Getting Love Right (3)
Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!
They are utterly consumed with terrors. Psalm 73.18, 19
One sin leads to another
We want our hearts to be set for loving God and our neighbors. As we increase in love for God, He fills us with more of Himself, the experience of which is exhilarating beyond compare. We realize that to love our self truly is to bask in God’s love and to increase in love for Him. From that river of delights (Ps. 36.7-9), love for our neighbors overflows, by the indwelling Spirit of God, to bathe and refresh them in His grace (Jn. 7.37-39).
The only thing that can ruin this grand design is corrupting self-love – love for self that puts our desires above God’s. This has been the devil’s trump card for foiling our joy from the very beginning, and it remains in his hand to play against every one of us yet today (cf. Matt. 4.1-11).
We will not get love right until we recognize and control our natural inclination to love ourselves above all. Love as God intends grows where such self-love is suppressed, out of fear of God and the consequences of disobeying His order, and because of increasing love for Him.
The problem with self-love is that it tends to take off and soar in directions which, in retrospect, we might wish we’d controlled a little better. Failure to rein in self-love can set one’s feet on a slippery slope of sin and more sin, the effects of which can be devastating in the extreme.
No one in Scripture illustrates this better than King David. In the affair of David and Bathsheba, self-love got the best of two people, with dreadful effects on many others. We read about this sorry account in 2 Samuel 11.
Wrong from the beginning
From the beginning it’s clear that David’s head was in the wrong place. And that was because he was not keeping his heart with all diligence. Rather than fulfill his duty as king, by going out to reinforce Israel’s borders in the spring of the year (2 Sam. 11.1), David stayed back in Jerusalem and let the army fend for themselves under the leadership of the no-account Joab. David loved himself and his convenience and leisure more than his duty as king. This may have seemed a harmless bit of self-indulgence to him, but it lit a fuse of self-love that would explode in sordid, deceitful, murderous ways. It was the first step on a slippery slope to disaster.
“Then it happened,” we read in verse 2, that David was lolling about on his roof one afternoon, and he “happened” to notice one of his neighbors as she was bathing. He observed, our text tells us, that “she was very beautiful.” No harm in noticing that, right? Wrong.
David’s neglect of duty was about to lead to worse sin. His self-interest in failing to lead the army out to battle led to lust, and lust – a form of covetousness – led to David’s transgressing not only the tenth but also the seventh commandment and, ultimately, the ninth and sixth as well.
Neglect of duty, then lust, voyeurism, adultery. One indulgence of unbridled self-love led to another on a slippery slope of sin, just as Asaph warned in Psalm 73.
But worse was yet to come. Bathsheba, in an act of unbridled self-love, consented to the king’s advances and lay with him. Subsequently, she advised David that she had become pregnant. David, seeking to cover his sin, sent for her husband from the war front, ostensibly to hear a report of the battle. What he really wanted was for Uriah to spend time with his wife, enjoy his conjugal rights, and thus provide an explanation for Bathsheba’s pregnancy that would keep David out of the public eye. Neglect of duty, then lust, voyeurism, adultery, deceit.
When this ploy failed, because of Uriah’s superior moral convictions, David, now totally in the grip of self-love, arranged for Bathsheba’s husband to be killed in the heat of battle; and he drew Joab into the web of his transgression, making him, like Bathsheba, a willing participant in sin. Neglect of duty, then lust, voyeurism, adultery, deceit, conspiracy, murder, corrupting one’s neighbor. A slippery slope, indeed.
No fear of God
David feared not having the ease and pleasure he imagined more than he feared the God Who had charged him with certain duties as king of Israel. Self-love ran his heart, and David shoved the Law of God aside as he resolved on a course of mere convenience and self-interest. It did not matter to him who got hurt, or how. All he cared about was himself. As if pleasing himself, rather than God, were his highest purpose in life.
Sin is a slippery slope, and it can find its way into our hearts from even the slightest act of deferring to corrupting self-interest. Little deviations of self-love can lead to greater misadventures in sin, with the result that our heart becomes hardened, people get hurt, and God has to step in to re-establish us in the fear of Him (Heb. 12.3-11).
Our age that knows no fear of God. Nor does it fear endorsing many of the worst forms of self-love. Some restrains remain, it’s true, but will they also ultimately go the way of all that previous generations guarded against so carefully?
In the Christian community, we must keep our hearts with all diligence against the corroding power of unbridled self-love, by fearing God and looking to Him to nurture love’s true and proper forms. Wherever self-love seeks to capture the flag of our hearts, we need to resist it, and raise the banner of Christ our King in the holy fear of God.
1. Can you think of any contemporary examples of the “slippery slope” of self-love? How about in your own life?
2. Looking at our society over the past generation, how do you see that we are already far down the slippery slope of unbridled self-love?
3. Can you see how failing to fear God opens the door to unbridled self-love in the human heart? Explain.
Next steps – Transformation: Meditate on Psalm 73. Paul said that when temptation appears before us, God has provided a way of escape to help us bear up (1 Cor. 10.13). What “ways of escape” did Asaph use to avoid falling into the sin of covetousness and self-interest? How would you translate Asaph’s experience into a strategy for dealing with the temptation to put self-love first in any situation?
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.