If you are a Christian, you have undoubtedly heard that a key part of following Jesus and honoring God is rejecting selfishness and embracing the joy of serving and loving others. These are fundamental, Scripture-based truths of the Christian walk and are part of “putting on Christ” (Romans 13:14). However, there are many Christians who think that focusing on the self in any capacity, including personal mental health, is a form of selfishness. Rejecting the sin of selfishness and opening ourselves up to true service and love is a beautiful, freeing, and God-honoring process, so please do not hear me say that we should not be fighting this particular sin. My goal in this article is to suggest that caring for yourself (in a way that honors God) is not selfish and that living selflessly does not mean you have to neglect your mental well-being.
It seems like in the Christian community, we focus on fighting the sin of selfishness but we neglect to clarify a very important fact: not all time spent working on and focusing on the self is selfish. Consider the following verse:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV).
It is easy to look at this verse and glean that we are to only look out for others, but something we often miss is that first phrase - “Let each of you not look not only to his own interests…”. These words imply that we are to be caring for ourselves as well as others.
Let’s also consider the second greatest commandment - “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. This command can originally be found in the Old Testament, but Jesus reiterates it here in Matthew 22 when he is asked which commandment is the greatest. As you may remember, He replies that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is to love others. And, how does He say we should love others? As we love ourselves.
I have talked to believers who say that they feel like it’s sinful for them to focus on their own “stuff” (be it emotions, thoughts, struggles, past experiences, etc.) and that they need to instead look outside of themselves and just focus on serving others. (Again, I am not saying these are bad things to do). However, what often happens is they neglect their mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional needs and run themselves ragged trying to meet everyone else’s needs. Service and care of others becomes a chore, another thing on the “to-do list”, rather than something born of genuine love and goodwill.
The point I am trying to make is that you can’t pour water from an empty pitcher. If you are “empty” due to issues such as unaddressed mental illness, unchecked emotions, undealt with relational wounds, or whatever it may be, your ability to love your neighbor will be hindered. This is where looking to our own interests and biblically loving ourselves comes into play. I believe that biblically loving ourselves means that we agree with God on who He says we are, and we treat ourselves in a way that honors Him and reflects His care for us. And when we do so, we are able to extend the same to others.
So, Christian, pursuing your mental health is not selfish. It honors that Lord when we agree with Him and walk into the healing that He so freely offers us. This increases our capacity to love Him and love others, filling up our pitchers so that we can pour into our family, friends, and community in a way that spreads the hope of Christ.
Written by our counselors to help promote your help, hope, healing