“Husbands, love your wife, just like Christ loves the church” (Eph 5:25).
That’s a tall order. It is a rather difficult task for a believer and a rather impossible one for someone who doesn’t know Christ. Husbands have a large task. Looking beyond the walls of Ephesians, John records a broader command addressed to all believers, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Obviously no believer is without excuse. God calls each of us to love others. Now, how do we define love? What does love look like?
If you’re like me, you want to define this in such a way to where it’s the natural by-product of my life. In other words, I want to define love as what I naturally do. So that in my lazy self, I feel confident my actions are always loving. Whether I’m a jerk or tender-hearted, no matter who receives what action, I wish it were love. But this is not true. Love cannot be defined by my natural desires. In fact, Scripture seems to indicate my natural desires work against love. Pride puffs up and puts myself first. Love gives putting others ahead of me. Obviously the contradiction, so easily stated in a sentence, can result in real life explosive conflicts between two people bound to have it “my way!”
Pride destroys love. It puffs up the heart, expands the head, blinds the eye, and ignores the well being of others caring nothing for the throne of God. True biblical love is the opposite. It humbles the heart, softens us, plays nicely with kindness, opens us up to see the needs of others, and wants others to excel in Christ. Learning to love, as Jesus commands us, requires we evaluate and act out love from His perspective.
This last sentence is the thesis and needs some attention. We need to learn to love from a godly perspective. I’ve observed believers remember the Gospel, but we often think about the benefit of the Gospel, not necessarily God’s perspective of us through the Gospel. “The Gospel? Oh yeah, that’s what God did to justify me, sanctify me, seal the Spirit, and equip me to walk in obedience.” These are all true. They should be studied, understood, and enjoyed. But in order to love “As Christ loves the church” we need to understand how He sees us in our relationship to Him. Understanding this nuance teaches us how to love 1) enemies 2) spouse 3) neighbor 4) children 5) coworker or 6) anyone (in fact, there is no person who fits into a loop hole exempt from our love).
How does God love?
First, He loves to restore His enemies. This is precisely the language Paul uses in Romans 5:6-11,
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Paul drops a few lines in here to indicate how our Lord viewed us as unbelievers.
- While we were still weak
- while we were still sinners
- while we were enemies
None of these are nice, power of positive thinking statements. They are true, but not what pride me wants to hear. It affirms my weakness and inability to save myself. It affirms my position as a sinner, worthy of death (Rom 6:24) because that’s the wages due my actions. But, contemplate this with Romans 1:18 unbelievers, “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” As unbelievers, we are not just in a position of sin, we actively, habitually defy the Lord. We pursue unrighteousness to silence the voice of God, always seeking to dethrone Him because I can do a better job of ruling than Him.
Basically all unbelievers are traitors to the king. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 says we know He rules because creation sings that truth to us, but we rebel and seek our own king. Every ruler in the world kills traitors. The Tower of London has an interesting history to validate this claim too. Every human is a Benedict Arnold to God. That is who we are. How does God treat us?
Does He kills us on the spot? Does He turn His back to us and walk away? Does He draw a line in the sand and say, “I’ve let you get away with this two times, not one more time!” Does He gossip to the Son and say, “See, look, she’s our enemy and we must cut ties with her, turn our back, and tweet something nasty while linking to the “denounce her” blog.” Does God say, “Farwell [insert your name here], we have to ignore you know b/c you crossed the line?”
No. God initiated love and put His son on the cross to save the traitors. In open rebellion, He saves us. He leads us with kindness to repentance (Rom 2:4). The Spirit reveals His Son to us, leads us to be poor in Spirit, confess our sins, and ask for forgiveness!” Think about the display of love! “At the right time Christ died for the ungodly . . . while still sinners, God shows His love for us . . . while enemies, we were reconciled!” God declares the guilty innocent because Christ is our penalty for death! That is love!
Second, Initiate love. Love like God loves. From His perspective, He initiates love to those who don’t deserve it. So, ask yourself the question, “Do I love somebody only after I feel it safe to love him or her? Do I test the waters first, knowing this is the kind of person who will love in return?” If your answer is, “yes,” then change your view. Decide you will love regardless of the other person’s actions. Lead with love. Love like this will produce long-suffering and tolerance. These two adjectives are precisely what God has in mind with love, “[I] implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3).
Think of the patience and tolerance God show us everyday. Unless you think His love stops at the cross, then we must realize God’s love defines our current relationship. Most of us, when being honest, will recognize we struggle with similar actions daily, weekly, maybe even monthly. At what point did God say “You know, you’re having a hard time with this sin, I’m gonna let you go until you get this right, then let me know and I’ll be back?” NEVER! This is the point right, God knows our struggles, still loves us. In fact, sin is so blinding we may only be about 5% aware of our own sinfulness. Does God say, “Believer, 95% of you I can’t stand, so I’m gonna be in the other room. When you clean yourself up, pray, repent, and I’ll come back.” NO! Instead He leads us, over time, and conforms us to be like Him!
I heard a man, whose walked with God for over 40 years say, “I just learned this about following God! I’m changing!” FORTY YEARS!! For forty years we might say he committed a sin of omission. God still walked with him for forty years, loving Him, knowing when the time would come for His change. And this is EXACTLY how we are supposed to love. Your spouse has imperfections? Welcome to humanity. Love him or her anyway. Your coworker is an absolute beast to live with? Imagine being God living with us sometimes? Love regardless of his or her attitude.
Third, love as a peacemaker. Love in such a way that our words and actions lead people to the Gospel of hope in Christ. Why show tolerance, long-suffering, and endure hardships? Because Christ did for us. We don’t always get to know how God uses us in the lives of others. But God looked at me, knew my position “evil” and my plight — blinded by sin and He still loves me to lead me to Him. If God can view me this way, then perhaps I can view others the same way. The beastly coworker, difficult to work with, and one no one likes, displays the fruit of unbelief. The solution isn’t another room without him or her, it’s the Gospel. The power of God to redeem the lost, open blind eyes, and make us worshippers of Him who can initiate love like He does.
Unbelievers concern themselves not with salvation. They literally need us to be concerned for them. Therefore love them and lead them to Christ — show them where hope, joy, forgiveness, and salvation come from.
Learn to love as Christ loves the church. There is more to say, but for now, this is a good foundation to start with if “loving others like Christ loves” seems to be a blank wall with no directions.
*This is adapted from a sermon on “Cultivating Godly Love,” you can listen to it here.