I propose that the following would be a good start:
- Focus on Jesus
- Examine ourselves
- Confess and repent
- Focus on others
- Pray and read Scripture
First, we need to focus on Jesus. He is the perfect One and before we can really do a thorough self-examination, we need to look at the standard that we are measured against. Jesus is God. I mention this because to really understand how He loves us we need to think about the fact that He is self-existent. That means that He has always been and does not depend upon anything or anyone for anything. So He doesn't need anything from us...He made us, so how could He need anything from us? Also, we need to think about the fact that He was worshipped in heaven by angels for thousands of years before He humbled Himself and became a baby, grew up to a full age without ever commiting a sin (even in thought), and then took on the wrath of God in our place so that our sins might be forgiven. Our sovereign Lord experienced all of the following in order to serve us: exhaustion, hunger, thirst, pain, being spat upon, being ridiculed, beaten with a staff, scourged, crucified. He even made a point of washing the disciples feet (the dirtiest, lowliest job in those times) before the Last Supper in order to provide an example of how they should serve each other and others. I can't stress enough how we need to wrap our heads around the fact that Jesus created us...He rules over us...He sustains us. So do you have all that in your mind? Now keep all of that in your mind and then think about how He became one of us in every way except for our sin nature and how He endured so much derision and persecution (unto death) at the hands of those He created, rules over, and sustains. I don't think that we have any better picture of what true love is than this. Once we have this in mind, we have a solid foundation to build upon.
That foundation will do us no good, however, if we do not examine ourselves in light of the true love that Jesus shows towards us. We can easily recognize that Jesus' love is amazing and wonderful. However, if we just take that and try to run with it without examining ourselves in light of Who Jesus is, we're going to find it quite difficult to reflect that kind of love towards others. That is because we are sinful. Sin is what separates man from God and we have to recognize that before we can accept that Jesus indeed did die for us on the cross. This is the beauty of the Gospel...we have sinned against God and He came and paid the penalty for us so that we can be redeemed and spend eternity with Him. There is no other way. That sin nature we have doesn't go away when we're saved, either. And so we still need to examine ourselves after being saved so that we can put off the old and put on the new (as Paul said in Ephesians 4). If we don't do this, then it is likely that we'll be hindered (by our sin) from being able to love others as we love ourselves and as Jesus loved us. Think about it...let's say that I'm having some problems with pride. How hard is it going to be for me to serve another sinner with this type of love? Won't my natural tendency be to look down upon their sin and feed my pride? Similar problems could arise if I have problems with gossip, lust, jealousy, etc. Any type of sin will take the focus off of loving others and bring it back to loving ourselves. So we need to examine ourselves and also ask God to examine our hearts and point out areas where sin is causing probems for us before we can move forward towards loveing others as ourselves.
And to move forward from there, we then need to confess and repent of our sin. Just identifying the sin won't do anything for us. If I notice that I have to keep replacing the brake pads on my car because I tailgate and slam on my brakes, that is just one step towards fixing the problem. If I don't stop tailgating and slamming on the brakes, do you think I've really made any progress? No, because while I have identified the problem, I haven't dealt with it. And I don't think that many people would sympathize with me about my problems with brake pads in this case. Strangely though, many Christians like to talk about how hard it is to turn away from certain sins and sympathize with one another instead of encouraging one another to do so. Don't get me wrong...we should share in each other's sorrows and not be walking around looking down at each other. We do need to be mortifying our own sins and trying to build each other up to do so in their own lives as well, though. In fact, I've found that God usually puts us in places to help others who are struggling with sins that we have had to repent of and mortify in our own lives so that we can help and encourage them to do so. I mention this because that might mean that there are those that we are in contact with that can help and encourage us to repent of and mortify the particular sins we are struggling with. And let's face it, we can use all the help that God provides us with to help us repent of our sins.
And once we have repented of our own sinfulness, it is so much easier to love ourselves in the same way that we love ourselves. This is especially true when we realize that we love ourselves in spite of all the filthiness of the sin in our own hearts. I mean, who sees our sin any more closely than we do? And once we see that Jesus has forgiven us of all that filthiness, it makes it a whole lot easier to look at others and see the love of Jesus in their lives. We should be looking at other people and seeing the grace of God working in their lives. And we need to take the time to tell them that we see God working through them. The more that we take the time to identify how God is working through others and tell them that we see it, the more this will become habitual for us. We will just start looking at others and loving them instead of always looking to judge them. (A brief side note: We must not forget that part of this love does involve correction when it is necessary, but it is correction from a fellow Christian trying to help and not looking down at others. We can't fall into the trap of the love of the world that is more than happy to let people live in sin for the sake of "comfort". This is really no more than self-love in that it prevents a person from having to deal with the reactions of friends who might be offended by the truth.) And when we are reflecting the love of God towards others that enables us to be effective in ministering to each other.
Which leads us into serving. We are each given a set of spiritual gifts when we are saved. And the purpose of these gifts is to build each other up by serving one another. We should be looking for ways that we are capable of serving others and to use the gifts which God has provided us with in order to serve. That could range from bringing people to church who need a ride to cooking meals for people who are in need or who are sick to teaching children or adults in the church. It might involve doing some work on the churc or helping do some work on other people's homes. Maybe you can help to biblically counsel (with proper training) people at your church. Older women are supposed to help teach the younger women about Christian living as a woman (Titus 2). You can be a greeter, sing, play instruments, help clean up the church after services, or maybe just hold open the doors for others. And we should all be welcoming to people as they visit church or a Bible study (just think about how you feel as the new person in any group). These are all ways that we can serve and reflect the love of Jesus towards others. Remember that He said that He came to serve and not to be served...and He is the standard that we are supposed to measure ourselves against.
Which brings me to my last point in how we can go about loving others as we do ourselves...reading Scripture and praying. Now I know a lot of people will jump on me for putting this last on the list. And I can't say that I'd blame anybody for doing so. The reason I did, though, is because this will lead back into the beginning of the cycle of these steps and I think that is most important. We need to be continually doing all of these things so that we don't wind up in the ditches on either side. In fact, I'd suggest that we can't really focus on Jesus without prayerfully reading Scripture and meditating upon what we have read. And the reason that we need to come back to this is because we are continually being perfected. We can only do this by reading Scripture to get a better understanding of what God says through the Bible and how to apply it. We need to be getting a better understanding of Jesus and examining ourselves for areas of sin to confess and repent of. And then we can be equipped to love and serve others better and better over the course of our lives. We can not do any of this by our own power, though, and that is why we must pray. We need to pray and meditate upon what we read so that the Holy Spirit will interpret Scripture and equip us to apply it properly.
I hope that we are all encouraged to do these things and to love one another as we do ourselves. As we look to Jesus and see how great He is we will also see how short we fall. Yet the beauty of the Gospel is that Jesus has already paid the price for our sins. Once we see these sins, we need to confess them and repent of them so that we can look at how God is working in the lives of those around us instead of becoming self-righteous. This will help us to reflect the love of God towards others and serve them better. And we need to be coming back to Scripture to renew our minds and help us focus again on the work of Jesus. May God break us of our pride and help us to love and serve one another the way that Jesus has shown us his love and service.