Posted by: duncandrews | January 3, 2011

Why it’s wrong to be other-person centred

Self-centredness is ugly. It corrodes relationships, undermines genuine love and trust, and generally goes against the grain of how we’re made to be. When our life revolves around ourself, our vision narrows, blinding us from the great things God has done, is doing and will do.

But I wonder if the language of ‘other-person centredness’ is just as problematic. It sounds better, but seems to me to just shift the problem. The person who centres their life around other people – family members, friends, even those in church – still fails to live out their primary relationship with their creator and lord. In the end it’s idolatry – what we centre our lives around is what we worship.

And other-person centredness has such devastating potential. It means our attempts to love are always tied to how the other person receives that love – our love can never be unconditional. Our sense of self, our feeling of purpose and wellbeing is so intimately tied up with our relationships with other people. And so when those others disappoint and hurt, as they will inevitably do, it can rock us to our core, and often leads to a closing down of love, a self-protective commitment to not feeling that pain again.

But God, and only God, does not disappoint. In Christ our relationship with our heavenly Father is never in jeopardy, is never in doubt, is always one of open hearted unconditional love. And the security and peace that brings frees us up to love in the same way – not conditional upon how it is received, but freely, openly, self-sacrificially.

So, at the risk of being a pedant, rather than talk of other-person centredness, shouldn’t we talk of Christ centredness, and other person directedness?



  1. It’s keeping the first commandment ahead of the second, isn’t it? And that’s not easy.

    “Love the Lord your God with all . . . and you neighbour as yourself.”

  2. Hi mum – thanks for the comment!
    I hadn’t made the connection, but I think you’re right – although you’ve sparked some more thoughts which I’ll blog soon.
    Basically, I’m keen to explore the relationship between those loves – is it one of priority, like a checklist? Or is it one of concentricity (is that a word?), like when a rock drops into water and makes concentric waves?

    I think it’s the latter… But more on that later 🙂

    And you’re right, it’s not easy. In fact, it’s impossible – but maybe a 3rd post about that??

  3. Hi Duncan,
    I wonder if ‘other-person-centredness’ operates as a bit of a generic catch all phrase for properly ordered personal relationality? It can refer to both God’s intrinsic other-person-centredness within the Trinity, our properly directed love for God, and our love for neighbour.

  4. Hi Dan – thanks for dropping by! I think you’re right that the phrase can operate in that way. All I’m saying is that when it comes your third category (love for neighbour) I think it’s a bit of a sloppy term – our lives ought to be directed towards our neighbour in love – but not centred in them, not finding our identity and security and peace in them. Love for our neighbour – if it’s genuine love and not self-interest masquerading as love – can only come about if we are firstly grounded, centred, in Christ. We love only because he first loved us. And in the way that he loved us – freely, not with any strings attached, not dependent on how it’s received but entirely by grace

    One of the problems – and why I reckon this is an important thing to talk about – is that a whole lot of disordered behaviour can get excused under the umbrella of ‘other-person-centredness’. It’s possible to do impressive acts of self-sacrifice for someone, not as a free gift flowing from the security of having our identity in Christ, but because in some way our security/identity is bound up in that other person. So folks can be on every church roster imaginable, but with the motivation being, eg, the approval of other people, because at the end of the day they idolise that approval – their identity is bound up in it, and they care more for the opinion of man than God. And that kind of thing can play itself out in any relationship.

    • Great thoughts Duncan. Reminds me of one of the characters in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. The mother whose love for her son becomes pathological and spiritually destructive.

      P.S. I really enjoy the way you write. Thanks for taking the time.

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