By: Rick Thomas
Do you see anything wrong with my title? It’s not hard to figure out, right? Here are a few biblical speculations you can make about a person who says such things.
They don’t know the Gospel. (Maybe they are not a Christian.)
They don’t know how to practically apply the Gospel to their relationships.
They don’t understand the uni-directional purposes of love.
Universal truth – Nobody knows if they truly understand biblical love until they are put into a relational context in which their motive, attitude, and practice of love is revealed.
I’m so in love
Every young couple gets married because they are in love. About half of these couples get a divorce because they are no longer in love. Rarely will anyone challenge the couple 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 talk all day about how much we love someone, but it is only in the crucible of a trial when your 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 and less until I did not love her anymore. I could quibble with you and say, “I loved her, but I did not like her,” but that would be intellectual dishonesty–to put it mildly.
Let’s 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. I’m not just talking about spouses. I’m talking 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 get a divorce. Friends 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 which 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, they cannot stop you from biblically loving them.
Biblical love is not under the power of any human, nor can it be controlled by any human. God’s love is empowered and dispensed by Him and it cannot be thwarted by the schemes of a human being.
The problem with love
I think most Christians are willing to agree with what I have said about love. If they cannot sign off on it, then they are in far worse biblical shape than they may realize.
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)
To be unwilling to love your enemies is contrary to the Gospel and the Word of God. A person who says they do not love someone is standing in defiance of the Word of God, while opening themselves up to the opposition of God (James 4:6).
Let’s put those words in the mouth of our example, Christ (1 Peter 2:21). Christ says, “I don’t love you anymore.” How about, “I don’t like you anymore.” Does that sound odd to you? It should.
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)
Let’s say Belinda comes to you sharing a tale of woe about what her spouse did to her. What would you want to say to her first? The best and most effective place to go with someone like this is her heart.
You may not be able to do anything about what was done to her or even with the person who did something to her. What you can do is begin the process of reorienting her heart to the Gospel. One of the first things you want to do is make sure she understands the love of God.
You do this by helping her to get out from under the control of the one who hurt her. You appeal to her to take a Gospel offensive: she must learn how to biblically love them. She cannot not need them and love them at the same time. The one will negate the other.
If she needs them to like her, then she will be controlled by them. In such a case, she will be more focused on what they should do for her, while neglecting what she should be doing for them.
Exposing your love
A person who wants love will spend most of their time thinking about how they are being loved. Such a person will critique and measure everyone in their world by how they are being loved.
A person who has less interest in being loved, will be more focused on how they are loving others. This person is 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. At best, my love was conditional.
My perception of her actions exposed my love for what it was–self-centered, self-serving love. It was more important she love me than I love her. I thought I needed her to love me more than I needed to love her. Which is it with you? What do you need the most?
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 need to love others. I’m not aware of a text of Scripture which talks about how He wanted folks to love Him.
He wanted folks to love God, but it was not because He was suffering from an empty love cup. He knew to love God and others most of all was the path to freedom and the greatest thing a person could do (Matthew 22:36-40).
As for Himself and love? 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. He appeared to have a uni-directional love language, which always said, “I love you regardless.”
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. – 1 Peter 2:23-24 (ESV)
His goals were much higher than being loved by us. He wanted to redeem us, even if it meant going to death for something which was not His fault. And so He did.
Are you a redemptive lover?
Your first call to action when someone does something hurtful to you is to ask God to give you compassionate love for them. If you don’t ask and receive this kind of love from the Father, then you will not be able to move toward redemptive purposes.
Caveat – I’m assuming your purpose for all your relationships are redemptive. This is why Jesus could pray for the Father to forgive those for what they did to Him. He was a redemptive lover.
This is also why Joseph could forgive his brothers for what they did to him (Genesis 50:20). He, too, was a redemptive thinker. Joseph and Jesus had a vision which transcended creature comforts.
If your expectations of love are more about what you’re getting or not getting, then you are a long way from the purposes of the Gospel. The Gospel is about the magnification of God and sometimes the LORD will bring hardships into your life so He can be magnified.
Sadly, when my wife disappointed me, my first thoughts were not about the magnification of Christ through the trial, but about what I was not getting from her. This led to more relational tension and conflict, as it always does.
After I repented of my self-centered and self-absorbed views of love, I was able to think Godly rather than creaturely. I began to see the benefit and privilege of sacrificing my wants for the betterment of another.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. – Ephesians 5:25-26 (ESV)
You will quickly know how you think about love by how you respond when you are not loved well. Though it is appropriate to be sad when hurt by another, it is not biblically appropriate to be controlled by what was done to you.
You will know if you’re controlled by what was done to you by how you talk about what was done to you. If you are bitter, critical, gossipy, frustrated, angry, impatient, or any other controlling sin, then you’ve found your starting place regarding the healing of the relationship.
First things first
Before you can press into the reconciliation and restoration of the relationship, you must first find the grace you need from the LORD to change your heart. This first step becomes a big misstep in most relational conflict.
Typically, the person begins with what was done to them rather than how they responded to what was done to them. If you begin with the other person, then you need to back up and try again.
Jesus could ask for the Father’s pity on the mean people who hurt Him because His attitude toward those mean people exuded the love of God. This put Him at a redemptive advantage. Think about it this way:
They hurt me. I’m upset with them. Because I am more focused on me than them, I can’t be redemptive in their lives.
This really begs the question: Do you want to be redemptive in their lives? If you do want to be a redemptive force in their lives, then you need to change first. Think about it this way:
They hurt me. I’m sad by this, but I see the LORD has given me a counter-intuitive Gospel opportunity. I’m not going to make this about what I’m getting or not getting. I’m going to make this about God.
I’m now positioned to receive God’s grace for my hurt, while also receiving the wisdom and courage to act redemptively toward those who hurt me.
This latter 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.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8 (ESV)
How do you need to change regarding your thoughts about love?
How would you be characterized: Are you more of a self-lover or 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 Christ-like.)
Will you make a practical plan to love those who have hurt you?