Please take a moment and reflect on the following question: How do I define the word “love?”
Dictionary.com says Love is “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.” We all hunger for this type of love to be in our lives. We want it to be the foundation for our relationships with our spouses, children, parents and others. We want to love them with passionate affection. We need them to give us the same thing in return.
The sad truth is love doesn’t always work this way. There are times when love is based on tender, passionate affection but at other times this is lacking. To love someone else is to open ourselves up to joy and disappointment, happiness and pain, fulfilled dreams and, sometimes, disillusionment. As a quote from an anonymous source says, “Best feeling in the world; Being absolutely and utterly in love with someone. Worst feeling in the world; Being absolutely and utterly in love with someone.”
So, how do we respond when our relationships aren’t always full of passionate affection? The first thing we have to do is see what the Bible says about showing love.
1 John 4:7-21 declares, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
The word used for “love” in this passage is “agape.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says Agape love “is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity (sympathy) is discovered. Love seeks the welfare of all…and works no ill to any; love seeks opportunity to do good to all men (and women)”
The world’s definition of love is based on feelings. We want to feel love from others. They want to feel our love being returned. The problem with this type of love is it can die if the feelings die.
Agape love lives on even if the feelings aren’t there. God didn’t feel like sending his son to die on the cross. We know from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane that he didn’t feel like doing it. Yet, both God the Father and God the Son went against their feelings to do what was best for us.
There are times we do this too. Parents get up in the middle of the night to care for their children even though they don’t feel like it. Husbands go into Bed, Bath and Beyond with their wives. Wives tag along with their husbands to Tractor Supply. Some spend hours helping their neighbors complete projects. As Christians, we work at our ministries even though there are days we don’t feel like it.
Nevertheless, we can get frustrated and even disillusioned when others don’t put the same effort into helping us that we put into helping them. Wives don’t feel loved when they’ve slaved over a hot stove for hours to fix their husbands a nice dinner and then he’s late.
1n November 1988, Stephanie and I were spending our first Thanksgiving together as husband and wife. Even though we were having dinner with my family on Thanksgiving Day, Stephanie wanted to fix a special dinner for just the two of us earlier in the week. She spent the day making homemade bread, baking the turkey and fixing all the trimmings. It would be ready to eat when I came back from helping feed the livestock.
While we were feeding, we found a sick cow lying in the field. We knew we had to work fast and hard to save her. Praise God we did. The problem was it took us almost three hours to do it. I was exhausted by the time we finished and I was looking forward to eating dinner with Stephanie.
I stepped into our home to discover the table was bare. The dishes were back in the cabinet and the food was in storage containers. I asked Stephanie why she put everything away. She looked at me and said something like, “I worked hard all day to fix this dinner for us. Instead of coming in to eat with me, you stood out there and talked with your dad. Since you didn’t want to eat with me, I put it up.”
I have to admit she had good reason to suspect this because I had been very guilty of this in the past. However, this time, I wasn’t standing around talking. I was busy working to save a sick cow. It didn’t matter by this point. She had already eaten. She told me I could fix myself a plate if I wanted one.
I opened the containers from the refrigerator. When I popped the lid off the container with the turkey, I noticed something interesting. Stephanie hadn’t sliced the turkey. She had ripped the meat off the bones – in huge chunks. I was so thankful this turkey was already dead before she got her hands on it. That thing would have been in some serious pain if it were still alive when she did that to it.
These emotions happen in all relationships. Husbands feel disrespected when their wives make fun of them in public. No matter how much effort we put into raising our children, they will do things that leave us shaking our head. Others won’t always appreciate the things we do to help them.
These situations leave us feeling unappreciated and unloved. Our natural tendency is to withdrawal from the people who do this to us. God tells us we aren’t supposed to act this way. As a matter of fact, John tells us in Verse 20 that if we aren’t showing agape love to others, we aren’t loving God either.
What are we supposed to do when God tells us to love others even when we don’t feel like it? We need to remember there’s another word in the Bible that’s closely associated with “love.” It’s “grace.”
God shows agape love to us because of his grace. In 1 Timothy 1:13-14, the Apostle Paul writes, “13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
The New International Dictionary of the Bible defines grace as “undeserved favor, especially the kind or degree of favor bestowed on sinners through Jesus Christ.” God loves us because he chooses to do so. We don’t deserve it. We can’t earn it.
Since we are to love others the same way God loves us, we extend grace to them as well. Let’s see how good we are at doing this. In his article Giving Your Spouse Grace, author Greg Smalley gives questions to consider about whether or not we are extending grace to your spouse. I’ve modified them to fit any relationship.
Do you become frustrated over little things the other person does?
Does the other person have certain behaviors or quirks that irritate you?
Are you tired of trying to change the other person to no avail?
Does the other person accuse you of nagging and nitpicking?
Do you find yourself regularly losing patience and getting snippy with the other person?
Do you assume the worst about the other person or jump to negative conclusions?
Are you overly critical of the other person?
Do you expect the other person to read your mind, decode your body language or meet all your needs?
Smalley states, “If you answered yes to these questions, then you might be going through a difficult season in your (relationship). It’s possible that grace has been replaced by hurt, frustration and resentment. These hurtful feelings toward (the other person) could have been slowly building so that your heart has shut down or is hardening. And yet there’s hope.”
The hope is this problem can be fixed. Healing is possible if the people involved are willing to show agape love to each other.
So, how do we show agape love?
* Accept the fact Biblical love isn’t based on feelings. It’s based on actions. God calls us to act in the best interests of others even if we don’t feel like it and even if others don’t appreciate it. This isn’t easy but it’s what God wants us to do. God did this. So did Jesus.
* Let God love YOU! It’s impossible for us to show unconditional love to others unless God’s unconditional love is in us. God is the source of love. If you’ve never experienced God’s unconditional love for you, ask him to shower you with it right now.
* Act like Jesus. Show agape love to others. Jesus was willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of others. We have to do the same thing.
* Show grace to others – even when they’ve hurt you. God shows us love through grace. This same grace is in us. It gives us the strength and ability to give grace and love to others – even if they are unappreciative, difficult or uncaring. Ask God to give you the grace you need to be faithful.
The world defines love a feeling. God defines love as acting in the best interest of others. If we want to be better lovers, let’s do our best to love the same way God does. Unconditionally.