“You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves...” (2 Timothy 3:1–2a).
It’s cause and effect. Push God out of His universe and don’t love Him as the supreme love. Instead, enthrone man as god, as we have done in our society, and the effect is that Paul’s words to Timothy become fulfilled to an even greater degree. Worship and love of God is replaced with worship and love of self.
Another word for self-love is narcissism. The term narcissism originated more than 2,000 years ago when Ovid wrote the legend of Narcissus. He tells the story of a beautiful Greek hunter who, one day, happens to see his reflection in a pool of water and falls in love with it. He becomes obsessed with its beauty, and is unable to leave his reflected image until he dies. After his death, the flower Narcissus grew where he lay.
Narcissism is characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy for others, a need for excessive admiration, and the belief that one is unique and deserving of special treatment.
The subject of narcissism has intrigued people for centuries, but social scientists now claim that it has become a modern epidemic. What has led to its increase? In simple terms, it is due to a societal shift from a commitment to the society as a whole to a focus on the individual and oneself. Here are some things in our day that helped this narcissistic flower to blossom.
We have the self-esteem movement, which determined that self-esteem was the key to success in life. Educators and parents started telling their children how special and unique they are to make them feel more confident. Parents tried to confer self-esteem upon their children rather than letting them achieve it through hard work.
Along came the rise of individualism with its focus on oneself and one’s feelings. As society has modernized social norms that connected people declined. This meant that the community and the family were no longer able to provide the same support for individuals as they once did.
As the social fabric deteriorated, it became much harder to meet the basic need for meaningful connection. The question moved from “What is best for other people and the family?” to “What is best for me?” The modernisation of society seemed to prize fame, wealth, and celebrity above all else. All this, combined with the breakdown in social ties created a vacuum.
Finally, the rise in technology and the development of hugely popular social networking sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok further changed the way we spend our free time and communicate. Today, there are 2.9 billion people on Facebook with nearly 936 million active Facebook users each day worldwide. While social media can be a useful communication tool, it also can be an addictive narcissistic vehicle.
Internet addiction is a new area of study in mental health and recent research shows that addiction to Facebook is strongly linked to narcissistic behaviour and low self-esteem. People who spend their lives consumed with self-adoration will find that this does not lead to happiness. In contrast, research has shown that being embedded in social networks and being actively engaged in your community and connected with friends and family has major health benefits.
How should Jesus’ followers respond to the narcissism of our day? And what if we find that we personally are guilty of it?
- Return to Scripture. Consider what Paul exhorted Timothy to do in his day when “people will love only themselves....”(2 Timothy 3:2) He said, “But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught...You have been taught the holy Scriptures...” (2 Timothy 3:14–15a).
- Recommit to love. The Scriptures we are to remain faithful to tell us, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’” And, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37–39). Paul admonished the Romans, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them” (Romans 12:9).
- Reconnect with others. Recognize that what actually does bring satisfaction is vital relationships with God and others. If you as a Christian have believed the world’s lie that self-love is the secret to happiness it’s likely you have grown distant from God and others. It’s time to reconnect.
Ask God to rekindle love for Him and others in your heart. Take a break from that smartphone and shut off your computer. Start to use some of that time you were spending on social media to renew your love-relationship with your Lord and His Word. And make time to renew, reengage, and revitalize your relationships with your spouse, family, and friends.
That’s the best way to love yourself.