The answer is no. Absolutely not.
The issue is not how much you love yourself. The issue is how much you love yourself in comparison to God.
Jonathan Edwards discusses this in great detail in his excellent work Charity and Its Fruits. He writes:
I do not suppose it can be said of any, that their love of their own happiness, if we consider that love absolutely and not comparatively, can be in too high a degree….
The inordinateness of self-love, wherein a corrupt selfishness does exist, lies in two things: in its being too great comparatively, and in placing our happiness in that which is confined to self….
[Only] if we compare a man’s love of himself with his love for others, it may be said that he loves himself too much — that is, in proportion to much.
The issue, then, is not how much you love yourself. There is no limit to how much you can and should love yourself. The issue is how much you love yourself in relation to God and others. As long as you love God more, then you cannot love yourself too much.
To give an example (with somewhat crude measurements): let’s say person A loves himself at a level we’ll call 10 “points.” Person B loves himself at a level we’ll call 15 points. Which one is the idolater?
By this information alone, you can’t tell. You need to know each person’s degree of love for God. If person A, then, loves God at 8 “points,” and person B loves God at 20 “points,” then the idolater is person A — even though he is the person with less self love.
This is why Edwards can then go on to say “In some respects unbelievers do not love themselves enough — not so much as the godly do.”
This is Freeing
This truth is incredibly freeing. It also brings a much-needed corrective to some parts of the gospel-centered movement.
Some gospel-centered Christians talk about idolatry as loving something “too much.” Take work, for example. There is this notion that you can fall off one of too sides. On the one hand, you can not value your job enough, and fall into idleness. On the other side, there is this notion that you can love your job too much, and thus fall into idolatry.*
This perspective, stated in that way, becomes demotivating. It makes you have to be constantly introspective and cautious, continually on the lookout to check your enthusiasm. That is no way to live, and is in fact the definition of demotivating.
Or, can you imagine a man getting married, and saying to him on his wedding day “now, don’t love your wife too much!” We all recognize how inappropriate that would be. What a downer! The gospel does not lead us to be downers (quite the opposite — Romans 12:15). But if we always have to be on the lookout not to love anything “too much,” we will be constant downers.
Edwards’ point on self-love frees us from these hindrances to true love. It shows us that we cannot love ourselves too much, or our jobs, or even food or drink or having fun. You cannot love anything too much in an absolute sense, and therefore are free to pursue your enthusiasm for things undiminished. That is incredibly freeing and motivating.
The issue is always “do I love this more than God?” That’s the problem, and that’s what you need to be on the lookout for. But notice that when we understand the problem in this sense, the solution is not that we need to be worried about how much we love our jobs (or anything else). The solution is not to decrease our enthusiasm for work or food or anything else. Rather, the solution is to increase our love for God. The issue is always one of proportion; how much do I love this in relation to God? That’s the question to be asking.
This leads to a very different kind of life, and this is at the essence of the freedom of a Christian.
*Note: If it seems like I’m referring to a recently released book on the gospel and work here, I’m not. I’m not referring to it because I haven’t been able to read it all yet, and my assumption is that the authors make this same correction that I’m seeking to make here. I’m referring more to a mindset that tends to pop up more informally in blogs, articles, sermons, and so forth.
In my interview today at The Gospel Coalition with Bethany Jenkins on What’s Best Next, I talk about why I wrote the book and how it ties in to productivity books like Getting Things Done and Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Workweek, as well as how it seeks to take books like John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life or David Platt’s Radical a step further.
This is something that is absolutely foundational to why I wrote the book and how I conceive of it, but which I haven’t talked about much in other interviews on the book.
Here’s an excerpt:
Why did you write this book?
[One of my chief reasons] is that I want to reshape the way we think about productivity altogether. Years ago I read Tim Ferriss’ very helpful book The 4-Hour Workweek. His book gives some of the best productivity tips of recent years, but he puts them toward the wrong purpose: minimizing the time you spend working so you can join the “new rich” and live however you want. (Its subtitle is: “Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich”.)
So I said to myself, “What if, instead of putting productivity within the context of joining the new rich, we put productivity within the context of fulfilling God’s vision for our lives?” That is a much more exciting thing, in my view, than joining the new rich and being able to do whatever you want. That’s why the first few sections of the book are about God’s vision for our lives and why we should care about productivity at all. I seek to show both what that vision is and that it is the most exciting and interesting way to live.
What do you mean by God’s vision for our lives?
God’s vision for our lives is that we glorify him by doing good for others radically, creatively, and abundantly. That’s simply the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We love ourselves creatively and abundantly and, therefore, we are to love others creatively and abundantly as well. The energy and initiative that we put into advancing our own welfare we are to also put into advancing the welfare of others. We are to see our entire lives as avenues for doing good.
You don’t have to run to the hills or escape 9-5 to have a meaningful life. You can have the highest possible significance in your work right now — whatever you are doing — if you do it for the good of others and glory of God.
At the end of What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, I give a summary of the book in 500 words so that people can easily take away the core concept and a few key practices (and share them with others).
Here it is:
Gospel-Driven Productivity in a Nutshell
We need to look to God to define for us what productivity is, not simply the ambiguous concept of “what matters most.” For God is what matters most.
When we do this, we don’t enter a realm of spiritual weirdness, as we might fear. Good secular thinking remains relevant as a gift of God’s common grace. Neither do we enter a realm of over-spiritualization where the things we do every day don’t matter.
Instead, the things we do every day take on even greater significance because they are avenues through which we serve God and others. In fact, the gospel teaches us that the good of others is to be the main motive in all that we do and the chief criteria by which we determine “what’s best next.” This is not only right, but also the best way to be productive, as the best business thinkers are showing. More importantly, when we do this in God’s power and as an offering to him, he is glorified and shown to be great in the world.
In order to be most effective in this way in our current era of massive overload yet incredible opportunity, we need to do four things to stay on track and lead and manage our lives effectively:
The result of this is not only our own increased peace of mind and ability to get things done, but also the transformation of the world by the gospel because it is precisely in our everyday vocations that we take our faith into the world and the light of the gospel shines—both in what we say and in what we do (Matthew 5:16).
If You Only take 5 Productivity Practices Away from This Book
Learning and especially implementing productivity practices can be hard. It is easy to forget what we learned or forget how to apply it. One remedy is to keep coming back to this book (of course!). But to make this as simple as possible, if you can only take away 5 things from this book, they should be these:
- Foundation: Look to God, in Jesus Christ, for your purpose, security, and guidance in all of life.
- Purpose: Give your whole self to God (Romans 12:1-2), and then live for the good of others to his glory to show that he is great in the world.
- Guiding Principle: Love your neighbor as yourself. Treat others the way you want them to treat you. Be proactive in this and even make plans to do good.
- Core Strategy: Know what’s most important and put it first.
- Core Tactic: Plan your week, every week! Then, as things come up throughout the day, ask “is this what’s best next?” Then, either do that right away or, if you can’t, slot it in to your calendar or action list that you are confident you will refer back to at the right time.
This post from Harvard Business Review nails it — totally nails it — on the importance of daily planning, and how to do it well (it is very simple).
PovertyCure now as an app that makes their content easily available for your iPhone.
I love PovertyCure’s vision because they actually understand how to overcome poverty. It can be done — as long as we understand the correct principles (which most initiative so far haven’t). So I highly recommend checking out their site as well as their app.
Here’s their vision:
PovertyCure is an international coalition of over 250 partner organizations and 1 million individuals spanning 143 countries and counting. We produce films and educational resources advancing partnership-based solutions to poverty that challenge the status quo and champion the creative potential of the human person.
In our efforts to combat poverty worldwide, we too often fall into paternalistic, donor-recipient models that fail to distinguish short-term relief and long-term sustainable development. Oftentimes this approach can have tragic unintended consequences. Our call to solidarity with the poor means more than providing institutional assistance and aid. It demands a deeper view of the human person predicated on an appreciation for the creative capacity of each and every human person. Effective compassion situates those afflicted by poverty not as objects of our charity, but as subjects and protagonists of their own integral development. When we understand people as made in the image of God and endowed with his divine creative spark, it changes absolutely everything about how we understand poverty and development.
It’s time to shift our focus from aid to enterprise, from paternalism to partnerships, from poverty alleviation to real human flourishing.
Patrick Lencioni’s latest article, giving excellent insight into what we can learn from the San Antonio spurs about organizational health. Here’s the start:
I loved basketball as a kid, wanting more than anything to play in the NBA one day. But I didn’t make it past high school, my 5’9 inch height and limited jumping ability holding me back. If I were only eight inches taller…
Now, I have to admit that since then I’ve lost much of my interest as a fan of professional basketball as the game has become less about teamwork and finesse, and more about individual, physical, one–on–one challenges. Which is why it was so fun to watch the San Antonio Spurs win the NBA championship this week. They are an old–school reminder of the days of passing, teamwork and strategy — the antithesis of what the NBA has become.
But a closer look at the Spurs, the organization and the team, reveals that there is more going on in San Antonio than meets the eye, and it is something that any organization can learn from. See, the Spurs are the healthiest organization in the NBA, and probably in all of professional sports.
A healthy organization, as I’ve defined in my book, The Advantage, is one that maintains a cohesive leadership team, establishes clarity about what it stands for, communicates that clarity repetitively, and puts in place processes and systems to reinforce that clarity over time. How do the San Antonio Spurs match up? Well, when I talk to people in the industry and ask them which organization is best across all sports, most of them will pause for just a few seconds before arriving at their answer: the Spurs. What is it that makes this organization so special?
I have two case lots of What’s Best Next that I’m selling at 50% off, which is $10 per book (plus shipping). There are 24 books in a case. This is a great way to get a set of books for the staff at your church, business, or non-profit, or just to give away.
You can purchase them through the interface I set up at Square Market, and I’ll get them sent right out.
Lots of time management books talk about the importance of values. But that’s not enough, because you can value the wrong things.
My answer — and the answer of the book — is that the ultimate way to get the right things done is to value what God values, and act in accordance with that. This leads us to the counterintuitive notion that love and generosity — not efficiency — are actually the ways to be most productive.
My short ebook How to Set Up Your Desk: A Guide to Fixing a (Surprisingly) Overlooked Productivity Problem is on sale for $4.99 through next Tuesday.
Whereas What’s Best Next gives a comprehensive view of why our work matters and how to be more effective in it, How to Set Up Your Desk takes a very specific area of productivity and shows you how to maximize it.
It’s easy to think that you don’t need to give thought to how you use your desk. But in reality, your desk setup matters immensely because your desk is actually a workflow system. Setting up your desk well minimizes the resistance to getting things done — and makes it a lot more fun.
So in this ebook I outline the basic principles for how to set up your desk well (yes, there are principles for this!). Then I apply them to help you make your whole desk setup more effective so that you can get get things done with minimal drag and get rid of the clutter that so easily sucks your energy and creativity.
(Note that I originally published this as a series on this blog, available for free, but I’ve updated the introduction and added some other things for the ebook. Also, getting the ebook is a great way to help support the blog!)
- Known by their love, and also sound in theology. Both/and, not either/or.
- Engaged in their communities and workplaces and working for the good of others, not retreating to the hills to grow wheat until Jesus comes.
- Not afraid of culture, but not compromising the gospel either. The gospel is unchanging, but it does need to be contextualized.