Once a missionary was troubled because she didn’t love others the way she knew she should. For years she continually berated herself with the need to be more loving, but she continually failed, leaving her continually discouraged. Finally she started to meditate on God’s love for her, and without realizing it, her life was transformed so much that people asked her husband what had happened to her.
I’ve shared this story before. Though I’ve lost track of its source, it has always inspired me because I can identify with it so well. I’m frequently appalled at my selfishness and often tell myself “I need to be more loving,” but, like the missionary, I continually fail. But when I meditate on His love for me, His love flows through me to others.
An initiating love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, ESV). God loved us even before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6), ESV).
A gracious love. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, ESV). He loved us when we were most unlovable and undeserving. He didn’t wait for us to “clean up” or get “good enough.”
A sacrificing love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV). God gave not just a pittance, not just a fraction, but rather what was most dear to Him. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).
A forgiving love. “This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10, NLT).
A kind love. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:3-6, ESV).
A longsuffering love. “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Numbers 14:18a, ESV).
A correcting love. “My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12, ESV). God’s love is not indulgent. Sometimes love involves doing the hard thing of bringing sin to the surface so it can be dealt with.
This just barely scratches the surface of God’s love for us.
In the parable of the unforgiving servant, a man was forgiven a massive debt. However, instead of extending that same grace that he had received to others, he withheld forgiveness of someone’s very small debt and exacted a penalty. That story opened up to me the realization that my forgiveness towards another isn’t based on whether or not they “deserve it.” I did not deserve forgiveness, either. My forgiveness of others should be based on the fact that God has forgiven me so much more than anything I have had to forgive.
It’s the same with God’s love. My love for others should be an overflow of God’s great love for me. He took the first step in loving me, so I should not wait on others to make the first move. His love came at a great sacrifice, so I should not be surprised when love costs me. He loved me at my most unworthy and forgave a multitude of my offenses, so how can I withhold love from others?
Let me hasten to say that exactly how this works out in individual lives will vary. I’m thinking particularly of people who came out of abusive situations. Though we’re still called to love and forgive, and we need God’s grace to do so, we also need His wisdom to know how to navigate all the factors in such a relationship.
I frequently pray for God to help me be more loving, and He graciously speaks to my heart from His Word. Just last week, one day I came across passages about God’s love from three different sources just in my regular devotional reading, without trying to coordinate a study on this topic at all (that’s part of what prompted this post).
So while I continue to pray that I might be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:14-19), that “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9-11), and that God would make me “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thessalonians 3:11-12), I also pray and seek God’s Word to “have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [I] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2, ESV)