A love that we must resist. These may be referred to as the “unholy lovers” because they have a love that is unholy.
To better understand this passage, we need to look at the context of what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he states in v1, “There will be terrible times in the last days.” What did Paul mean by the words, “in the last days”? For example in Hebrews 1:1 - 2 (NIV) 1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. Since Jesus started speaking to us in His ministry on earth, it means the “last days” already started when Jesus came.
The last days refer to the period of time between the first coming and the second coming of Christ.
Further, in Acts 2:16 - 17 (NIV) 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. When did this occur? Since the Day of Pentecost. Basically, the last days refer to the period of time between the first coming and the second coming of Christ.
These Last Days will be terrible times. The word “terrible” or chalepos in the Greek means perilous or dangerous. It will be dangerous times for those seeking to follow Christ because these unholy lovers may influence and corrupt the Christ-followers and throw them to the wrong path.
Now many casual readers of Scriptures think that it is talking about the corrupt world that will be full of unholy people. That is only partially true. For there are other parts of Scriptures which talk about that. But if we read this passage careful in its proper context, it is warning us of those within the church who may lead others astray. In v6 it points to these unholy lovers worming their way into homes of weak-willed women and influencing them. The kinds of problem that the Ephesian church was confronted with, even back in 1 Timothy. The culprits were people within the church, even some leaders in the church.
The world is full of unholy lovers but the church is not immune.
What is the implication for us? The world is full of unholy lovers but the church is not immune. Because it is not just about persons with unholy love, but of possessing the very characteristics of unholy loves. It is so much easier to point to others, but is it possible that we may have those very characteristics in our own hearts? We have to watch our hearts in order that we do not bring in an unholy love from the world we live in. What are some characteristics of such an unholy love?
The foundational characteristic of those unholy lovers is clearly self-centredness. It is a:
Self-love overboard is a love that elevates self above God and the things of God! It is a misdirected love.
In (v2a) “People will be lovers of themselves...”. Here, self-love overboard is a love that elevates self above God and the things of God! It is a misdirected love. It is not about having a healthy self-esteem, but a love centred upon oneself. When we direct our love to ourselves, over God – we begin to act out of self-will rather than towards God’s will. And that is how Adam and Even fell. Because they believed that they too can be as God and acted out of self-love.
Self-love is best gained through experiencing God’s love. For God’s love demonstrates true love as it should be.
The danger in some churches today is to over-emphasise on gaining a positive self-image, having a love for oneself, etc but neglect to have it anchored upon a love for God. Some claim that it is not possible to love God without first loving himself rightly. Yet self-love is best gained through experiencing God’s love. For God’s love demonstrates true love as it should be. It is when we experience love shown to us, it is when we discover how valuable we are to God, that we begin to love ourselves rightly.
Charles Krauthammer made this observation in Time (June 28, 1993). "The reigning cliche of the day is that in order to love others one must first learn to love oneself. This formulation--love thyself, then thy neighbor--is a license for unremitting self-indulgence, because the quest for self-love is endless. By the time you have finally learned to love yourself, you'll find yourself playing golf at Leisure World." Love has turned inward and distorted itself!
First love God with all that we are. That is the highest priority. Then love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
The correct priority was given by Jesus Himself in Matthew 22:37 - 39 (NIV) 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ So, first love God with all that we are. That is the highest priority. Then love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
In The City of God, Augustine wrote, “Two cities have been founded by two loves, the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God. The heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glorifies itself, the latter the Lord.”
We should examine our own hearts carefully and honestly. Do we love ourselves more than God? If so, we need to repent of this misdirected love and turn our love to God instead. Otherwise, we may find ourselves amongst the unholy lovers.
Evidence of self-centredness
The Scriptures then begin to expound some characteristics exhibited by the self-centredness in v2-4 “…boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited...” Now, it is not to say that all who are self-centred show such characteristics, because it is a question of degree here. The more self-centred people are, the more such qualities will be evident.
One major evidence of self-centredness is pride. Scriptures speak of those “boastful, conceited”. They think very highly of themselves, of their opinions, of their perspectives. Not too long ago in Australia, we just had a Prime Minister whom many working close to him claim that he did not listen to their views. Do we find ourselves thinking so highly of our own opinion, perspective, etc that we fail to carefully consider what others are saying to us? If so, we are in danger of too much pride in our hearts. How many of us, while driving, have brushed aside attempts by our passengers to give us directions to a place, confidently claiming, “I know the way!” Only to be proven wrong. That is just a glimpse of pride lurking in our hearts.
Another major evidence is having little consideration of others. Scriptures here speak of those who are “abusive, without love, ungrateful, unforgiving, slanderous, brutal, treacherous” etc. They could not care much about others because they consider others of lesser value, compared to themselves. If they mistreat others on their way to getting what they want, so be it!
Are we showing some signs of such neglect of others? Could it be we consider others of lower value than ourselves? Then we need to move away from such self-centredness. For God will judge the proud. Proverbs 16:5 (NIV) The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.
The self-centred become self-indulgent, spending more and more on themselves for themselves.
V4 refers to “lovers of pleasure” and v2 refer to “lovers of money”. A further development amongst those who are self-centred is self-indulgence. The self-centred become self-indulgent, spending more and more on themselves for themselves.
If we look at where society is headed today, we see clearer the extent of self-indulgence. In 2021, Australians spent about $22 billion annually on beauty products. Women spent about $15 billion with men making up the rest. Some men today spend more on cosmetics than the average woman.
We are a self-indulgent society that is splashing billions of dollars each year in looking good, in cosmetics, in clothes, etc. Now I am not saying that women (and man) should not spend anything on looking good! But the issue is whether we are becoming over-indulgent in our spending. And the marketing people will continually stir us to buy, buy, buy.
As God’s people, we must be careful not to be trapped in the cycle of self-indulgence.
The self-centred focus on gaining more, that they may gain more for themselves. The more they have, the more they want because it means there is more self-indulgence. As God’s people, we must be careful not to be trapped in the cycle of self-indulgence. We should carefully examine our spending patterns and ask ourselves if we are slipping into self-indulgence. When we indulge ourselves in such ways, we have much less to invest in what truly counts, God’s Kingdom. Instead of helping the needy, we help ourselves.
It is good for our soul to sometimes live in simplicity. Lai Ling and I do not wish our children to grow up with a self-indulgent perspective. They should not have more when it is not necessary. Too many toys, too much entertainment is not healthy for their soul! Second-hand stuff is ok. It keeps us humble. I mostly own and drive second-hand cars because it makes more economical sense. I have lots of second-hand furniture, some second-hand clothes even. It keeps us humble and helps keeps us from self-indulgence.
I get tempted too by all those advertisements, but I always ask myself whether we need those things. I am not saying we cannot enjoy ourselves and spend on ourselves. But it has to be appropriate, balanced by godly desires. Let us not become self-indulgent!
There is a love that is unholy. A love that is not of God. A love that is caught up with self and not with God. Such love is manifested in self-seeking actions that often puts oneself above others, devaluing others. It leads to self-indulgence. Christ-followers must be discerning of such tendencies and reject it from our own hearts. Instead let us focus on loving God and others.
In Part 2, we continue to examine another unholy love.
Copyright©️2023 by Wilson Lim. All rights reserved. Materials are free to be distributed in whole or part as long as proper acknowledgement is given to the author and not sold for profit.