I pray that all of you have had an amazing holiday season with loved ones. I personally was ill on Christmas and New Years (and my birthday), but it was a welcome time of rest for my body and refreshing for my spirit as well. I spent a lot of time reading. But I also spent quite a bit of time thinking about this post. It has been on my heart to write a post about this for a while, and I finally feel like I understand what God wants me to say.
I Just Can’t Say It
When I was a teenager, I was looking for someone to love me. I didn’t understand God’s love for me, and I felt distanced from my family due to different circumstances. The lack of love I felt finally led me to have difficulty saying, “I love you,” back when people said it to me. There was too much at risk when I said it. I became dramatically aware of this problem when one of my close friend’s mothers told me she loved me before their family was getting ready to move away. I was shocked that she said it, even though I had so desperately wanted to hear it, that I just stood there and said nothing. I remember thinking, “What is wrong with me? I’m supposed to be a Christian, an ambassador of Jesus’ love, and I can’t even tell this woman that I actually do love, that I love her too.”
If you are self conscious, you will understand me when I say that saying, “I love you,” was a risky phrase. Every time I said it was volunteering for rejection. Thoughts like, “What if they don’t say it back?” “Will they stop being my friend if I say this?” “Why should I make myself vulnerable?” raced through my head constantly. I reserved these three words for family and a few select friends. I was not willing to risk anymore of my already dwindling confidence. No matter how much I wanted to show people the unconditional love of Christ, I wouldn’t make myself be that open.
When Things Started To Change
Over the last few years, God helped me to deal with my insecurities (read this series all about it) and to replace my deceitful pride with godly confidence. Once I realized that God’s love and acceptance for me is all that I need, I was able to sacrifice my own feelings on His altar in a very open way. I started to realize that since I don’t look at other people or myself to give my life value, that I’m not risking anything I can’t afford to risk. Do my feelings still get hurt? Of course, but now I don’t see, “I love you,” as an opening for an eternal wound.
Unconditional and Selfless Love
The purpose of love is to show someone that you care for them in such a way that nothing they do can change how you care for them. Something I tell my kids often is, “I may not always like the choices that you make, but I will always love you no matter what.” This is the love that Jesus inspired by dying on the cross for our sins. He showed us His love by sacrificing His life. I believe that Jesus was also clear when He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
We are commanded to love each other. The verse doesn’t say, “weigh out the pros and cons of loving someone and then decide if you should.” This verse specifically addresses the love between believers, but it also tells us that the testimony of loving others will identify us as followers of Jesus Christ.
What Is Love?
… baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more. Just kidding. I couldn’t help myself. But in all seriousness, what does biblical love look like? It is a choice that we make, whether or not we are going to care for someone, no matter how they treat us. Everyone will point to 1 Corinthians 13 at this point, because it is true. Not because it is some cheesy poem about love. This chunk of scripture challenges us to do the most difficult thing any person can do, choose to love in extremely difficult circumstances.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself; is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
You may have these verses memorized, but I want you to understand how selfless love really is, so I am going to give you examples of how these play out in real life.
“Love suffers long and is kind”
Love puts up with a lot of undeserved things. Even when people are mean, try to assassinate your character, or try to punish you for things you didn’t do, it is nice. Love gives grace and mercy over and over again. Love chooses to suffer instead of letting everyone know that they are actually being wronged. Love let’s God defend it.
“Love does not envy”
Love doesn’t get jealous, and if it does, it rebukes itself and reminds itself that God has already provided everything it needs. I find that women are especially guilty of being jealous over affection that is showed to other people, but not ourselves. Listen, it is not ok to be jealous of someone else’s relationship with a person you love (aside from marriage of course). If you have a best friend that has been spending time with someone else, rejoice in the fact that your good friend has another faithful friend. It is anti productive to play these games where we try to make sure that we get as much attention as someone else, and it puts unnecessary stress on our otherwise healthy relationship. Plus, if we look at jealousy all by itself, we realize it is selfish in origin. It is a sin. “Jealousies” are listed under the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21. We all need to stop justifying our sin. As women, we need to stop competing with each other.
“Love does not parade itself”
True, self sacrificing love, does not go around saying how great it is. When Jesus was on the cross I don’t remember Him saying, “I love you so much, I’m dying right now for your sins, aren’t you so grateful for my love? My love is awesome.” Although He could have said all of those things, and they would have been true. That isn’t the example Jesus left for us. His love is humble.
“Is not puffed up”
True love and pride cannot coexist. Pride is sin, after all. Love doesn’t say things like, “You’re so lucky I’m doing this loving thing for you. Aren’t you so blessed by my awesomeness?”
“Does not behave rudely”
Listen very carefully on this one. There is no biblical excuse for being rude. No matter what is going on, the fruit of spirit known as self-control should be exhibited by believers at all times. Even when other kids are picking on my kid. Even when someone is unjustly accusing me behind my back. No matter what is going on, being rude is not ok. You can be polite and still protect your kids. You can lovingly point out the truth if someone wants to debate with you, but don’t give into the temptation to be rude. It will ruin our witness as disciples of Jesus Christ every single time. I’m not saying that I am never rude, I’m sure my younger brother would be quick to disagree with me if I did, but I really try hard not to be. And if I do give into temptation and adopt a rude attitude I pray for God to help me repent quickly.
“Does not seek its own”
This is one of the gems in this passage of scripture. When you refuse to love someone because you are afraid of getting hurt, you are seeking your own. I have been too guilty of this overall in my walk as a Christian. But now that my loving Father has spanked me (spiritually of course) and I realize what I was doing, I make every attempt to place my feelings in His hands, trusting that He will take care of me when I obey Him by making myself vulnerable to others. When I say, “I love you,” to a sister that needs encouragement, I don’t expect her to say it back. If she doesn’t say it back, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. I am saying it because it is true, and God has commanded me to love others. Love does not consider its own feelings first, but always puts others ahead of itself. This kind of love is what will transform the world. True, biblical love seeks nothing in return for what it has given.
“Is not provoked”
This one is difficult. It means that when someone is actively trying to provoke you, make you angry, or push your buttons, that you refuse to give into your annoyance, and instead keep on loving them. This is what Jesus was talking about when He said to turn the other cheek. If someone is going to provoke you and insult you, don’t do the same thing return, but let them continue to insult you. Self-control also plays a huge role in being able to achieve this. Let’s all pray for more self-control. We also need to have wisdom about when to remove ourselves from a bad situation. I think we have all had, or unfortunately been, those people that like to annoy a certain person to see if we can get them into their flesh. I have three children, so I get to see this unfortunate chain of events more often than not. It truly grieves my heart. I think God must feel the same way when He sees His children exhibiting this sinful and selfish behavior.
“Thinks no evil”
That means you don’t sit around and think about how wrong someone was, or what they deserve to get because of how they have treated you. Thinking no evil means that you actually refuse to let evil thoughts about that person wander around in your mind and fester. We all have thoughts that come into our heads. We are sinners after all, living in a fallen world. But we can control what we allow to float around in our heads for minutes, hours, days, months, or years. Another great passage that deals with this issue can be found in Philippians 4:8.
“Does not rejoice in iniquity”
This means two things. First that you do not rejoice in sin in general. Second, that you do not rejoice when bad things happen to people, no matter what they have done to you in the past. Even if their bad situation is a result of sin, real love has no reason to rejoice over it.
“But rejoices in the truth”
Love loves truth. God loves truth so it is only natural that love would rejoice in truth. Even when the truth is hard to deal with, we need to rejoice that it is truth. We also see that when people practice biblical truth, there will be positive and exciting things that happen in their lives such as answers to prayer, fulfillment of prophecies, and other spiritual blessings. These things are also reasons to rejoice.
“Bears all things”
Love helps us bear one another’s burdens. Love can deal with any situation. Unconditional love means that you can still love someone even when they sin against you. We also know that Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30
Jesus will teach us how to bring our burdens and the burdens of others and leave them at the cross, where we will find rest for our souls.
“Believes all things, Hopes all things”
These two go together. Love believes that people can change, that the transforming power of the love of Jesus Christ is accessible to anyone. Love says, “Yes I believe that a serial killer can be born again.” Love hopes for the best. When everyone else says, “That person will never understand God’s grace,” love is the one that says, “I hope that one day they will understand God’s grace.” Hope also says things like, “Well, I understand you heard them say those nasty things about me, but until I talk to them one on one, I hope that they meant something more positive.” Love gives others the benefit of the doubt. Love is the one that says, “Innocent until proven guilty!”
“Endures all things”
All things. Not some things. Not things that people can generally tolerate. Love can get over anything. Love leaves its hurts and wounds at the cross with Jesus Christ. Love endures. Love perseveres.
Things Love Doesn’t Do
I want to be clear that even though love can heal any hurts and love means self sacrifice and self-control, love does not mean you should actively let people harm you or your family. You can love someone without letting them be a ruling influence in your life (if I remember correctly that is God’s job). Not defending yourself doesn’t mean that you allow someone talk poorly about your spouse in front of you. It surely doesn’t mean that you let someone demean your children. But love deals with these problems maturely, and without anger. If someone wants to manipulate you, you can still love them from a distance without letting them cause you to sin. Love should never be used as an excuse for someone else to drive us to sin. Remember that as Christians we are told by Jesus Himself,
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16
We have to be smart, but gentle. We can speak the truth when people are lying, but the way we speak it is very important. We can say things in love, or in self-righteousness. Sometimes there isn’t any other to deal with a problem in love, than to stay away from that person and pray. I have been in that situation before, and even though it was difficult, I knew that was the only thing left for me to do. To pray, and hope in love that someday those hurts would heal and there would be repentance for sin.
Saying I Love You
As Christians we are called to do all of these things for others, including our family members, spouses, children, and brothers and sisters in the fellowship. I’m not saying you should go around saying, “I love you,” to everyone in your church. Be wise. If you are a woman, make sure you do not say this to man in a way that could be misconstrued. In general I don’t say this to men, I let my husband be the one to say it. Likewise he doesn’t say it to women, I do. Maybe there is someone in your life that needs encouragement. There are people in our lives that do not understand God’s love for them, and we are to be that picture of love in their lives. A simple, heartfelt, “I love you.” can go a long way in someone’s life.
Thank you for your love for us. Father, help us to be willing to give up our own feelings, to be confident in Your love for us, and to be open about our love for others that need to be reminded that they are loved. Help us to be more and more like You, and less like our sinful selves.
If you have any questions about this subject or simply want to leave a comment, please do so. I would love to hear your thoughts and convictions on this topic.