Love is … (Part 4)

I don’t really enjoy going to the doctor. It is not something I do easily. In fact, if things are left to me, I probably wouldn’t do it at all. So, when I am sick for an extended period of time, with a hacking cough or persistent fever, my wife will take the matter into her own hands. She will make the appointment to the doctor for me and then tell me to go. That’s a strong, life-giving love. Despite my complaints and groans at her intervention, she loves me enough to take the tough road for my blessing.

“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:7–8, NKJV)

When Paul describes the kind of love that leads to healthy, satisfying relationships, he paints a picture of a strong, tough, enduring, positive love.

1. Love stands up under the weight of disappointment and difficulty.

Life-giving love “bears all things.” The idea is that love stands up under the pressure and stresses of life. It does not fold when the going gets tough in life or relationships, and there are a lot of stresses and disappointments even in the best relationships. Love becomes life-giving when we settle back into the arms of Jesus for strength and stand up to bless the other in the face of stress and disappointment.

2. Love displays a generous spirit of trust toward the other.

Life-giving love “believes all things.” When Paul talks about love always believing, we find the essence of trust in others. Although this does not mean that a person is naïve or gullible in relationships, it does indicate that love displays a generous spirit toward others rather than turning a cynical eye toward them.

3. Love moves forward with a spirit of optimism toward the other.

Life-giving love “hopes all things.” It always hopes for the best in and from others. There is an optimism expressed here that is somehow sorely lacking in so many today. Because of God’s never-ceasing love for us, in spite of our repeated disappointments to Him, He continues to hope in us. We in turn trust God’s continued work in the hearts of others so that we believe that the best is on its way.

4. Love has a warrior’s undaunted spirit to fight for the good of the other.

Life-giving love “endures all things.” It is the picture of the battle-weary warrior who remains undaunted and not dismayed. Jesus nourishes our soul with a continual feast of love. This love gives us confidence and courage to endure, and we in turn pour that love toward others.

5. Love never becomes invalid or useless, but it builds an eternal legacy in the life of the other.

Life-giving love “never fails.” The apostle Paul declared that only love will last as a legacy for our ultimate future. Love will never become unimportant, love will never become useless, love will never become invalid, love will never become a crumbling dynasty that has no power in the future.

“There is a sense in love is never brought down; it reflects God’s character, after all, and cannot fluctuate from what it is. Yet that very reality is what also gives it eternal character, so that it ‘remains’ even after all other things have come to their proper end.” (Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 643)

Without life-giving love, our relationships will become crooked and empty. With life-giving love, even the most difficult relationships can become filled with satisfaction and health.

How can we love like that? Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“Father, nourish my soul today with Your love so that I can love others the way that You have loved me.”

 

Love is … (Part 3)

Have you ever watched the slap-stick of Charlie Chaplin, Red Skelton, and Jerry Lewis? In slap-stick comedy, an actor makes people laugh with his make-believe misfortune. On shows like “Funniest Home Videos” or “Ridiculousness,” it’s the not-so-make-believer hurts of people that seeks a laugh from the audience. Life-giving love doesn’t take its cue from these shows when seeking to build healthy, satisfying relationships.

“[Love] does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6, NKJV)

1. Love never takes delight over the mistakes of others.

Life-giving doesn’t rejoice in iniquity. It refuses to delight over the misfortunes of others. The term for “wrong-doing” (adikia) is a general term that can point to anything from a violation of the law to injustice to deceit. It is a picture of seeking personal glory rather than God’s. For love to be love, it must refuse to delight in the sin that others embrace. We don’t giggle or grin when they walk a path that is contrary to what God wants. Love is never gladdened when someone else falls.

2. Love delights itself in the right things shaping the heart of the other.

Life-giving love rejoices in the truth. It delights itself in the right things shaping the heart of the other. This is the intense, passionate desire for truth to come alive in the hearts of the other. Love rejoices when those we love live each moment in concert with the truth of the gospel. Love looks for victories instead of failures. Love looks for forgiveness offered instead of bitterness harbored. Love looks for kindness given rather than selfishness embraced.

To experience love in our relationships that produces satisfaction, our love has to be the kind of love that celebrates all those things in the lives of the other that brings God pleasure. Our love takes delight in the deeper things that bring a smile to the face of God.

Our love is on the right track when we long for the salvation of the ones we love. Our love is on the right track when we rejoice over obedience to God in the one we love. Our love is on the right track when we rejoice over the brokenness of the other (Ps 51:16-17). It delights when the other displays a heart broken before God in confession and surrender.

How can we love others like that? Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“Father, nourish my soul today with Your love so that I can love others the way that You have loved me.”

 

Love is … (Part 2)

Life-giving love is better than a fake smile pasted over a deeper resentment. Love is more than a kind word that hides a jealous, bitter heart. We need a love like Jesus! One that is real and healing and life-giving.

“[Love] does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil.” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV)

1. Love refuses to act in a way that demeans, disrespects, or demoralizes the other.

Life-giving love isn’t “rude” (aschēmonei). Think about how Jesus related to Zaccheus (Luke 19). Here was a man who had disregarded God’s laws and sought what would benefit himself at the expense of others. Jesus didn’t smile at Zaccheus, while thinking to Himself, “What a jerk.” He didn’t demean the man; He sought to bless the man.

The love that God demands from us refuses to behave in a way that brings disrepute and dishonor to God Himself. When we relate to other people, our conduct is a reflection on God’s character. If we behave in a manner that is outside the pattern of His character, then we have failed to love others in the way that God demands. So, “rude” is out of the question in our relationships.

2. Love elevates the needs of the other.

Life-giving love doesn’t “seek its own” (zētei ta heautēs). Love encourages others and seeks the good for others rather than the fulfillment of personal rights or freedoms. Life-giving love that builds healthy relationships isn’t “self-seeking.” Loving like God has loved us means that we seek what’s beneficial for others, not ourselves.

3. Love has a long fuse, refusing to become irritable over the actions of the other.

Life-giving love isn’t “irritable” (paroxunetai). We all have a tendency to become quickly dismayed and angered over someone’s behavior. Paul shows us that the love God demands from His followers has a long fuse. It is not quickly or easily provoked into anger.

4. Love has a short memory, refusing to keep a ledger of wrongs done to us by the other.

Life-giving love “thinks no evil” (logizetai to kakon). Paul paints a picture that looks like a ledger sheet. It is the description of putting the record of a wrong done to the credit of one who is doing us wrong. Just as God’s love “removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west” (Ps 103:12), our love does the same. Because we love others the way God loves us, we don’t store up the wrongs done to us and bring the charge to someone later.

But how can we love others like that?

“According to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16–19, ESV)

I pray that you and I might be captured by the love of Jesus so that His love sinks its roots deep into our hearts and nourishes our soul. When His love grasps our hearts, we will be equipped to love others with His life-giving love.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“Father, nourish my soul today with Your love so that I can love others the way that You have loved me.”

 

Love is… (Part 1)

One young boy had this to say about love: “It gives me a headache to think about that stuff. I’m just a kid.  I don’t need that kind of trouble.” Regina thoughtfully said, “I’m not rushing into love.  I’m finding fourth grade hard enough.” Manuel summed it all up when he said, “I think you’re supposed to get shot with an arrow or something, but the rest of it isn’t supposed to be painful.”

We can add a lot of descriptions when we try to define what love is, but if we are going to get a handle on God’s design and our desire for love, we need to hear how He describes life-giving love. The “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians is one of those places where God helps us understand what love looks like. 

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, NKJV)

As we read God’s description of love through the pen of Paul, one thing becomes clear. Life-giving love puts others before self.

1. Love extends mercy to those who don’t meet our expectations.

Paul tells us that love is “patient” (makrothumei). Suppose a pet continues to chew on your favorite piece of furniture. Instead of getting rid of the pet, you try to find other remedies. That’s patience. Patience means that we seek the best for those who don’t meet our expectations. Life-giving love extends mercy to those who don’t meet our expectations.

2. Love makes helping others graciously and generously a priority, regardless how they treat us.

“Kind” (chrēsteuetai) is a picture of God’s grace toward those who call upon Him in distress. It describes God’s attitude toward sinners through Christ. Love seeks to show grace toward others, even though they stand at enmity toward us. It means that we seek to bless them with the blessings of Christ’s touch through our personal conduct.

3. Love does not chase personal desires at the expense of others.

The picture of “envy” (zēloi) describes a person who is so intent for themselves that they step on others to get it. This is the person who loves to promote themselves at every turn. Their supreme ambition is their own glory. Life-giving love is different. It demands that we stop looking to get more for ourselves and examine how that we might bless others.

4. Love prioritizes building up others, not oneself.

When Paul used “boasting” (perpereuetai), he was painting a picture of a one-man band marching down the street, hoping that all eyes fell on him. That’s not what love for others looks like. Life-giving love is more concerned about “others” than “self.”

5. Love prioritizes what’s best for others rather than only thinking about self.

“Arrogant” (phusioutai) is the picture of being puffed up like a “blow-fish.” Love focuses on what is best for others rather than what is best for “me.” When pride is a dominating ethic in our lives, then we know that God’s love is not. In a world of narcissistic Christianity, we would do well to hear God’s mandate of love for us.

How can we love like that?

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“Father, nourish my soul today with Your love so that I can love others the way that You have loved me.”

 

The Source of Love

There’s something powerful about a bubbling spring in the mountains that flows into a river. The spring is a life-giving source to everything that it touches. A spring flows, creates a river, and makes a lush environment filled with health for everything around that river.

1. God is the spring from which life-giving love flows.

God is the source of love, because His heart is love. All that He does is born from love, and He transplants that same love into us. But if we do not know God, then we won’t have that life-giving love.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7–8, ESV)

Because God is love, His nature of love abides within us. The way we honor and glorify God today is to love others the way that He has loved us. When God’s love is the key ingredient for our relationships, then His love becomes a life-giving spring which creates love in our hearts for others.

2. The command to love.

Jesus tied loving God to loving others in an immediate, exquisite way. This became the signpost of His followers and the way of life for them.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NKJV)

So, if we’re going to grow in Christ as His followers, we need to get a handle on loving others. We’re going to obey God’s command to love others sacrificially, just as Jesus has loved us.

3. Life-giving love is unselfish sacrifice.

Love is unselfish sacrifice for the sake of someone else. This is the DNA of a follower of Christ. It is the core curriculum of those who have been made alive in Christ.  As children of God, we are going to love one another.

“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11, NKJV)

Jesus handed Himself over as the sacrifice to so that we might live through Him. The love that we are to imitate is self-surrender. Jesus loved with passion, and it led Him to die upon a cross for God’s glory and the salvation of sinners. This is the love that we must display for the world to see and others to experience.

How can we possibly love like that? The key to loving others the way God has loved us is not our ability, but it is God’s love in us. One of the reasons we live un-lovingly toward others is because we fail to immerse ourselves consistently in the love that flows from God toward us. If we’re going to have healthy relationships, then we need to saturate our soul with God’s life-giving love.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“Father, nourish my soul today with Your love so that I can love others the way that You have loved me.”

 

“Father, forgive them!”

There is a great story told by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his book, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Ivan’s every day was filled with the horror of a Soviet prison camp. On this day, a prisoner in the camp finds Ivan deep in prayer. The prisoner laughs and says, “Prayers won’t help you get out of here any faster.” Ivan opens his eyes and says words born from extraordinary worship: “I do not pray to get out of prison but to do the will of God.”

So often, we find ourselves trapped in the prison that others have built with the bricks and mortar of wounding words, unfaithfulness, hateful actions, or evil intentions. Their sins against us create a vortex in our soul that sucks up our peace, hope, and joy. Yet, God doesn’t want us to remain locked in this cage, but to live in the freedom that forgiveness delivers.

In the last hours of His life, Jesus cries out to His Father in prayer. While He is being killed by cruel hands, the first words of Jesus are: “Forgive them!”

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.” (Luke 23:34, ESV)

Even while He was pierced for our transgression, Jesus asked God to forgive His enemies. Even as He was being killed, Jesus desired a transformation in the hearts and minds of those who were killing Him. As Jesus prayed, He opens for us the glorious hope of God’s forgiving love, even in the midst of our cruelest crookedness. As Jesus prayed, He opens for us the hard truth that we who have been forgiven must pray for the forgiveness of others, even those who act in cruel crookedness toward us.

1. Prayer gives us a heart of forgiveness like Jesus.

Jesus was more concerned about the mercy shown to sinners than He was the pain He was experiencing. He interceded for the forgiveness of those who were killing Him. What an amazing love! Jesus was always more concerned about others, living and dying for their rescue, even those who were inflicting the horrors of torture upon Him. He prayed for them to taste God’s mercy in forgiveness. Oh, what a Savior!

The longer we live in the lap of the Father and His love through prayer, the more we are immersed in His heart of love. The more we are immersed in the Father’s heart, the more we will want to bless others as His heart longs to bless others. We begin to have the heart of Jesus and care more about God’s mercy for those hurting us than the pain we are experiencing.

2. Prayer moves us from learning to living.

Jesus was modeling what He had taught (Luke 6:27-28). He not only taught God’s will but was also obedient to it. Here is the spirit that should reign in us, the prayer that must flow from our heart. As sons and daughters of God, we must pray for the forgiveness of those who hurt, beat, berate, and kill us.

The longer we live in the lap of the Father and His love through prayer, the more we will live the life of Jesus that we have learned. Asking God to forgive the ones who are wounding us moves us out of merely “hearing” God’s will to “doing” God’s will.

3. Prayer moves us from cursing to blessing.

When someone harms us, it is our natural response to withhold any good thing we possibly can. Yet like Jesus we must seek ways to give good in response for evil. When someone curses us, our natural response is to curse them in return. But Jesus teaches us to bless them with a prayer for their forgiveness.

Jesus calls us to bless the very people who hurt us. It is more than seeking to refrain from hurting them with our words. It is to search out ways to bring God’s favor into their lives. It is in this context a call to return a curse with a gift that would edify the individual and point them to God, like Stephen did for those who were killing him (Acts 7:60).

The longer we live in the lap of the Father and His love through prayer, the more we see His good purpose in the pain that others inflict by their sins against us. As we see God’s purpose in our pain, the more our hearts can become tender to bless those who hurt us.

Stop. Take a breath. And pray:

“Father, forgive those who have sinned against me.”