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Growing in Love in a Loveless World
The World Has No Love...
Well not the kind that the Lord Jesus spoke about anyway. Love is rarely viewed for what it should be and because of this it is used incorrectly to describe all sorts of thins. Love is quality. I call it a quality because far too often it's associated with just a feeling, an emotional state, instead of an attribute of our character.
It is in this regard I make the statement that the world has no love. The Bible makes reference to what I'm saying:
1But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. 2 Tim 3:1-5 (NIV)
This sounds unnervingly familiar to our world today. We need to have our understanding of love adjusted and aligned to God's view so that true love can develop in our hearts.
Love Is An Attribute
Printed media, television and film popularize love as the relationship between a man and woman often involving some emotional or physical (mostly) intimacy. While this a kind of demonstration of love, that is, how we treat and relate with others (more generally speaking of course), it's a small part of what love is really since we can treat each other nicely for several reasons - self gratification, prestige, alliances for example, fame none of which have anything to do with love. So while it is good to demonstrate love, it is more important develop love as a character trait. The demonstration will flow effortlessly afterward.
In 1 John 1:4 we are told that "God is Love" (v 8,16) by the writer. It isn't something that God just does or displays by His actions, it is an essential part of who He is and because it is integral to His character, love is manifested in all that God does. Even in judgement God's love is evident because He gives ample opportunity, persuades and encourages us to be obedient behavior. God will never choose punishment for us, for "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance," 2 Pet 3:9. The fact is we turn our back on God's love and land ourselves in hot water - literally!
Love is Innate to Us
In Genesis 1:27 it is revealed that God created man in His image and likeness. So the attributes of God are innate to all human beings because we were created to resemble our creator in the character of His being. Unfortunately sin corrupted that character and skewed it so far from the original design that some traits are barely distinguishable in us at times.
In the case of the attribute of love we try expressing it in ways that don't always align with God's approval both in actions and in motives. In accepting the salvation offered by God through the Lord Jesus Christ we "reset" our nature from the corruption of sin. However there's a vigilance that must be applied to allow the Holy Spirit to build the love's character that God placed in us.
God loves us because this is His nature and He want's us to love Him not just out of choice but out of a compelling desire to please Him that's at the very core of our being. It's this character trait that should propel us to care for others. We do so because we can't help but act, since the very core of who we are can't ignore the needs of others.
Developing The Love Character
In 1 Cor. 13, the Love Chapter, we have the clearest description of how God expects us to manifest love. Paul in this first letter to Corinth lays it all bare and makes it known the extent to which love must abound in our hearts. We are not alone in the warring as we work on letting God's attribute of love spring forth in our lives. God has empowered us with His Holy Spirit, rekindling the embers of His nature designed into us from our very existence in this world. Practicing the characteristics love will help us grow the loving nature that God desires in us. Comparing these characteristics against our own behavior and attitude gives us a good indication of where we are falling short.
There are some do's and don'ts that are the signature of Godly love as listed in 1 Cor. 13:
Do Exercise Patience
There are so many areas in life where we can apply patience
- Take on tasks that may be a little tedious around the house or workplace and apply yourself until completed do it joyously as unto the Lord.
- Take time to listen to someone share something on their heart - listen intently focusing on what they are saying instead of what you may have on your own mind.
- Sit quietly in your car when waiting for someone to cross, move out of the way or even if you are waiting for a relative or friend that you've offered a ride.
- Work with children if you can. Their innocence, energy and unending thirst for knowledge will definitely reveal to you areas you need to work on.
Do Be Kind
Everyone understands kindness even the most scroogiest person and practicing kindness will win many friends. Some things we can do are,
- Hold doors open for people behind you. Always look behind when you are walking through a door to see if there's anyone approaching. Let the person or persons pass while you hold the door open.
- Offer your seat to someone in a crowded place if you are able to. It should be someone that would benefit from it like an elderly person, someone with an ailment or otherwise burdened.
- Let someone else have the greater share. In situations where more of something is better, allow others to have greater portions than yourself.
- Look for opportunities to assist. Maybe it's someone carrying bags that need help opening a door or getting to a parked car. It may be situations in the home like a particularly challenging chore that would normally be handled by someone else, or it could be areas in church in ministry where you have an applicable skill or in maybe in your community.
- Say something nice (and honest) to someone. Paying an honest compliment or a word of encouragement can be so uplifting to someone. Take time to look at people and gauge how they feel. People typically wear discomfort on their faces whether it's emotional or physical. They may not always be able to or even want to share but sharing a beautiful thought or just mentioning how nice it is to see them can be voluminous.
Don't Be Envious
This isn't always easy to avoid and can suddenly be in your mind without warning but there are ways to let envy pass by
- Learn to appreciate what you have. Look around at what God has given you and thank Him for it from the small to the large. Give God praise for the joy of salvation and if you don't have that then ask Him to give it to you!
- Thank God for what He's doing in the lives of others. Sometimes we see other people growing spiritually or getting all the 'breaks' but we need to thank God for His provision and blessings in their lives as well. This helps us join together with the person in gratitude for God's grace and empowerment in our lives.
- Fix your eyes on heavenly things. Envy is typically the result of worldly desire. By concentrating on the things above, there will be little room for it to flourish.
Don't be Boastful and Proud
Boasting and pride typically go hand in hand and many times are indicative of a poor understanding of our true status. There is also a focus on self when these traits burgeon. We can combat a boastful and proud spirit in several ways.
- Remember that God is the source of all. We would have nothing if it were not provided by God and truly we are nothing but for the work of Christ. This, if nothing else, should give us a reality check.
- Do everything all to the honor and glory of God. When we approach anything we do as unto God there's no room for us to be boastful because we know that God makes it all possible
- Have a right view of yourself. We are saved by grace through faith and nothing else. We were sinners but only by the unilateral intervention of God are we anything at all - there's nothing innately special in any of us.
- Adopt a servant's attitude. This is what we are - servants in the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A servant has no reason to boast because nothing he has, even his own body and will, are to please his master.
Do not Dishonor Others
We can dishonor others by the hurtful and vengeful things we do. Be mindful of areas where this can happen.
- Stay away from gossip. Some of the most hurtful things are rumors and gossip is a launchpad for the propagation of rumors.
- Approach a person you feel has wronged you... first. Don't wait and let things fester. If you feel wronged or sense that someone has become withdrawn approach them to discuss (not argue) what went wrong. A lot of times you may find that whatever the contention, it is quickly resolved and the relationship is restored.
- Be quick to listen and slow to speak. Adopting this Proverbial gem can prevent hurtful words from being spoken. The idea is to think twice, three, four... n times before even uttering words. It's not true what they say in the caparison of sticks, stones and words. In fact, words can be so much more damaging than physical blows. By listening intently we also have an opportunity to understand another's point of view and goes a long way in showing genuine care.
Don't Be Selfish
It's very easy to become self absorb. There are so many demands in today's world on someone's time, so many pressures to succeed and so many challenges to meet, it seems at times that we only have time to see about our own concerns and needs. We can combat this though with the help of the Holy Spirit.
- Plan to help. Put it into your schedule so that it doesn't become something that you only do when you have the time for it. Make it like any other meeting in your schedule that needs to be kept.
- Give until it hurts. It won't mean much to us unless it costs us something. It's easy to give when there's nothing at stake but when there's a cost, it forces us to choose against our own desires.
- Go outside your normal bounds. It's very easy to be open and giving with those you have good relationships with but giving beyond your close circle helps you to understand the worth that God places in others.
- Share the Word. Look at Matthew 5:14-16. We can't keep the joy that God has given us through the gift of salvation to ourselves and even more so the reward of heaven and the destruction in hell.
Don't be Easily Angered
Everyone one gets angry and becoming angry is NOT a sin. However, anger must be correctly placed for it to be righteous and be loving... YES! Anger can stem from a loving motive! Anger is usually directed at those we are closest to. Think about it. How many times have you gotten angry at work? If you learn to control anger with your loved ones you will control it in most situations.
- See the other person's view. Most times in arguments people are concerned with getting their points across. If we take time to listen and empathize it diffuses.
- Ignore if you can. I immediately want to caution that this is not a push over attitude but a call to honor scripture in Rom. 12:18, "If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." In my part of the globe we call it "having a duck's back."
- Determine why you feel angry. It's essential to determine why you have a feeling of anger welling up inside you. By taking the time to understand this you typically will do two things:
(1) Give yourself time to simmer down
(2) Be better able to discuss rationally why you got angry
If you are truthful to yourself, you'll also determine whether your anger is justified. A great benefit of this process is that you get to learn what your 'buttons' are and hopefully you can move them out of the way before they get pressed or yank them out altogether.
- Speak about the reason for your anger. If you need to speak out in anger always do so with a clear understanding of why you are angry (see above). Don't stray from this as it creates an escalation point. Also, we rarely get angry because of 'a person' themselves, but moreso the things they may do or say. However in expressing our anger in a given situation we tend to attack the individual. It's best however to wait until you've simmered down to speak. A lot of hurtful things can be said in anger.
- Accept criticism and evaluate fairly. Whether it's your best friend or worst enemy it's always good to hear out criticism and apply unbiased assessment. This is one of the hardest things to do on your own! In these instances it's useful to get opinions of others to dampen the effect of your personal feelings.
- Don't internalize too much and too long. This tends to build frustration and when we get frustrated we tend to become easily irritated and take out our frustrations on those around us. While it's good to have introspection, short bursts of justified expressions of anger or hurt are healthy and remove tensions.
Don't keep Grudges
This follows directly from the last bullet of the previous "don't." Grudges are unhealthy and are damaging to relationships. The Lord Jesus prescribes the way to deal with this (2000 yrs before psychology had any theories concerning internalization) in Matt. 18:15. It's always better to go confront your brother (or sister) about the things that affect your relationships. The Lord advises, "If he listens to you, you have won your brother over." The "listen" has the concept of understanding. Some of the best relationships are forged out of a resolved misunderstanding. Grudges however, have no place in the church of God.
Do be Honest
People that are dishonest are not trustworthy and love can never co-exist with dishonesty. Closely related to honesty is genuineness and I believe this is the quality that's being spoken of and needs to be displayed from a character of love.Tell the truth. There is a hub about white lies being good. The author cautions, however, that we need to be mindful of when these "tall truths" can become hurtful. Sounds reasonable. It's hard, though, to determine how someone may view a "white lie" if it comes to light that you weren't completely honest. It also dilutes the possibility of any meaningful relationship being developed with the individual.
Do Persevere Always
The key point is that Godly love persists in spite of... whatever comes to challenge it. It evokes change and makes the object of that love justified in receiving it. Why always protect something if it's not cherished? Why keep trusting if you don't believe in the trustworthiness of an individual?. Why continue to hope in the face of hopelessness? This is not the stance that the love of God takes. Godly love isn't initiated by external factors but it springs forth with it's own propellants fueled by the Holy Spirit. The expectations of Godly love aren't driven by anything inherently good or reciprocating in the object of that love but in the fact that God's love creates the justification for the recipient. This is why it perseveres since it there's no need for us to love God back for His love to be available to us.
Love Never Fails
Godly Love never fails because unlike the "love" we know so well, it's not dependent on a response to continue. It exists in spite of being reciprocated. How many of us can go on loving someone who shows no interest in loving us back? This is true in any relationship - courting partners, friends, filial relations. Not so with God because He doesn't extend love because of anything we do.
So too, this is the love that God requires in His children. God wants His love to be free flowing from us to those we come into contact with despite their circumstances, attitude, character or even sinfulness. God's love to the world is evident on the cross. Salvation is available to all, a loving gift from God. For Christians, love is a signature trait, a mark if you will of our Christianity. In the Lord's words, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another," John 13:35 (NIV).
A loving character is not weakness and shouldn't be mistaken as being a push over. It is great strength manifested through the work of the Holy Spirit. God's love does not preclude the tenets laid in His Word and believers Godly love will never act opposing to God's justness. We must never forget that His love and his justness co-exist and are not exclusive.
We, believer and non-believer alike, cannot hide from the extent of God's love. When, through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, we turn to God we then begin to experience the fullness of His love and in turn manifest this love to those around us.
As a Christian, I pray that day by day God's character of love will develop day by day in my life and be evident in it's manifestation, in my daily interaction with those around me.