The most effective way to discern if you are able to understand and live out biblical love is to be put in a relational context in which you are disappointed by someone. Motive, thoughts, words, and practice are the components of love and hate. Relational challenges are the stimuli that will reveal which one controls your heart.
Every young couple gets married because they are in love. About half of these couples become divorced because they are no longer in love. Rarely will anyone challenge the couple before marriage regarding their understanding and practice of love.
We politely assume the young couple knows what they are talking about when they say they are in love. I think if you were to step back from that assumption for a moment and run it through a biblical filter, you may have second thoughts regarding their assessment of love.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? – Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)
We can say we love someone, but it is only in the crucible of a trial when our true understanding and practice of love will be revealed. The young couple in love is no different from the rest of us.
I loved my wife before she was my wife. After she became my wife, I began to love her less, even to the point of not loving her anymore. If you ask me, I could spin the conversation by saying something like, “I loved her, but I did not like her,” but that would be intellectual dishonesty–to put it mildly.
Let us not split hairs. Call it what you will. Love. Like. The point is, none of us will know the kind of love we have for another person until something comes between the two of us. This applies to any relationship.
When my marriage got tough, my definition of love was challenged to the point where I decided I did not love my wife anymore. I see this all the time in counseling.
People were in love. Then they fall out of love. They harbor a general dislike for the other person. They either endure to the end or get a divorce. They become former friends who are no longer friends.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34 (ESV)
There is nothing a person can do to you that can stop you from loving them, even if your love for them is reduced to sadness because of the choices they have made. Though they may never love you in return, they cannot stop you from biblically loving them.
Biblical love is not under the power of human sovereignty, nor should it be controlled by human manipulations. God’s love is empowered and dispensed by Him and it cannot be thwarted by the schemes of human conniving.
Most Christians agree with this perspective on biblical love. They know it is from God, a gift given to humanity that is empowered by the Spirit of God. They realize love is a choice and a privilege. They even love the love your enemy verses.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Matthew 5:44 (ESV)
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? – Matthew 5:46 (ESV)
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. – Luke 6:26-27 (ESV)
They know to be unwilling to “love your enemies” is contrary to the Gospel as well as the Bible. Believers believe to not love someone is standing in defiance of the Word of God, while opening themselves up to the LORD’s opposition (James 4:6).
To be like Christ is to love the un-loveable. To follow Christ is to love your enemies. Imagine the good LORD saying, “I do not love you anymore.” Horrors. Unfathomable. We would never un-love that way because we want to be like Him. Or, would we?
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 (ESV)
Belinda comes to you sharing a tale of woe about what her spouse did to her. She has been hurt. The sin against her is objective. Her story is true and the disappointment is real.
The problem is you cannot change what has been done to her. The toothpaste does not go back in the tube. Hate cannot be un-done, but it does not have to grab hold of our hearts and control our thinking.
The danger for Belinda will be if the sin of her husband begins to grow inside of her. It is one thing to be hurt, disappointed, and let down. It is another thing when that sin takes root in our hearts. We should not give the sin of others shelf life in our hearts.
She may not be able to do much about what was done to her, but she can begin the process of reorienting her heart to the Gospel, while appropriating its power. One of the first things you want to do for her is make sure she has a deeper realization of God’s love.
God’s love is not dependent on a response from others. The LORD is not controlled by us as though He needs us. Only when you need someone will you be tempted to be controlled by them.
If she needs her spouse to like her, for example, then she will be controlled by her spouse. Our disappointment in others is proportional to how much we want them to meet our expectations.
A person who craves love will spend most of their time thinking about how they are being loved. They will critique and measure how they are being loved. A person who is not seeking love will be more focused on loving others. This person will be free from the bondage of love.
When I fell out of love with my wife, it was because I was more focused on what she was not doing for me, rather than what I was doing for her. At best, my love was conditional.
My reaction to her actions exposed my love for what it was—self-centered, self-serving love. It was more important for her to love me than it was for me to love her. Which is more important for you?
- Do you need to love someone?
- Do you need for someone to love you?
This is just one of the many remarkable things about our Savior. He was more fixated—if not exclusively fixated, on His desire to love others. I am not aware of a time where He talked about how He longed for people to love Him.
He wanted people to love God. He appealed to them to love others. He wanted all people to have what He had, which was the love of God in His heart. He knew the path to freedom was to love others more than oneself (Matthew 22:36-40; Philippians 2:3-4).
He seemed to be singularly fixated on loving others so much so, that even when they despitefully used Him, it was His heart’s desire to love them in return. Jesus had a uni-directional love language. (See 1 Peter 2:23-24)
His goals were much higher than being loved by us. He wanted to redeem us, even if it meant going to death for a crime that was not His fault.
Our first call to action when someone does something hurtful to us is to ask God to give us compassionate love for them. If we do not ask and receive this kind of love from the Father, then we will not be able to move toward redemptive purposes.
Redemptive purposes released Jesus to ask the Father to forgive those for what they were doing to Him. Jesus was a redemptive lover—a person who was more concerned with what others needed rather than focused on what He was not receiving.
This kind of attitude explains why Joseph could forgive his brothers for what they did to him (Genesis 50:20). He was a redemptive practitioner. Joseph and Jesus had a vision that transcended creature comforts.
There is a fuller experience of the riches of God that is not found by expecting or demanding others to love us the way we want to be loved. To miss this is to be like a grader, with clipboard and pen in hand, measuring and critiquing the kind of love that is given to us.
When my wife disappointed me, my initial thoughts were not about the magnification of Christ through the trial, but about what I was not receiving from her. This self-centered posture led to more relational tension, as it always does.
Things did not take a turn for the better until there was a turn in my heart. Because of the mercy given to me by the LORD (2 Timothy 2:24-25), my thoughts began to shift toward the Creator rather than the creature (Romans 1:25).
You will know how you think about love by how you respond when you are not loved well. Since our mouths reveal our hearts (Luke 6:45), your words can serve as a mirror to reveal your true self.
A call to action
The first step in reconciling and restoring a broken relationship with another person is to reconcile and restore your heart to God. When our sinful disappointment with another person’s sin happens, our first action should be vertical, not horizontal.
Let the LORD set you free (John 8:32) before you enter into the relationship that has been disrupted by self-centeredness. If you do not do this, you will not have the love of God in your heart. Your sin at their sin will quench (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and grieve (Ephesians 4:30) the Spirit’s enablement in your heart and life.
Only an offended person empowered by God can engage their offender with love, mercy, grace, and truth. Jesus could ask for the Father’s pity on the mean people who hurt Him because His attitude toward those mean people was full of the love of God. This put Him at a redemptive advantage. Think about it this way:
- She hurt me.
- I am upset with her.
- Because I am more focused on me than her, I cannot be redemptive in her life.
If this is true for any of us, then it begs the question: Do we want to be redemptive in the lives of those who have hurt us? If you do want to be a redemptive force in the life of someone who has hurt you, then there is only one thing for you to do: repent. Repentance would look like this:
- She hurt me.
- I am sad by this, but I see the LORD has given me a counter-intuitive Gospel opportunity.
- I am not going to make this about what I am not getting.
- I am going to make this about God and His glory and fame.
- I am now positioned to receive God’s grace for my hurt, while being empowered by wisdom and courage to act redemptively toward her.
As you have probably perceived, this second illustration is how you were saved. You hurt Christ, but He did not make it about what you did to Him. He made it about what He could do for you. The uni-directional force of the Gospel leads to redemption (Romans 5:8).
- How do you need to change regarding your thoughts about love?
- How would you be characterized: (a) are you more of a self-centered lover or (b) an other-centered lover?
- On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your desire to be redemptive in the lives of those within your sphere of influence? (Ten being Christlike.)
- Will you make a practical plan to love those who have hurt you?