What does it mean to love? Where does love come from and how to we display the love of God? When I awoke this morning, the following scripture was burning in my mind:
And now I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Did you catch that? We can do all these things—prophesy, have faith, surrender our bodies, and give all we have—and still not have love. But wait! I’ve been told that love is a choice! I’ve been told love is an action! If giving all we have is not love, what is? Everything mentioned in these verses are actions, but if you read on to verses 4-7, you’ll notice that the actual characteristics of love are all matters of the heart.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
These are all difficult to counterfeit. Sure, we can act patient, but true patience comes from a sincere heart of love. We can fake kindness and humility, but hatred and pride can still be lurking in the heart. Other aspects of love such as trust, hope, perseverance, and rejoicing in truth are extremely difficult to counterfeit and must, therefore, come from a heart of love.
Beware of sacrificing yourself and your possessions while not cultivating a true heart of love, which can only come from receiving from the Father. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches (John 15:1-8). Many of us act “loving” with the wrong motives. Beware of what’s lying underneath. Pity is not love; it is judgment. Fear of man that pressures you to give is not love; it actually keeps you from fearing God and receiving from Him. Be mindful of your motives.
True love is not forced; it is cultivated. Love is a FRUIT of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Therefore, it comes, not from our actions, but through our abiding in and receiving from the Father, our Source of all love. It begins in our hearts and is then made manifest through our actions.
Oftentimes Christians attempt to focus on their outward actions, like the Pharisees did in Jesus’s day. The Pharisees covered over the blackness of their hearts with their “righteous” deeds. They attempted to gain holiness through their actions, yet Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. “On the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28).
We are instead called to live honest, authentic lives and to allow Jesus to change us from the inside out. He wants to change our hearts. Then He will bring forth good from the good inside our hearts.
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. (Matthew 12:33-35)
If you give and sacrifice in order to cultivate love instead of abiding in the Source, you have deceived yourself into thinking that you are the source. You are able to love only because He first loved you (1 John 4:19). And we have to receive that love. If it’s possible to be disconnected from the vine (John 15:2, 6), it is possible to be disconnected from His love. Jesus tells us to “remain in me”; it’s an act of our will to remain in His love.
This is definitely not to say that we can be separated from the love of God. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:28-29). There’s a difference from being separated from God’s love and willfully not receiving or abiding in His love.
For example, I know many people who have foster children, adopted children, or children who struggle with the process of receiving love. Their parents pour out love to them, but for some reason, the children remain distrustful and actually seem to shut out the love being shown to them. Then, by some miracle, the child finally begins to warm up to his parents and other people. He softens and actually begins to blossom as he actively receives love, the love that was available to him all along.
It’s often the same scenario with us and God. God has already poured out His love to us; He has done EVERYTHING! We merely position ourselves to receive that love so that we can pour out to others. Oftentimes this requires the support of others and some heart healing because we have hurts, wounds, and unforgiveness that gets in the way of a genuine heart connection with God.
It’s sad that so many Christians have not taken the time to ensure their hearts are rightly connected to the love of God. This causes love to be difficult and unnatural for them to give. There is a constant struggle to overcome the flesh. They still relate more to what Paul wrote in Romans 7 about the constant struggle of the flesh—“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (verse 18)—instead of realizing that we are now living life through the Spirit that Paul describes in Romans 8, the very next chapter!
Romans 8:9 says, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” Come on!! That means we no longer live by the sinful nature. When we live by the Spirit, we naturally “have our minds set on what the Spirit desires” (Romans 8:5).
Go back and read again through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Are these attributes of love flowing freely and naturally from you or are you striving to live up to this standard? If you are not producing natural fruit from the Spirit of God living inside you, begin spending time with the Source.
We all have times when loving is difficult. Instead of masking it and trying to just “act loving”, I am learning to own up to my lack and turn to God first. He has a way of making me acutely aware of my lack and my constant need for Him. But one of the greatest things about turning to God is that He not only fills you up, He enlarges your capacity to love others the more you turn to Him.
In the end, it’s quite simple. Abide in Jesus. Rest in His love. You are not the source; He is! Receive from Him! When loving is difficult, seek His heart. When struggling with sin, let Jesus infiltrate your heart. When you are worried or anxious, rest in God’s Presence. Stop striving and just abide. He is your loving Father and you are His child.