Most Misused Scripture by Self-Esteem Advocates

Those teaching self-esteem philosophies in the church have badly misused this Scripture to justify principles that contradict Scripture.

Most Misused Scripture Passage

Did you know that self-esteem philosophy wasn't a part of early Church writings and didn't appear in Christian teaching until it became popular in secular psychology? That's because it isn't found in Scripture.  

In this third part of my series on the Dangers of High Self-Esteem, I'd like to share the Scripture that's most often misused by self-esteem advocates:(1)

Matthew 22: 36-40:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 

Self-esteem advocates claim this means that in order to love others, we must first love ourselves. But that's not what this passage says at all.

If lack of self-love was truly such a huge problem for mankind, Jesus wouldn't have used it as the example for loving our neighbors.

Ephesians 5:28-29 helps us understand love for neighbors a bit better: "In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—"

Unless we have serious mental illness, we love ourselves enough to take care of our needs and that's the kind of love Christ asks us to give our neighbors. We aren't commanded to have warm feelings or high esteem for our neighbors. We're commanded to consider their needs in the same way we consider our own needs.

Those teaching self-esteem philosophies in the church have badly misused this Scripture to justify principles that contradict Scripture.
Note that Jesus doesn't tell us to love God as we love ourselves. Our love for God should be wholehearted and greater than any other other, including esteem, worship, service and obedience.

Living for self, esteeming self, and focusing on self don't enable us to love others....these things actually diminish our ability to love God and others.

In fact, one of the best ways to overcome sadness and discouragement is to quit focusing on self and start focusing on others. 

Instead of "why is no one encouraging me?" we should say, "How can I encourage others?"

Jesus is the Master Communicator.(2) He chose His words carefully. He could have said, "First love yourselves so you can love your neighbors" but He didn't.

God's Word never addresses the problem of low self-esteem. That's why Scriptures like Matthew 22 are turned upside-down to force them into a self-esteem mold. If poor self-esteem was as important and fragile as authorities claim (see part 2), God would have addressed it.

Jesus commands us to die to ourselves, not love ourselves. This means dying to our desires to feel important, wonderful, and appreciated by others:
Matthew 16:24-27:  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done."
Those teaching self-esteem philosophies in the church have badly misused this Scripture to justify principles that contradict Scripture.

When we're told "You're acting this way because you don't love yourself enough" or "Your child misbehaves because he doesn't love himself enough" it sounds right to us because our fallen human nature convinces us we are victims, not sinners.

But we must stop listening to the "wisdom" of our culture and start listening to the wisdom of God.

(1) This misuse of Scripture comes by using eisegesis, using Pieces Parts of Scripture.
(2)  Hebrews 1:1-3: In the past God spoke to our ancestors 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 also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Part 1: The Dangers of Promoting High Self-Esteem

Part 2: Self-Esteem's Twisted Proverb
Part 3: Self-Esteem's Twisted Words of Christ
Part 4: Self-Esteem's Twisted Psalm
Part 5: The Old Testament Refutes Self-Esteem Philosophy
Part 6: Godly Nurture Does Not Promote High Self-Esteem
Part 7: Secular Studies Agree with the Bible


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this series, Gail. I agree with what you've said here and look forward to hearing more in this series. It's very interesting and a fresh perspective!

  2. My hubby and I talk about the issues with the self-esteem movement all the time. I appreciate your post pointing out the issues and linking it back to biblical principles.

  3. Yes! "In fact, one of the best ways to overcome sadness and discouragement is to take our focus off of ourselves and focus on the needs of others."
    The other thing that struck me as I read your words is how cleverly a high self esteem hides itself in low self esteem these days. I really appreciated this today.

  4. Definitely agree with all you have said here! I think it is important for us to care for ourselves and have enough "self-esteem" to not think poorly of ourselves all the time. However, Scripture always directs us to consider others first, before ourselves. I like the quote by CS Lewis {I think...}, that says, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less...".

  5. I really loved your post. I am stopping by from living Proverbs 31 link up. I really loved that you stated, "Living for self, esteeming self, and focusing on self doesn't enable us to love actually diminishes our ability to love God and others." I look forward to staying connected at

  6. So true! Let's not listen to our culture, let's listen to the Word. :) I'm visiting from the Wise Woman link-up.

  7. Gail, Like we need just one more thing to help us love ourselves more (Really) I think most of us need to just get over ourselves. But after a few moments I was reminded about a few people I know of that have issues with real self hatred. I am thinking social media has really implemented a false belief system. It is only in Christ Word we can see who we really are.
    Blessings, Roxy

  8. Well said, Gail. I think I remember a graphic from The Four Spiritual Laws that showed how SELF had to come off the throne and God had to go on for us to truly surrender our lives to Christ. And when we subjugate ourselves to God, that's when we get a glimpse of how much he loves us, which gives us the greatest reason of all to feel comfortable and confident. He loves me! He loves me! He loves me! As always, a well-written, thought-provoking post :)

  9. What a great series, Gail! We are a self-absorbed society and the more we focus on ourselves, the more depressed we are (which explains a lot about this generation). In fact, with the rise of social media - we've become even more self-absorbed and narcissistic. We could take some tips from this series and learn to stop thinking of self, and start thinking of others. Thank you for this timely series!

  10. AS someone who used to have a terribly low self esteem, I thank God that he has shown me that I am worth Him dying for and worth loving. Its impossible to truly love and help others if you hate yourself or don't like yourself. The more we are able to see ourselves as God sees us, the more effective we are at being Jesus to others.

    1. Hi Judy,
      I encourage you to re-read the devotion. The kind of love God commands us to have for others isn't about feeling good about them or esteeming them or even liking them. It's about treating them humanely in the same way we treat ourselves.

  11. It is so dangerous when scripture is used as a motivational tool for selling. Once I worked for a company that would find a scripture, twist the meaning to promote sales and then give us a list of self help books. The favorite quote was, "What you think about,you bring about. Then the scripture, As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is. So if we thought we were great and acted as if were great, we would become great.
    I see Joel Osteen as being another great manipulator of scripture. It has certainly helped him sell books. We have to check and check everything by what the scripture says and means. And not jump on the band wagon of a dynamic speaker.