I’m assuming this is speaking of taking care of one’s physical health. If so, then it is surely true that in order to minister to the needs of others, we ourselves must be in good shape to do so. The Apostle Paul spoke of the need to be disciplined when it comes to our body in 1st Corinthians 9:27a, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (NKJV). He knew that “self-control” was vital in Christian service and thus if we are going to be serving others we must first discipline ourselves; in other words, we must be in “good shape” if we hope to help others. We should maintain a good diet, exercise regularly, and not harm our bodies with drugs or alcohol.

I believe Paul was not just thinking of “physical fitness,” but also mental, emotional and spiritual fitness, so there too he made it a goal to discipline himself. Just as we are to “eat the proper foods for our body” Scripture teaches us to “feed on the Word of God so we can grow spiritually.” The Apostle Peter speaks to this in 1st Peter 2:2, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” Regarding exercise, we read in 1st Timothy 7-8, “But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and EXERCISE YOURSELF TOWARD GODLINESS. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Exercising ourselves toward godliness would surely involve avoiding unprofitable literature and meditating on Scripture, but it also includes prayer, having Christian fellowship, and witnessing to lost souls. If we are disciplined in these matters, we will indeed be in “good mental, emotional and spiritual shape” and we can then be used as a channel of blessing to others. So, yes, we do need to “take care of ourselves before we can take care of others.”

I suppose I could end my answer here, but I keep thinking of something else that I hear people say. I often hear (or read) that “we must LOVE OURSELVES BEFORE WE CAN LOVE OTHERS.” Is this true? The verse that is often quoted to support that view is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Romans 13:9). It is true that we should have the same love and concern for others as we do for ourselves, for in essence these words are teaching us to “treat others as we would have others to treat us.” We often call that the “Golden Rule.” But I don’t believe that verse is commanding us to “love yourself first” (so that you will be able to “love others”). I believe it is teaching us that “we love ourselves NATURALLY!” It is quite normal for a person to “love themselves” and to “care for themselves.” We have countless books in bookstores (even Christian bookstores!) on “self-love” and “self-esteem” and one concludes from this that the biggest problem we have (before we can love and esteem others) is “loving ourselves.” I would challenge that thinking, for in my opinion there is “too much love for ourselves” and this “love” is a barrier to loving and serving others.

What we are to commanded to do is “love one another.” Jesus said in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” In giving us this commandment Jesus also gave us His STANDARD: “as I have loved you.” How did He love us? He tells us later in John 15:12-13, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one that this, than to LAY DOWN ONE’S LIFE for his friends.” Jesus LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR US ON THE CROSS! “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives Hs life for the sheep….I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11 & 15). We too are to “lay down our life for our brothers and sisters in Christ” for we are told in 1st John 3:16, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for our brethren.” It may not be by “dying for them,” but it surely means we are to “live for them” by ministering to their needs as the Lord manifests those needs to us. How do we live up to this standard? Ah, by focusing our heart’s attention on CHRIST’S LOVE FOR US! As we fix our eye of faith on His love, we will naturally love others! “We love, because He first loved us” (1st John 4:18…NASB). His love for us will create in us the capacity to love others! This thought runs throughout Scripture and I would like to encourage you to read Philippians 2:1-8, for after exhorting the saints to “esteem others better than himself” (verse 3) and to “look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (verse 4), the Apostle Paul then directs their attention to the supreme example of the Lord Jesus who, in love for others, set aside His glory and became a Servant/Man and laid down His life on the cross in obedience to His Father (verses 5-8).  (432.1)  (DO)