May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you….We love because He first loved us….If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 Thessalonians 3:12; 1 John 4:15-19)
Christ-like love comes up in most counseling meetings I have and in many lessons I teach. And it should. John 3:16 summarizes the whole Bible’s message: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Then Christ commands us: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”1
Reminders from Jay Adams
So how can we practice love for others better? Jay Adams (1929-2020) was an American Christian pastor and one of my teachers. His comments on this topic are helpful:
Love is not first a feeling. Good feelings may come later and grow; sometimes they never do. But feelings are not the sum and substance of love. Love is doing whatever good God says you must do for another person, to please Christ, whether it pleases you or not. We must love (in our actions) because the Lord says so and not wait until we feel like practicing loving behavior. Love begins with obedience to Jesus as we give another person what they need most from us. [Note: This does not include supporting harmful or problematic behavior in other people and making it easier for them to continue bad behavior. Such enabling is not loving or helpful to the other person.] Love is not just a warm, fuzzy, sentimental thing. It is hard to love others in this God-like way. Often it hurts us to love. For Jesus, love meant going through a humiliating life and going to Calvary’s cross through the garden of Gethsemane. Christ did not feel like dying for our sins, but He obeyed God willingly out of love for us. Jesus endured the cross for us while focusing on the subsequent joy that it would bring us in His resurrection and in our eternal salvation.2
Adams summarizes lots of Scripture in that paragraph. You may want to read it again slowly and ask the Holy Spirit to help you increase in loving others these ways. I just did.
Long Term Commitment
Near Valentine’s Day I saw a video of an older couple. The gray-haired man used a cane and his white-haired wife held two heart-shaped balloons. They were holding hands as they moved along slowly. The video reminds us that while our culture glorifies youthful romance, deeper Christ-like love endures through our many stages of life, with many ups and downs. That’s true in marriage, in friendships, in business, and in church life.
The video reminded me also of a song, “The Dutchman,” performed by Liam Clancy. The song is about an elderly couple, Margaret and her unnamed husband, living in Amsterdam. The Dutchman has dementia and PTSD from his wartime experience, and Margaret lovingly cares for him. She is sad about her husband’s decline over the years, but she remembers better days and practices unconditional love, sacrificing for her husband in concrete ways just as Christ keeps loving us even when we are the least lovable.
The Lord’s Greater Love
Margaret’s love in “The Dutchman” reminds us of God’s love that we are to imitate. Solomon’s wife (the Shulamite) says, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its passion unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.”3 The Shulamite’s and Margaret’s love imitates God’s loving-kindness for us which endures forever.4
Jay Adams reminds us that true love is both the major motivation and the ultimate objective of all biblical counseling. “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us….The goal of Christ’s command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”5 Christ-like love is a self-denying, active, giving of ourselves to help others, imitating the Lord who is our Supreme Helper.
Practical Ways to Show Love to Others
This is a big topic, but here is a list I’ve used with people to help them increase their practice of Christ-like love. This list is not all-inclusive, but a good place to start.
- Pray for others, asking the Lord to bless and help them.6
- Listen to them so that they feel seen, heard, understood, and accepted.7
- Avoid unhelpful accusing and arguing.8
- Keep your promises and commitments to others.9
- Give others the benefit of doubt.10
- Be willing to flex and compromise.11
- Tolerate imperfection in them as God does with us.12
- Focus on their needs, not your own.13
Prayer: Father, pour out your love on us so it fills our lives and splashes over on to everyone around us. Fill us with your power, love, and self-discipline so that we love our neighbors as you have first loved us. Establish us holy and blameless in heart and soul before you so that we are unashamed when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all who belong to Him.14
Notes (various translations): 1 Matt 19:19, 22:39; Lev 19:18; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:8. 2 Adapted and expanded from Jay E. Adams, How to Overcome Evil. 3 Songs 8:6-7. 4 This phrase is repeated twenty six times in Psalm 136. 5 Rom 5:5; 1 Tim 1:5. 6 James 5:16; 1 Tim 2:1; Eph 6:18. 7 James 1:19-20; Prov 18:2,13. 8 Matt 7:1-5; Rom 2:1; 2 Tim 2:23-24; Titus 3:1-2. 9 Psalm 15:4; 119:63; Prov 15:1; 29:22; Matt 5:37; James 5:12. 10 1 Cor 13:7; Eph 4:2-4; Titus 1:15. 11 Rom 14:1-23; Phil 4:4-7. 12 Gal 5:22-23; Col 3:13; 1 Pet 3:8. 13 Lev 19:18,34; Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31; Phil 2:1-5. 14 Prayer adapted from Eugene H. Peterson.