Self Love (in Greek, φιλαυτία), an element of character which is to be carefully distinguished from selfishness as being radically different, and not so in degree only. The former is demanded by the moral consciousness in man, while the latter is condemned, and the same distinction prevails in the Scriptures. The one is the basis for motives to self examination, for prudence and carefulness of life, for self renewal and improvement; the other the ground in which all "works of the flesh" (Ga 5:19; comp. 1Ti 6:10) are rooted.
General or philosophical ethics requires self love in the sense that each person should honor the idea of humanity or the human personality which underlies his own nature, and that he should develop it in every direction. The principle of humanity which asserts the dignity of human nature is the prevailing idea. Theological ethics treats self love as a disposition which has for its object the Christian personality, which springs from love to God and Christ, which sanctifies the Lord in the heart (1Pe 3:15), protects against all contamination of the flesh and spirit (2Co 7:1), and seeks to be renewed in the spirit of the mind (Eph 4:23)
in order that we may be glorified with Christ (2Co 3:18). The regenerated personality, therefore, constitutes both subject and object in Christian self love, while, in the natural sentiment, unregenerate man is the substituted entity, and Christian self love alone is really virtuous, a personal disposition through which the Christian presents himself to God a holy, living sacrifice (Ro 12:1).
The intimate relation subsisting between self love and love to our neighbors is such that they are inseparable and mutually condition each other. Not only does love for others limit our love of self, but the egotist degrades himself in proportion as he indulges in his egotism; and no person is capable of being useful to others in his character and his life who does not in the best sense love and care for himself. Every duty to self may accordingly be viewed as duty to our neighbors, and vice versa, if care be taken to guard against the eudaemonism which is so likely to intrude.
In its manifestations Christian self love assumes a twofold character in which the negative and positive elements predominate at different times. The former element corresponds to self respect, whose influence leads the Christian to avoid everything that may wound, or in any way impair, the dignity conferred on him, and which impels him to cultivate the habit of spiritual watchfulness. Upon this ground the positive element in self love carries forward the work of renewal, including the whole of Christian development and perfection. And inasmuch as the entire man is concerned in these objects of self love, it follows that the body must share in the development and other benefits secured to the spirit, though simply as the spirit's minister and instrument (1Th 5:23). At this point Christian self love passes over into spiritual discipline, and coincides to some extent with Christian asceticism. See Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.; Fleming, Vocab. of Philos. s.v.