Why It’s Not Wrong to Expect Love in Return

Is this statement true or false? Love is a commitment accompanied by action with no expectation of anything in return. The answer is “false” because loving someone should come with a hope that the other person will reciprocate your love. To think otherwise would be odd.

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Love’s End Game

The fullest expression and experience of love is when two people love each other well. To not expect this or not want this good thing is to misunderstand the higher purposes and benefits of love, which is why I say that the statement is false.

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2

Love has an endgame that brings benefit to the loved and the lover. I’m not sure what all encompassed the joy that Jesus perceived, but it most definitely had something to do with a loving future that involved you, me, and Him.

God’s entire redemptive plan has been to restore humanity to Himself. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). It was love-driven destruction that was preplanned before our Creator laid down the foundation of the earth.

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. – Ephesians 1:4-6

It would put a strain on the text to say the Lord did not expect our love in response to His. Jesus fully knew His love would not return void. This kind of expectation is part of what motivated the Lord to persevere through a horrific life, excruciating death on the cross and all the accompanying shame. This expectation of love is part of what fuels our endurance too.

Love’s Return On Its Investment

He might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. – Ephesians 5:27

Jesus knew there would be a return on His investment (ROI) after He gave His life for the church. He knew there would be fruit coming back to Him–the effect from the work of His hands.

Ephesians 5:25-28 teaches us how husbands should love their wives. Most of the time we stop short of a full discussion about this passage. We only talk about how the husband should die for his wife.

True. A man should lay down his life in appropriate and practical ways to the Savior laying down His life for us. But keep reading. His love was about two-way giving: “I give myself to you, and you give yourself to me.” His love expected something in return.

Heaven will not be an empty place where no one reciprocated the love of God. The Lord knew this, which is partly why the horrible reality of persevering under incredible suffering was not without an expectation of future blessing.

You are not wrong to desire reciprocated love from those whom you are laying down your life. Your love recipients may or may not return your affection for them, but you should not feel guilty for desiring it.

In our desire to not fall into a trap, we end up falling into a trap. We over-correct ourselves by over-steering the car, a move that lands us in the other ditch. This overreaction may have happened with our love problem.

It may sound mature to say, “I love you without an expectation of you loving me in return,” but it falls short of communicating the fullness of the gospel. It may also damage the fuller purposes of the gospel. Love needs more room to express itself. Who wants to go on half a trip?

You plan your trip, pack your bags, and embark on your journey. About halfway to your destination, you say, “I’m not expecting to get there.” You committed to the trip but chose not to expect to enjoy the full benefits of the trip. It might be better to rethink our old expression about “not expecting anything in return” and replace it with a few better ones. Here are three that come to mind.

  1. Love is a commitment accompanied by action with an expectation of something in return.
  2. Love is a commitment accompanied by action without a demand for something in return.
  3. Love is a commitment accompanied by action, but your lack of response will not control me.

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Love Paradigm

Love With an Expectation

Love is a commitment accompanied by action with an expectation of something in return. To expect “reciprocal love” is being honest with yourself and others. The truth is that we all love others in part because there is a boomerang benefit to our love. For example, when I come home from work, it is not lost on me about how I should enter our home.

If I come in with an angry and awful attitude, there will probably be friction between my family and me. If I come home with a desire to love my family by proactively engaging them, there will likely be blessings given in return for my love.

  • Which way do you think I prefer to arrive home?
  • Do you think I’m not aware of how those two situations could go for me?

People intuitively know that good behavior usually perpetuates good behavior in return. If I have any sense at all, I’m going to try to be on my best behavior when I arrive home. If I love them well, I’m not expecting to get hit in the head with a dinner plate.

There is nothing wrong with this kind of worldview. For example, if you sow to the flesh, you will reap corruption, but if you sow to the Spirit, you will receive blessings (Romans 8:13; Galatians 6:8).

Love Without a Demand

Love is a commitment accompanied by action without a demand for something in return. Where we can get ourselves into trouble is when our expectation for mutual love turns into a demand for it. While it is biblical to expect love in return for your good works, it is not biblical to demand others to love you because you have been kind to them.

When we do this, our love unhooks from its gospel moorings and loses its gospel orientation. The gospel does not deny the possibility of love in return, but it never demands it.

The person who expects love in return, must hold that expectation loosely, while maintaining full awareness how the doctrine of sin is always crouching at the door of hearts (Genesis 4:7), seeking to devour relationships and the blessed possibilities that should flow out of those relationships (1 Peter 5:8).

Everybody will not love you back. If your expectations for love have turned into demands, your love has morphed into lust. Love turned to lust is “love gone bad.” It has become spoiled. It may have started pure, but now defilement has taken place. The motive of the heart of the person who demands love in return has changed from being God-centered to human-centered.

Our call is to love others regardless of what they do. This indicative is the way of the Lord, our highest and most perfected example for us to emulate (Ephesians 5:1). To love well is to guard your heart well. The likelihood of being rejected is proportional to the amount of love you are willing to give: the more you love the more you will experience rejection.

  • Jesus was the most loving person the world has ever known.
  • Jesus was also the most rejected person the world has ever known (Isaiah 53:3).
  • What differentiates Him from us is that people’s rejection did not control Him.

Your Lack Will Not Control Me

We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise. – Mark 10:33-34

My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. – John 4:34

Love is a commitment accompanied by action, but your lack of response will not control me. If we refuse to love others because they do not love us back, we have become controlled by them. The spouse who is depressed by the lack of mutual love in her marriage is more controlled by the lack of love from her spouse than a desire to do God’s will.

This situation is a hard spot for anyone because of our biblical and robust expectation to experience the love of others. You will know to what degree you expect someone to love you by how you respond to them when they don’t love you.

We all struggle this way, which is why the saying about not expecting mutual love is untrue. You and I love people because it is biblical, and we love people because we expect to receive love in return. That is a natural and biblical desire.

When Love Doesn’t Come

The typical counsel for a person whose spouse does not love well in return is for the “love-less person” to think more about the love of God. I struggle with this kind of counsel. At best, it can spur the love-less person toward a passive mind game as they try to over-think, over-wish, and over-pray what it means to enjoy the love of God while relinquishing their rights to the desire for human love.

This kind of “love-less person” usually ends up depressed because they intuitively know that it is not suitable for them to be alone (Genesis 2:18). They desire community, which is another way of saying they want acceptance and love within their unique tribe, or from one individual.

They want God to love them and they want someone else to love them, too. This desire is biblical. To counsel a person not to desire the love of others is akin to saying, “Give up your desire for brownies, while asking the Lord to give you a greater affection for broccoli.”

No doubt eating broccoli is better for you, and so is the love of God, but a desire for brownies is not evil, and we should not pit the two foods against each other. Nevertheless, it still begs the question, “What do you do when you’re in a non-reciprocating love relationship?”

Jesus’ answer to not being loved well by others was to do the will of His Father. He didn’t say, “Well, if you’re not going to love me, I’m going to bask in the Father’s love.” Honestly, He didn’t seem to spend a lot of time thinking about what people were doing to Him or what He was not getting from others.

He seemed to be more focused on doing God’s will. Rather than making sure others filled His love cup, He spent His days strategizing how to do the will of His Father who sent Him. He kept persevering in the Father’s pleasure as He did His Father’s will.

There was joy set before Him. Paul called it a prize (Philippians 3:12-14). Jesus pursued that prize, and because of His singular focus to do His Father’s will, the displeasures of this life did not control Him.

It is not wrong to want love from others, but when those close to you do not give that love, there must be a transcending focus to your life. Your desire to do the will of your heavenly Father must be far greater than the disappointments in your relationships.

Call to Action

Paul saw something in his future that made what he lost not worth pursuing (Philippians 3:8). Jesus had a similar mindset that gave Him persevering grace too (Hebrews 12:2). To be like them, we must keep the following nine things in mind.

  1. Love others.
  2. Expect to be loved in return.
  3. You will be disappointed to some degree.
  4. Don’t demand from others what you haven’t perfected yourself.
  5. Spend more time seeking God than seeking love.
  6. Find your fullest satisfaction in doing the Lord’s will.
  7. Keep pressing toward the goal for the prize of Christ Jesus.
  8. You will get what you want in proportion to your dying to yourself.
  9. The gospel’s way to love is counter to the culture’s approach.

It is not wrong to desire love from those you love. It is wrong to be controlled by their lack of mutual love. If this is true of you, you have erected an idol in your heart, and you must destroy it.

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