So much is taught regarding caring for ourselves. I remember learning in university about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, topping off the chart with self-actualization. Many also talk about the importance of your self-worth. In fact, they are so caught up with self-worth, that they seek to see all people, regardless of gender, as equal. I wonder, what does that exactly mean? With so much insecurity abounding, there is also much talk about self-esteem. You may ask, ‘What is the difference between self-esteem and self-worth?’ The Bible speaks much about both, and the differences. Let us look at what it says.
Self-worth is about the value you put on yourself, or how you see others valuing you. With so much negative going on around us, and the knowledge of how much we sin, it is hard to see yourself with much value. We know, as Christians, that we are to value others as higher than ourselves, yet how much do we value ourselves? Self-esteem is the how your value compares to others. Comparison is dangerous, as it discourages, and creates unhealthy competition, yet it is all around us constantly. In a world where all are taught to strive to be the best, can self-esteem be compatible with godly humility?
Mental Health tells us, “Self-esteem is important because it heavily influences people's choices and decisions. In other words, self-esteem serves a motivational function by making it more or less likely that people will take care of themselves and explore their full potential.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Yet there are a few problems with it according to God’s standards. It is true that how we think about ourselves influences our choices and decisions, yet what determines how you think about yourself? As a Christian, you are to trust God’s evaluation of you over anyone else, including yourself. The verse that explains how we are to love others better than we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39), assumes that we do love and care for ourselves. At the same time, we need to be relying more on God and others for our needs rather than prioritizing our needs over the needs of others! Exploring your full potential has a nice ring to it too, but that is not what we are called to do. God has gifted us with talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts. We are to explore what God wants us to do as part of His Kingdom, not for yourself, but for His glory. Your ‘potential’ is greater by the power of the Holy Spirit than what is humanly possible. When we realize this, self-esteem is unnecessary. In fact, it counters humility. God calls us to humbly put others higher, realizing our dependence on Him and others. Self-esteem peaks with what Maslow calls self-actualization, which is akin to making yourself god.
A better term for Christians is self-worth. Knowing your value according to God is vital to righteous living according to God’s standards. Read through Ephesians chapter one sometime ... today! It explains how God sees you and what God did for you despite our sinful nature. You are blessed by God (verse 3). How, you ask? God chose you (verse 4). Yes, you personally and individually! He knew you and wanted you for a specific purpose, even before you were born. So, get to know that purpose, and live it with enthusiasm, knowing that God will enable you to do what He has called you to do. You are a child of God (verse 5) with full rights and privileges, including a great inheritance! The Bible tells us that it was for God’s pleasure, and to the praise of His glory and grace. He takes great pleasure in taking care of you as your Father. A perfect Father, not the imperfect examples we have here on Earth. You are accepted (verse 6). You do not need to look to others for acceptance or approval. No matter where you are at in your faith and spiritual growth, God has accepted you. You can (and will) make mistakes along the way, but that does not change the fact that God loves you. He may not approve of all your choices or actions, but He approves of you! We must learn to understand the difference. You are forgiven (verse 7). The only one who can truly forgive you is the one who sets the standards, which is God, our Father. He has forgiven you because Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins. God takes your sins and puts them in a deep lake, with a ‘No Fishing’ sign at the edge. I read a good illustration about this today: A little girl broke her mother’s favourite mug. Crying, she brought the pieces to her mom and said, ‘I am sorry!’ Her mother put the pieces in the garbage and said, ‘You are forgiven. You can stop crying.’ The girl then needs to leave the pieces in the garbage and move on, rather than picking them out and continuing to weep over her mistake. It is not about forgiving herself, but about receiving the forgiveness that has been offered to her.
Your responsibility as a Christian is to take care of your body, seeing your self (soul) as God sees you, and training your spirit to focus on the mission God, your Father, has called you to. Self-worth is the Biblical goal, not something to work toward, but something to identify in God’s Word. Self-esteem is the thing to avoid, rather seeking humility and dependence on God for strength. Competition, comparison, and self-actualization are dangerous, drawing us away from the value we are to see in others, in love. Let us love as God loves, caring for the needs of others, and trusting Him to care for us in His perfect way. “Rivers do not drink their own water; trees do not eat their own fruit; the sun does not shine on itself and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves. Living for others is a rule of nature (God’s way). ... Life is good when you are happy; but much better when others are happy because of you.” (Loreen Husband)