Loving well is not always easy. It is often quite difficult. We struggle with our own selfishness and prejudice, hindering us from loving others as we ought. Its like canoeing upstream when turning around to move with the momentum of the river would be much easier. Fighting the current of our own flesh often frustrates our more pure desire to love well.
Not to mention that the definition love has been molded and manipulated into many forms. We use the same word to represent how we feel toward our iPhone, our favorite coffee and our spouse. Dictionary.com lists 28 distinct ways that the word love can be used. It isn't necessarily good or bad that we have so many uses for the word love, what is important is that when we use the word love, we do not confuse what meaning is intended.
Even the Bible is not monolithic in its use of the word love. There are three different greek words in the Bible that we often translate as love. They are agape, phileo and storge. There is also a fourth greek word, eros, that is often associated with love.
The key element I want to focus on comes from the greek work agape. This is the love most often associated with the love of God because in 1 John we read that God is love [agape] (1 John 4:7-12). This is the sort of love that is grounded in the very character of God.
God's love as our example
When I consider how I ought to love others, the love of God is what first comes to mind. Jesus gave this instruction to his disciples:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35 ESV)"
Jesus instructs his disciples that they are to love one another. But this doesn't seem like a "new command." What is new about Jesus telling them to love one another? I believe that the new command is that Jesus grounds his command to love one another in the example of Jesus' love. Jesus says, "just as I have loved you..." We are to love one another in the way that Jesus loves.
John took this teaching from Jesus to heart. Elsewhere in the Bible he wrote, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:11)." John appeals to the love of God as a way of pointing his readers to also conduct themselves in love.
Jesus is our example of love.
A key element to loving well - taking the first step
In his love for us, Jesus took the first step. "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)." We did not love God. He loved us. We did not initiate. He initiated. We did not take the first step. He took the first step. He sent Jesus. God demonstrated his love when he made a way for us through Jesus, even while we were still sinners and enemies of God (Rom 5:8-10). We did not take the first step. We were blind to the ways of God because of our sin. We would not have sought him out if it were not for his desire to seek us out first.
When I consider the initiation of God to love us first, I am compelled to believe that part of loving others well is taking the first step. In his love for us, Jesus took the first step. We are called to do the same with others. This has massive implications for all of life. Here are a few ways that taking the first step in love can impact our lives.
Initiating with our spouse
How often have you waited for your spouse to take the first step toward reconciliation after a fight? I am telling you that loving well means you take the first step. Even if you don't think you were in the wrong, take the first step. This is highlighted even more for men in the marriage relationship, because Paul calls the husbands to be like Christ (Eph 5:25). Christ took the first step to reconcile our relationship with him, so we should do the same in our relationship with others, especially with our spouse.
This also means that we are actively pursuing a deeper relationship with our spouse. We are thinking ahead to ask good questions and pursue a deeper relationship. Take responsibility to move toward your spouse today.
Initiating with our neighbors
Jesus did not wait for us to come to him to begin a relationship. He did all the work to make it possible. If you want your neighbors to see the light of Jesus, do not wait for them to come ask you. You go to them. Do not wait for someone to stumble into your church to build a relationship. Do not wait for your neighbor to knock on your door with cookies. You take the step to meet them first. Initiate in relationship with the people around you. Jesus did. We should as well.
Initiating in reconciliation
I already discussed this in the section about spouses, but the example of Jesus regarding reconciliation is too great to not expand my exhortation. If you have a relationship that requires forgiveness and reconciliation, do something to initiate. Do not sulk to yourself about their lack of initiative while you do little to pursue forgiveness yourself. This will look different in each relationship because of various histories, pains and hurts. There is no one-size fits all, but because of the example of Jesus, I believe you are called to take a step in the direction of reconciliation. Even a very small step in love can bring about a miracle through the work of God.
Initiating to meet a need
Sometimes we observe a need in someone around us. Or maybe someone shares a prayer request in our small group about an area of need they have. One of the ways we can show the love of Christ in our communities is to initiate in seeking to meet a need. This doesn't need to be complicated. The first step can be to simply ask if there is a way that you can help. But don't ask if you are not prepared to follow through on their response. You don't need to wait for someone to ask you specifically. It also isn't always wise to assume you know the best way to meet the need. But you can always ask.
Take the first step with someone today
Here is my call to action for you today.
Pray and ask yourself who you might be called to love more intentionally today. Who is God inviting you to love well today? And then take a step that would be a clear expression of your love. It might be a step toward repairing a relationship. It might be a step toward deepening a relationship. Or it might be a step toward beginning a relationship.
Whoever it is, you take the first step. We would be lost if God had not done the same for us. Shouldn't we do the same with others?
And let us know how it goes in the comments section below.
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