The Power of Love
“THE POWER OF LOVE”
by Dr. D. W. Ekstrand
The Bible is pretty clear on the subject of “sowing & reaping.” God has given us significant freedom to choose the kind of seed we sow (actions we take), but He is the one who determines the results of those actions (Prv 16:1, 9; 19:21; Is 55:11). Since we do not have the capacity to determine the ultimate outcome of a matter; we must bow to the sovereign rule of heaven. We do not live in a strict “impersonal cause and effect universe” where we control the outcome of our choices; so no matter how cleaver we may think we are, we cannot manipulate the outcome of things by pushing all the right buttons to make life work according to our own choosing… though we all try our hardest to make life work the way we want it to! Nevertheless it is very clear, we don’t possess the ability to control the circumstances of life, because we don’t live in a “mechanical universe” — God is in charge, and He is the governing Power &Authority behind every action. Though things generally progress in a somewhat logical, predicable fashion, we can all attest to the fact that life is not an exact science, and try though as we may, we cannot force the final out-come of situations and events, no matter how passionate we are in our attempts to do so. The one fact that supersedes all others is this: God is GOD (Is 45:5-7). Similarly, God’s Word is not merely an “abstract document” that simply describes the events of history and the constitution under which we are to live; rather it is a “living active reality” (Heb 4:12) that gives definition and clarity to the modus operandi of God — and God is love. Hopefully the foregoing introduction helps provide an adequate launching pad for the theme of this study — the inherent power of love.
Love is Not an Abstract Principle
Is true love simply a “virtuous abstract principle” that God commands us to express, or does love actually have “inherent transmittal powers”? That is, does love have real, bona fide effects? For example, when we express agape love, do the effects of such action produce in us, physiological, psychological, and spiritual benefits… and does the recipient of our love also experience real, bona fide benefits… or are such expressions merely actions without any necessary effects? Again, it was this thought that precipitated my doing this study, and like most studies, as I studied the subject my attention was drawn to a seemingly endless number of other related subjects. Though I tried to remain focused on the issue at hand, I did find myself venturing into some related matters. I trust the following material will help bring resolution to the matter of whether or not there is really “power” in love. By the way, since true love is the fruit or by-product of the Holy Spirit, it accomplishes God’s desire both in the one who loves, and in the one who is being loved; so loving not only effectuates some kind of change in us, it also serves God’s purposes in the life of the one who receives love. Consider the following —
Imagine a world without love — “a world without God would be a world without love.” Every day God pours His love into the human heart and keeps the world from destroying itself. Without the influx of God’s love into the human soul, man would only be a creature of instinct and “survival of the fittest” would rule. In a loveless world without God, life would be hell. The most powerful force in the universe is “God’s love.” The late E. Stanley Jones put it this way, “God is love, and works by love, and by nothing else than love.” The power and presence of God in the world is love, and it is His love that provides the healing touch that encourages our hearts and restores our damaged emotions — money, things, success, and fame will not heal the pain in our souls; only God’s love can bring healing to our lives. And more than anything else, we need to be transformed by the power of His love! As C. S. Lewis states in his best-selling book The Four Loves: “[Admittedly] it is still a mystery as to what the fullness of love truly means… [but] one thing we do know is that in order to know what love means, we must experience it… [and] ultimately, love is what forms people into who they are and who they become.”
The late Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International, said, “Love is the greatest thing in the world… the greatest power known to man!” Bright reminds us of the fact that its emphasis in life and word changed the course of human history as first century Christians demonstrated a quality of life never before witnessed on earth. The Greeks, Romans, Gentiles, Jews and heathen hated one another. Among all the nations of the world there was hardly a thought of love to each other (if one people group felt stronger than another, they would simply set out to conquer and enslave them!); the very idea of love and self-sacrifice was completely foreign to the ancient mind (study the ancient Roman world). The truth of the matter is, no people group had ever been a people of love. When the first century world observed Christians from nations over the then known world, with different languages and different cultures, actually showing love to one another, even to the point of self-sacrifice during times of plague or illness, it was mind-boggling to them; completely beyond their comprehension. In keeping with the words Jesus told His disciples, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35), a common refrain developed among in the ancient heathen world: “Behold, how these people love one another!” That was the testimony of the Roman world to Christianity, because the Christian community was unlike anything they had ever known!
We All Need to Love and Be Loved
Loving and being loved is fundamental for survival. Love is the deepest, most profound experience we can have, and the ultimate source of fulfillment in our lives. There is nothing more satisfying and life affirming than the act of loving and being loved. Love is very healing and is essential for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Love actually has a physio-logical effect on the body — have you ever noticed how much better you feel physically and how your mood improves when you receive some affectionate expression (though it only be a hug) from someone who really loves you? Loving and being loved actually improves our physical health by boosting the immune system and effectuates the feel good neurotransmitters in the brain that control our mood outlook on life, and feelings of well-being.
If you have been fortunate enough to experience deep, profound, soul-touching love with your spouse, you know there is nothing more fulfilling in life. And for those of you who have experienced losing that love, you only know too well that it is the most excruciating experience you have faced. When your relationship with your mate is full, happy and passionate, it raises your level of functioning, gives you more energy, and increases your mood; however, when the relationship grows progressively worse, you experience the effects of grieving and you grow weaker, thus showing the powerful impact that love and grief have upon our bodies.
Not only does love improve our health, but it also lightens our load. The difficulties and challenges of life are much easier to deal with when love is in our life. We feel happier and more capable, and it makes life richer and more worth living. Love can also help us get through the difficult times, and it assists us in the acceptance and adjustment process of living with a chronic health condition. So cultivating love in life is one of the most beneficial things we can do for our health and to live a fuller and more enjoyable life. The most fulfilling relationships are the ones that are deep and meaningful; as such we need to cultivate love on a daily basis and immerse ourselves in it, and allow ourselves to love others deeply and completely — it is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and to others. So allow yourself to feel love and express love, by building deep meaningful relationships… allow yourself to be vulnerable… immerse yourself completely in the loving experience. Though there is always the possibility that you may suffer rejection, don’t let that stop you, because the benefits far outweigh the risk.
It is a harsh reality that people with a chronic illness, health condition, or personality disorder, are not as desirable to be around; thus it may be very difficult in certain situations to find and develop strong relationships. But this does not mean that we must be “loveless” — love can be found in many places, including nature, children, family, friends, and even pets. If you have a health condition that limits your ability to interact socially, then spending time with nature can be of magnificent option. It is possible to have such an intimate relationship with nature that it can fulfill some of your relational needs. Though nothing can take the place of deep loving connections with other human beings, this can at least fill the gap in part — if that be the case, learn to commune with nature on a regular basis, and let God minister to your soul in that context. Some people place “bird feeders” in their backyard, and before long their yard is full of beautiful birds — being a bird watcher can bring a significant amount of joy to your life. In some places here in the southwest there is an abundance of wildlife — jackrabbits, coyotes, bunnies, chipmunks, blue jays, desert wrens and roadrunners — it is very possible to actually get them to eat out of your hand. When done on a routine basis, this can become a very fulfilling experience. So touch, smell and feel the trees, the plants, the rocks and the wind; mingle with the wildlife, sit with the sun and the clouds, and appreciate the magnificent beauty God presents to you every day in nature. God meant His creation to be an enjoyable experience.
The vast majority of psychologists believe “man’s greatest need” is to love and be loved, and that nothing is greater than the mighty force of love. Love is as critical for us psychologi-cally, emotionally, and physically as oxygen is to our bodies. Therefore the less we express love to others, the more depressed we are likely to feel… and the less we receive love from others, the more depression we are likely to experience. Psychologist Ellen McGrath, in an article she wrote for Psychology Today said, “Love is probably the best antidepressant there is because one of the most common sources of depression is feeling unloved.” It should be noted that most depressed people are also very self-focused (thus less loving), making them less attractive to others… as such, they naturally deprive themselves of love. The truth of the matter is, the more connected we are with other people, the healthier we will be both physically and emotionally… and the less connected we are, the more we will be at risk. There is a mythology in our culture that says “love just happens” — as a result, the depressed often sit around passively waiting for someone to love them. But that’s not the way love operates. To get love and keep love you have to go out and interact with others and learn basic communication skills.
McGrath goes on to say that most of us get our ideas of love from “popular culture.” Our culture speaks often about love, but because it is more a sentimental and emotional substitute for true love, it is unstable and untrue. Emotions are merely our reactions to outward stimuli, and even on our best days our feelings and emotions can be fickle and unreliable; as such, they are much like water — easily swayed, easily changed, and highly dependent upon circumstances. We come to believe that love is something that sweeps us off our feet, but this pop-culture ideal of love consists of unrealistic images created for entertainment, which is why so many of us are set up to be depressed. It is part of our national vulnerability, like eating junk food, constantly stimulated by images of instant gratification. We think it is love…when it is simply infatuation. One of the consequences of infatuation love is that when we hit real love we become upset and disappointed because it does not mesh with the cultural ideal. As such, some people get demand-ing and controlling, and want the other person to respond to what their ideal understanding of romance should be… completely ignorant of the fact that their ideal is misplaced. Therefore it is essential that we change our approach to love to ward off depression. Following are a few action strategies people should take to get more of what they want out of life—to love and be loved.
• Recognize the difference between deep infatuation and love. Limerance is the psychological state of deep infatuation — it feels good while it is there, but it rarely lasts. Limerance is that first stage of mad attraction whereby all the hormones are flowing and everything feels so right. Psychologists tell us that limerance lasts on the average for about six months. It can progress to love — love mostly starts as limerance, but it frequently does not evolve into love.
• Understand that love is a learned skill, not something that comes from hormones or emotion particularly. Renowned psychologist Erich Fromm called it "an act of will." Ultimately, if you don't learn the skills of love you virtually guarantee that you will be depressed, not only because you will not be connected enough but because you will have many failure experiences.
• Learn good communication skills. They are a means by which human beings develop trust and intensify connection. The greater your ability to communicate the less depressed you will be, because you will feel known and understood.
There are always core differences between two people, no matter how good or close you are, and if the relationship is going right those differences will surface. The issue then is to identify the differences and negotiate them so that they don't put a distance between you and the other person and kill the relationship. You do that by understanding where the other person is coming from, who that person is, and by being able to represent yourself. When the differences are known you must be able to negotiate and compromise on them until you find a common ground that works for both of you. McGrath offers the following considerations —
• Focus on the other person. Rather than focus on what you are getting and how you are being treated, read your partner's need. What does this person really need for his/her own well-being? This is a very tough skill for people to learn in our narcissistic culture, because we are so self-focused and self-obsessed.
• Help someone else. Depression keeps people so focused on themselves they don't get outside themselves enough to be able to learn to love. The more you can focus on others and learn to respond and meet their needs, the better you are going to do in love.
• Develop the ability to accommodate “simultaneous reality.” The loved one's reality is as important as your own, and you need to be as aware of it as well as your own. What are they really saying? What are they really needing? Depressed people think the only reality is their own depressed reality. Carefully reflect upon this point — it is critical for growing in love.
• Actively dispute your internal messages of inadequacy. Feeling unloved and rejected are cardinal features of depression. As a consequence of low self-esteem, every relationship blip is interpreted far too personally as evidence of inadequacy. If you are quick to feel rejected by a partner, deep down within you will believe it is the treatment you fundamentally deserve. Carefully note the following — the rejection really originates in you, and the feelings of inadequacy are the depression speaking. Recognize that though the internal voice is strong it is not real — it is simply the “self talk” that is going on within you (those things that you are telling yourself). It is important that you talk back to it, that you actually verbalize a response: "I am not really being rejected, this is not really evidence of inadequacy; this is nothing more than a mistake or misunderstanding or disagreement we are having; regardless of the feelings I’m having I shall express love in tangible ways." When you reframe the situation to something more adequate, you can act again in an effective way and find and keep the love that you need.
The Psychological & Physiological Effects of Love
Scientific research shows that love is a quality of good health. Dr. Glen Jenson, professor of Family and Human Development at Utah State University says that research shows that “people who feel loved, or when it is reciprocated, live longer, happier, have better health and make more money.” Not only do people who feel loved have a better life expectancy, but they also live a healthier lifestyle. Says Jensen, “To have someone who cares for you and loves you, makes you feel more encouraged,” and people who do not experience that encouragement or love in their life from others, tend to be more prone to depression and loneliness and don’t function as well in society. Aside from emotional health, love can also be a benefit to physical health — studies have linked love and intimacy to good cardiovascular health. Dr. Dean Ornish, who is famous for his low-fat diet for reversing heart disease, says in his book “Love and Survival” that though “the diet can play a significant role… nothing is more powerful than love and intimacy.” The director of Behavioral Medicine at Duke University, Dr. Redford Williams, says that though we do not have actual databases at this point, he believes “at least as many people die from social isolation as [from] smoking, and maybe twice as much as deaths caused by dietary choices.” So scientific research suggests that there is a strong connection between psychological and physiological health and the experience of love and intimacy.
Lorri B. Smalls says the effects of love on “psychological health” is a well noted factor in the way our society functions as a whole. She writes, “The lack of a loving environment in the home can create the perfect storm for countless problems…it often breeds feelings of insecurity and hopelessness… [and ultimately causes those not receiving love] to make the same repeated mistakes when interacting with others.” An emotionally abusive person controls their partner by manipulating them with deprivation, harm, isolation, or abandonment. Emotional abuse kills a person’s spirit, and makes them feel like they have to walk on eggshells to get along with the one they love. Smalls goes on to say that, “Love without compassion, from a psychological standpoint, undermines a person’s confidence and trust; and a lack of compassion can quickly lead to contempt and chronic resentment…. when loved ones fail to show respect or consider-ation for how someone close to them feels… [it] inflicts emotional pain, and is interpreted as betrayal. Failure of compassion in a relationship creates a toxic situation that can leave deep emotional scars throughout the course of any intimate relationship.” On the other side of the spectrum, many situations can be significantly improved when individuals strive to love each other with kind words and deeds. As such, Smalls concludes, “a loving environment encourages a person to be more giving to others and less suspicious of other people’s motives.”
Bob Trowbridge, a pastor for more than 40 years, states in an article titled, “The Effects of Love on Psychological Health,” that one of the most healing modalities for both physical and psychological problems is “touch.” It has been known for many years that people receive some healing benefits from being touched (even by beauticians & dentists!). Being hugged and being touched is something we all need — many years ago, it was found in England that babies in orphanages were dying and there seemed to be no cause. It was finally discovered that no one was touching or holding the babies; the babies actually died from the lack of touch. Subsequent scientific experimentation with animals revealed exactly the same results — if animals did not experience the touch of another animal, they died in just a few weeks! The lesson these studies show is that we literally cannot live without love and the touches that accompany love; so touch and hug those you love — it not only makes a difference in your life, but it makes a difference in the lives of those you touch. By the way parents, studies show that many of our children desperately need to be hugged — start hugging your children at birth and never stop hugging them! And affirm your love for them every day! Allow yourself to touch and be touched, and to hug and be hugged; it could not only save your life and your sanity, but your children’s also! The benefits of love on physical, mental, and emotional health cannot be overstated!
Love is the essence of living a good life. Without love we live our lives for ourselves, and by living self-centered lives we impact others in a negative way, and thereby make life less enjoyable and harder to bare for both ourselves and for others. The need to be loved is exceptionally strong in all human beings. From childhood to old age, human beings want to be loved by those around them. Love connects people in the strongest of ways. It produces care and concern, without which no one would take the responsibility of looking after others. Furthermore, love makes the difficulties of life bearable, and helps ease the struggles of life. The love given to a child is more important than any material goods a family can provide — life cannot just run on cold, hard rules — the warmth of love is essential for the infusion of a joyful spirit in life. A home without love, however orderly and organized, does not fulfill its designed purpose. Love or the lack of it has a profound effect on the lives of children — their mental capability, their fluency of speech, and their observations and deductions on life, are all affected by it. Love is absolutely essential to our well-being (http://www.imamreza.net/eng/imamreza.php?id=6426).
There are “several effects” a child experiences when they are given love. They are happier and calmer… they are more at peace with the world… and better able to endure disappointment. If a child is not given love, he or she often resorts to misbehavior to get attention. When loved, they are more confident of themselves. They know that they are worthy of being loved, and that is a great boost to their self-esteem. People form better relationships with others when they are loved. A loving relationship with ones parents makes an individual kinder and more loving; conversely, a lack of parental love hardens the heart, and makes people less prone to showing love to others. It should also be noted that children who are shown affection have a far more positive outlook on life — when a child is loved he looks at the world with enthusiasm and is more eager to try and experience new things. A home with no love produces a negative outlook, and curtails natural curiosity and deadens the child’s interest in life. Furthermore, an individual who knows what love and affection are will be more responsive to what his parents and elders tell him, and any sort of reproach and scolding will become easier to stand when they know they are loved. When a child lacks love he naturally reaches out to people around him to pay more attention to him, and in order to get attention, he may even start trouble — that’s a common way of receiving attention for those who are not given love. A lack of love causes children to have a low sense of self-worth… as such they are far more likely to become self-centered and selfish. Both the young and the old must experience and give love; without it, they are more apt to feel depressed, lonely, embarrassed, and worthless… and as such, they are not able to impact others in a positive way. It is both a communal and personal effort. It is our God-given responsibility as human beings to love others as best we can… and in so doing make our lives and the lives of others significantly healthier, more productive, more fulfilling, more enjoyable, and happier (http://www.michaelcassell.wikispaces.com/Love+and+Its+Effects+and+Affects).
We were Created to Love and Be Loved
God is the giver of life and He is love, therefore “love” is the energy that gives life (1 Jn 4:8,16). We were all created to love and to be loved. Love is the meaning of life and the purpose for life, though that may be hard to believe for some of you who have been weaned on this materialistic, impersonal, mechanistic world — if you would completely isolate yourself from all other people for a significant period of time, you might then see how critically important loving relationships are. Life is about people, not stuff… and whereas people are to be loved, stuff is to be used. The love of God is both sacrificial and selfless in nature — all of His love is sacrificial in nature, and others oriented. God loves to love us and give of Himself for us — it gives Him great joy; it is why He made us! Before we experienced His unconditional love, we were broken and empty — physically alive but spiritually dead — no level of intellectual enlightenment could give life to our soul (only love could do that), and once we experienced God’s love, it transformed us! God’s love is so great we cannot comprehend it! Hey, we don’t even understand human love (why do we love those who hurt us most?). All we know is that we are dying for love and we can’t change that! It has all to do with our basic and elemental need for love (that’s the way God made us!), and not the “you have to love yourself” nonsense — the truth of the matter is, people love and care for themselves so much, that life is all about them and their own “self-orientation” (Eph 5:28-29; Phil 2:4)—By the way, I didn’t say like themselves, I said love themselves! The problem with man is that he is “ego-driven;” he has been conditioned by his flesh and the world to navigate life with all of his own self-interests at heart, and his soul is influenced and guided by all the things to which he has become attached. He needs is to experience the LOVE that made him!
Most of us as believers initially experienced the love of the Father “through someone” — in all likelihood, God came to each of us through a person He had already filled with His love. It wasn’t religion that we experienced, but God’s love, and that made all the difference. It was loved that changed our lives. Everything that has been accomplished in our heart was done by the power of love. We only learned to abandon the old structures that governed our lives when we experienced God’s love… and when we did, we no longer wanted anything to do with our “old life.” We now longed to hear the loving voice of the Father, because it was His voice that awakened us to His loving reality. It wasn’t religion or man-made performance that delivered us from darkness — it was the love of God that brought us into the light. And as we pressed on in our search of love, it drew us closer to the Father, and filled us more and more… and with every new increase of love came deeper and deeper transformation that ultimately led to a maturity of love. The love of the Father did it all. Nothing is above love because nothing is above God… and God is love.
Religion does not heal people; it just binds them to a man-made system of performance standards that ultimately leaves them discouraged and defeated. Only love has the power to heal and make people whole… only God has the ability to repair what He has created. When God gives His love He is giving Himself, and by Him we are made whole. It was our estrange-ment from Him that created our brokenness in the first place, and it was our sin (our opposition to Him) that created the expanse between us and Him. Furthermore, we cannot learn love by studying it or meditating about it — to learn what love is we have to experience it! To know the LORD we have to experience Him! That is why theology is so desperately limited in its power to aid growth. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13— “If I possessed all the knowledge of theology in the world, but I don’t have love, I have absolutely nothing!” So if I am the most religious person on the planet but I don’t have love, I am nothing at all! The most important thing for believers is that they “grow in love” (Gal 3:13; Eph 4:16; Phil 1:9; 1Th 3:12; Heb 10:24), and in so doing effect their families, communities and towns with the power of God’s love! The world will only come to realize that God is good when they experience His love! Sadly, many in the church today reflect nothing but the Pharisees of Christ’s day, and that is giving people the wrong picture of who God is! The entire world needs to know the truth about God’s love! If you want to start a revival, spark the fire with love—not religion! — there is your missions program for you!
“Love” is the number one quality that God wants to work into our souls. The quality of love transcends peoples and nations — it is the universal language. The chief message of the Bible is that God wants us to “love Him” and to “love others” — yet, what do we see today but a world full of hatred, war, conflict, and self-centered living. And as bad as things are today, the Bible tells us that “the love of many will grow even colder in the last days” — that means things are going to go from bad to worse in the years ahead. As Christians, we all know that part of the answer as to why human beings cannot love each other in the manner and to the extent that God wants them to in this life, is because of our fallen condition — our sin nature — and that is why Jesus came to die for us… to bring healing to our lives and to transform us into His image.
The apostle John said, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” —loving one another is the proof that God abides in us (1 Jn 4:11-12). The word ought involves an inner compulsion and a moral obligation; thus it is as if John is saying, “Look at how He has loved us… how can we do less?” The fact that God sent His Son to die for us ought to inspire and motivate us to love others. Perhaps the big question is, “Why do we love so little?” Why do we as Christians fail so often to express love? One of the reasons we don’t love is that we have accepted the world’s definition of love, that it is a feeling. The biblical concept of love, however, tells us that it is an action—not a feeling. That’s why the Bible describes love as being patient, being kind, not being jealous, not being arrogant, not acting unbecomingly, not being selfish, not getting angry when others provoke us, and not ruminating over wrongs suffered (1 Cor 13:4-5). The ability to express that kind of love, requires that we don’t do what we feel like doing! Because none of us feel like loving!!! When we feel like being impatient, we’re to be patient! When we feel envious, we’re not to be! When we feel like bragging, we’re not to brag! When we feel like doing wrong, we’re not to do wrong! If we all “felt” like doing the right thing, life would be a piece of cake! But that’s not the reality! Love is an action we are supposed to take that generally runs contrary to our feelings! Here are five other common reasons we fail to love —
1. Our flesh (sin disposition) is still an extremely active and dominating force in our lives.
2. Our flesh (sin disposition) seems to dominate our lives when the going gets tough.
3. The needs of others do not seem as important to us when our own selfish desires surface.
4. The fact that God loves us does not elicit a spirit of gratitude when we are self-obsessed.
5. Our selfish feelings surface so quickly that a loving response often seems burdensome to us.
What True Love Really Looks Like
Mutual Christian love is the evidence that the “unseen God” is revealed in us when we love one another (1 Jn 4:12, 20) — by loving one another we prove that God abides in us (1 Jn 4:12-17), and that His love has been perfected in us (the perfect tense of the Greek verb here suggests that this was something that began at a point in time in the past – at conversion – and that it is continuing to be perfected in us throughout the course of our lives – 1 Jn 4:12, 17). John Stott calls it “God’s present and continuous activity of love.” The truth of the matter is, either God’s love is being perfected in the human soul or Satanic hatred is being perfected in it. Paul tells us that the love of God was planted in our hearts when we first believed (Rom 5:5; Tit 3:6); and this love in us is the strongest apologetic that God is indeed present in this world (Jn 13:35; 1Jn 3:14; 4:20). John goes on to say that if we do not show a degree of genuine love to our Christian brothers and sisters when they are in need, then we simply do not love God (regardless of our profession), and we are just deluding ourselves by claiming that we do love Him. James Montgomery Boice says, “It is by practicing a real and self-sacrificing love for one another that we learn to love the One who sacrificed Himself for us” — though it is at the cross where we first learned what love is, and how powerful it is, we grow in our appreciation of God’s love the more we practice love. Paul gives us a clear definition of love and “what love looks like” in real life (1 Cor 13:4-7)—following are the fifteen qualities of love He lists, and the corresponding powerful benefits that result from such expressions, both in the life of the one doing the loving and the one being loved:
• Love patient; it is patient endurance under provocation — the one loving does not let his impatient feelings rule; thus others are not only not agitated with us, but pleased with us.
• Love is kind; it is active goodness that considers the interests of others — the one loving shows kindness by assisting others in their need; those being loved are encouraged by it.
• Love is not envious; it is pleased that others are honored and exalted — the one loving rejoices in another’s good fortune; those being loved are able to genuinely share their joy with others.
• Love is not arrogant; it realizes that whatever it has is a gift from God — the one loving realizes everything he possesses is the result of God’s grace, and others are blessed by his humility.
• Love does not act unbecomingly; it is always courteous and considerate — the one loving doesn't injure others with his actions; hence others are not offended by them, but pleased with them.
• Love does not seek its own; it is not selfish but has others in mind — the one loving is not into himself, but others; as a result the others are encouraged by his “selfless orientation” in life.
• Love does not get provoked; it is willing to endure slights and insults — the one loving does not compound a difficult situation by striking back, thus quieting others in their affronts.
• Love does not think evil of others; it does not attribute bad motives to others — the one loving thinks highly of others; thus encouraging others to see the good in others as well.
• Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness; it takes no pleasure in it — the one loving does not take pleasure in wrongdoing; thus others are more apt to see the evil of malfeasance.
• Love rejoices with the truth; it rejoices when truth triumphs — the one loving rejoices when truth triumphs, and those around him are uplifted and encouraged in the truth as well.
• Love bears all things; it endures all things, even the faults of others — the one loving accepts others with all their foibles; those being loved are grateful for such a benevolent spirit.
• Love believes all things; it seeks to put the best construction on all actions — the one loving shows faith in others; those being loved are encouraged by another’s confidence in them.
• Love hopes all things; it earnestly desires that all things work out for the best — the one loving is supportive in spirit; those being loved are encouraged, uplifted and heartened.
• Love endures all things; be it persecution or ill treatment — the one loving accepts ill-treatment as under the disposing hand of God; thus those rendering it are not encouraged to continue it.
Why Believers Struggle with Walking in Love
Even born again believers find it difficult to “walk in love.” Since love is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), we cannot “walk in love” in our own strength (Jn 15:5). Though the love of God has been poured out into the hearts of all believers (Rom 5:5), so that His love flows through their personal-ities; nevertheless, the indwelling presence of sin (the flesh) often quenches and circumvents the Spirit’s fruitful work in us (1 Th 5:19; Eph 4:30). In order to counter the effects of our sin disposition, it is essential that we “abide in Christ” and maintain intimate communion with Him (Jn 15:4-5); if we fail to abide in Him, our flesh then gains the upper hand in our lives. It is also important for the believer to understand that if he doubts & questions God’s love for him, that will significantly affect the level of intimacy he experiences with Christ — intimacy in any relationship is always grounded in love, so being absolutely sure that the other person really loves you is paramount to enjoying that relationship. If you doubt the other person’s love for you, the relationship at best will be a shallow experience. The wonderful truth about our relationship with God is that His love for us is pure and unconditional; no matter what we do He will never reject, abandon, or stop loving us! Never! (Rom 8:29-31, 35-39; Phil 1:6; 2 Tim 2:13; Heb 13:5). That’s why it’s called Amazing Love!
God’s love for us is not dependent upon “us” — if it were, we wouldn’t experience any! The truth of the matter is, none of us even come close to meriting His love… the good news is it is the incredible, unconditional, eternal love of God that is the foundation of our relationship with Him! And there are no strings attached to God’s love… no caveats! no secret clauses! no “you’ve blown it too many times!” By the way, the only reason we love God is because He loves us (1 Jn 4:10,19) — God is the one who initiated our relationship with Him…it was all His doing! (Jn 3:16; Rom 3:11; 5:8). Therefore if we aren’t confident in God’s love for us, then our relationship with Him (from our perspective) becomes a performance-based relationship—one that is totally dependent upon us and what we do. For the sake of argument, let’s assume our relationship with Christ does depend upon us — what do we have to do to insure its certainty for all eternity? Make ourselves “really good”? How are we going to do that? How are we going to live up to God’s impeccable standards? Clearly, that’s not a conceivable option, so reject that proposition and accept God’s propitiatory work on the cross for us as diabolical sinners; because that indeed is what we are! Salvation is all by grace (Rom 3:28; 1 Cor 1:30; Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 1:9). As Charles Wesley put it, “Amazing love! How can it be that Thou my God shouldst die for me!”
We also need to remember that Christ “fulfilled the law” for us, and since that is the case, why are we still trying to fulfill it ourselves and measure up to its standard? The truth is when we attempt to do so, we are in a sense actually negating the work of the cross in our lives; not in the sense that we cease to be God’s children, but in the sense that we are distancing ourselves from Him by ignoring the sufficiency of His completed work for us (Jn 19:30)—thus causing us to actually doubt that we really are His children, which is the natural outgrowth of thinking we need to make some significant contribution to the matter; clearly there is nothing we can offer to God that would cause Him to grant us “meritorious acceptance.” Until we come to the point of realizing that salvation is “all of God” (beginning to end), we will keep a barrier between Him and us, and continue to experience a frustrating distance in our relationship with Him. So if the issue of your performance is a problem for you, you need to ask yourself this question —
What is it in the cross that is not sufficient for me? What else could God have done that He did not do? The only answer anyone can offer is this: Why didn’t God remove my sin disposition from me…because it has done nothing but cause me problems! The truth of the matter is, every one of us can totally relate to that, but asking God to remove our sin disposition is akin to asking Him to completely change the economy under which we live, and change the rules of the game; obviously He is not going to do that! The fact is, an integral part of the life to which God has called us is that of dying to our sinful selves and living for Christ (Mt 16:24; 1 Cor 15:31; Eph 4:22-24). Admittedly, the presence of indwelling sin is a monumental problem for all of us, and crucifying it is neither easy nor painless — death is difficult and painful, and spiritual warfare is an excru-ciating bloody experience; by the way, only a “spiritually proud person” will deny that.
The really good news is that God is continually at work in us (regardless of our performance) conforming us to the image of His Son (2 Cor 3:18; Phil 2:12-13), and He promises (guarantees) to one day complete that work (Rom 8:29-30; Phil 1:6). The economy that He established for doing this work is one that “requires our participation and cooperation” – the good news is, the Holy Spirit gets all of us to cooperate with Him to some degree, though some of us are less cooperative than others—the more we cooperate, however, the greater will be our joy and our eternal reward… and the less we cooperate the greater will be our pain and our loss of reward. The wonderful news is, God is ultimately going to complete the work He started in us (one way or the other), thus removing the burden from our shoulders of making ourselves acceptable to Him (Mt 11:28-30). That burden was all borne by Christ! The fact that God indeed loves us unconditionally is what makes our salvation possible, and it is only upon the rock of a loving God that we are to build our lives (Mt 7:24-27). So don’t add any “buts” or “what ifs” to the equation!!! There are none!!! That means we must build our entire lives upon the fact that God really does love us!!! Every ounce of our salvation (past, present and future) is all the result of “God’s love and grace” (Eph 2:1-9); there is absolutely nothing we can “do” to make it more efficacious — God did it ALL!
All He asks of us is that we place our trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross; by the way, He has even gives us the grace to trust Him! Imagine this scenario — you’re drowning out in the middle of the ocean, and God comes along and reaches out and grabs your hand and draws you to safety — two things could have happened: you could have told God to let go of your hand and reject His loving offer to save you, or you could have expressed tremendous gratitude to Him for saving you (which is what you did if you are a believer). That is really a pretty accurate picture of salvation—it is all the work of a loving God! That’s how incredibly powerful God’s love is! So stop beating yourself up for being so sinful and undeserving! And stop looking at yourself and start looking at Christ! (Heb 12:1-2). He loves you unconditionally!
The Importance of Abiding in Christ
To abide in Christ means to be “intimately connected and fully occupied with Him;” it is to make Him the center of your life, the lord (master) of your life (Jn 15:1-11; 17:20-23; Phil 1:21; Col 1:1-3). What is the central thing that you are preoccupied with in life? If you have never really thought about that question, go for a walk somewhere and try and answer that question. Is it the stuff of this world? Is it your agenda? or is it God’s agenda? If it’s you just wanting to do your own thing, then this world and self fulfillment is your focus. The appropriate question is: Why are you investing your life in this world? Why are you so enamored with this world? What is the lure that has attached itself to your heart strings? You are aware, are you not, that this world is passing away? That one day God is going to close its doors forever? And that eternity awaits all of us? (Mt 25:14-30; 25:31-46; Rom 12:2; Gal 6:14; 2 Tim 2:4; 4:10; Tit 2: 11-14; Jam 4:4; 1 Jn 2:8,15-17). So either you want your life to “really count” and make an eternal difference, or you simply want to make your life as comfortable & enjoyable as possible. Consider the consequences of such a life (Lk 12:15-21).
Here is something else you should think about — if you really think you are a believer, yet this world is basically what you are living for, there is a strong possibility that you are not a believer; you are simply fooling yourself into thinking that your profession of faith and your pseudo-good behavior is “proof of your assumed status.” Be careful if those are your thoughts, because in and of ourselves none of us have anything to offer God. Jesus said,“There is none good but God alone” (Lk 18:19; Rom 3:12), and “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). God asks us to walk with Him in life, and to do so is to be occupied with Him…to love Him…to love His Word…to love His people… to trust Him…to obey Him…to depend upon Him…to value what He values, and to desire what He desires (Ps 1:2; 119:97, 127,165; Jer 15:16; Jn 7:17; 14:15; 2 Cor 10:5; Col 1:9-10; 3:1-3). To sum it all up, if God is truly your master, you will walk in the light of His love (1 Jn 1:7; 4:7-8, 20). When the Holy Spirit began the process of sanctification in our lives, we were given a mandate to “live out that which God had worked in to us” (Phil 1:5-6; 2:12-13); and in so doing to “walk in God’s love” (not only in word, but also in deed – Jn 13:34; Phil 2:4; 1 Jn 3:17-18) — and therein is the power that transforms our lives and the world around us!
Paul says, “Without love, anything we do for God or others has absolutely no value” (1 Cor 13:1-3). Dr. Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist and founder of the Menninger Clinic, said, “Love is the medicine for our sick old world. If people can learn to give and receive love, they will usually recover from their physical or mental illness.” The problem, however, is that few people have any idea of what true love is. Most people seem to think of it only in terms of nice feelings, warm affection, romance, and desire — which is essentially a selfish love; the direct opposite of biblical agape love. Self-giving love (agape love) demands something from us; it is a love that is more concerned with giving than receiving, and is as rare in the church today as it was in the church at Corinth — the reason being, agape love is unnatural to human nature. The supreme measure of agape love is God’s love — “He loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son to atone for our sins” (Jn 3:16). So love above all is sacrificial; it is the sacrifice of self for the sake of others, even for others who may care nothing at all for us and who may even hate us (Mt 5:44-45; Rom 12:20). It is not a feeling but a determined act of the will — love is the willing, joyful desire to put the welfare of others above our own — everything a Christian does should be done in love (1 Cor 16:14). Paul says, “Without love, everything we do for God or others is of absolutely no value, and profits us nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3), because our actions are self-centered. Agape love, ultimately, is a by-product of the character of the person doing the loving, rather than the worthiness of the object being loved. John MacArthur says in his commentary on I Corinth that “lovelessness is behind all disobedience to the Lord, and love is behind all true obedience.”
People who give lots of love, receive lots of love…so love creates love. The antithesis is also true, when I am not feeling loved, I don’t have much love to give, because I want to receive it. Thus love is circular: we can’t love unless we’re loved, and seldom are we loved unless we are loving — the good news is, love is available to us, because God is loving us all the time… and if we will but receive His love we can then give love. God often sends love to us through other people and through little loving impulses; our job is to recognize it when it happens and receive it. Love generally comes in little ways, and we generally give love in little ways. As we learn to act on little loving impulses, and recognize and receive the love that is being given to us, and we are grateful to God for those expressions of love, it increases, and we find ourselves giving more love and receiving more love. When we don’t feel loved, however, it is hard to see beyond the negatives, or beyond the ways in which we aren’t being loved. So when we don’t feel loved,we need God’s help — there is no other solution… because God ultimately is the source of all love. Therefore when we can’t see the love around us, when we seem deaf to God’s loving impulses, we need to ask Him to help us experience His love, and help us give His love to others. God so much wants us to receive His love — it is His gift to us — and as we accept it, we have love to give to others… and the cycle of love begins again. Remember this, God began the circle by loving us, but without the realization of His love for us (accepting it), we won’t continue it.
Is there “power” in love? Consider this: God purposed in Christ to love us to Himself! That in a nutshell is the power of God’s love! Paul said, “It is the power of God unto salvation!” (Rom 1:16). God took sinful creatures like you and me (children of the devil, adherents of darkness, lovers of self and His enemies – Jn 3:19; Rom 3:10-12; Eph 2:1-3), and purposed in Christ to love us to Himself that we might become His children (Jn 3:16; Rom 1:16; 5:8; 8:31-39; Eph 2:4-5; 3:19; Col 1:13-14; 1 Jn 4:10). Look at the power of God’s incredible love—it totally transformed us! It delivered us from being one of Satan’s kids, to being a joint-heir with Christ! That’s the power of love! Rather than remaining hostile enemies of God, we joined His army! Rather than being lovers of self, we became lovers of God! Rather than being a people of unrighteousness, we became a people of righteousness! To experience being loved by God is to know the powerful, irresistible nature of true love. Divine love is giving; it is not selfish and does not use…whereas human love is selfish and seeks its own; it seeks to benefit itself in some way, to be esteemed, and to even be worshipped! Moreover, God did not love us in order to get something from us… but to give Himself entirely to and for us!
Experiencing God’s Love Daily
The “mind” is the door through which the power of God’s love enters into our lives. That’s why the Bible says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). The message is this: In order to have a new life, you need a new way of thinking, and God designed the “mind” to be the door through which we enter the world of change. You can change your life by changing what you put into your mind; especially when it’s God’s love that you allow inside. Admittedly, there is considerable confusion regarding the role of the mind in spirituality and the experience of positive change. For many people, the mind is actually a “stumbling block,” because it is given an inordinate emphasis — those who worship at the altar of the mind elevate it to almost “god-status”—the positive thinking gurus preach a gospel of “mental omnipotence” that is supposed to cure all ailments. Nothing could be further from the truth. Conversely, those who have an “adversarial relationship” between their mind and faith, struggle through life trying to bring their unruly mind into submission. They often hold their mind in contempt because so many of their thoughts make them uncomfortable. They hope their spirituality will give them control over their unwanted, disturbing, and frightening thoughts. They even try to ignore their mind, hoping it will all go away, or at least stop irritating them with thoughts they don’t want to entertain. They try to divorce themselves from their mind claiming all they need to do is “live by faith” — if they only have enough faith, everything will turn out fine. Where is the truth in all this? It lies in between these two extremes. God designed your mind to be the door through which the power of His love flows into your life — it is through the “mind” where God’s love is brought to bear upon the problems of life. When we fill our minds with the power of God’s love, miraculous things happen… but it isn’t the mind that make them happen, it is God’s love that makes the miraculous come to pass. The truth is, you can have a new life if you open your heart and mind to the power of God’s love… you can actually become a new person who thinks new thoughts and experiences positive emotions.
The Christian physician, Dr. David J. Abbott, spent nearly his entire adult life providing medical services for some of the most disadvantaged people on the African continent. He learned to intentionally practice the presence of God in all of life, and see the goodness of God in everything around him. He says, “Everywhere and at all times, God is at work in my world… although He speaks quietly, I can hear His message of love when I become silent and listen.” Though practicing God’s presence may seem difficult at first, he says, if you continue His voice (love) will become louder and your vision will improve. When you practice God’s presence, you will experience His love, and you will feel the power of His love flowing through you to others… and each time you love and give assistance to others (the needy, the sick, the downtrodden, and the dispossessed) you practice the presence of God. You actually experience His presence when you love other people, and you experience His power by allowing His love to flow through you to others. By the way, you cannot ignore the needs of those around you and experience the presence of God. When God’s love flows through you, it heals you and the person you are loving. When you practice the presence of God, your whole life becomes reorganized around the central fact that God is at work in you and through you by the power of His love. Abbott encourages believers to daily “jump into the ocean of God’s love and have a life transforming experience!” Though it is easy to forget God and focus on other things, our problems, and ourselves, we need to remember that a wrong focus blinds us to the presence of God. All of God’s creation is a beautiful witness to God’s love and care, and it is all a perpetual reminder that God is good and that He wants our lives to be good as well. We do it by opening our hearts and minds to the power of God’s love. Abbott shares the secret of experiencing the power of God’s love on his website; if you are really struggling with “experiencing love” in your life, visit his website (PositiveSelfTalk.Com). Following are some of the ways Abbott says God frequently speaks to him:
• I hear God’s voice in the sound of laughter and joy.
• I see the beauty of God’s pallet painted in the sunrise and the sunset.
• I see His infinite power in the billions of galaxies that He created and hurled into space.
• I feel His care in the warmth of the sun that shines on my face.
• I see the twinkle in His eyes in the stars at night.
• I see reflections of His power in lightning and hear echoes of His power in thunder.
• Every time a baby is born, I know that God hasn’t given up on humanity.
• I hear God speak in the silence of the wilderness.
• I hear God sing in the songs He has given to each bird.
• I feel God’s love in the love that I have for my own children.
Some Final Thoughts
Take a moment and reflect upon the "power of hate" and the "power of love"…note the incredible contrast and the effects of these two powers — the power of hate is WAR, whereas the power of love is PEACE. Jesus said, “Either you are for Me you are against Me” (Mt 12:30) — either we love God or hate God…Christ-oriented or self-oriented…spiritual peacemakers or spiritual anarchists. Since God is the Supreme Reality behind all reality, nothing happens in this universe without it going across “His Desk” to accomplish His purposes. Though some of you may struggle with the idea of God being sovereign, consider this — the greatest philosophers who ever lived (including many who were non-believers in the strict sense of the word) postulated that GOD (the First Cause of all things) of necessity must be sovereign in the absolute sense. Think about it—if GOD is the Eternal Existent One (the One who existed before all things), then NOTHING can happen outside of His sovereign will – absolutely nothing – because by definition everything has its source in God, be it the unseen world or the seen world. Furthermore, nothing exists in the sense that God exists; thus Scripture refers to Him as “the Great I AM” (the ever existent One; Ex 3:14-15; 6:2-6; Jn 8:58; Heb 13:8; Rev 1:8; 4:8); as such, He is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. Fifty-eight times Scripture refers to God as“The Almighty” or “God Almighty,” because all power belongs to Him (cf. Gen 17:1; 35:11; Job 40:2; Rom 11:36; Rev 1:8; 4:8; 19:6) — every other power (so-to-speak) only exercises a power on loan to them, and no one is free to exercise that power outside the parameters God has ordained (Job 1:8-12). By the way, God is not in any danger of being over-powered and incarcerated by some other power in the universe — that’s the stuff of Hollywood — obviously if all power belongs to God there is no opposition in the absolute sense. Never cease to forget that God is “infinite” in every way…for Him to be less than infinite, He would be something, to be sure, says Francis Schaeffer, “but He would not be God!” Remember a trillion times anything that is not infinite, is a speck of dust compared to that which is infinite… so don’t get too enamored with that which is temporal.
Let’s again return to the topics of the “power of hate” and the “power of love.” The apostle Paul defines both the characteristics and the resultant effects of these two powers in his letters to the Romans and to the Galatians (Rom 8:2, 6,13; and Gal 5:19-23) —
• The power of HATE — results in “death” (Rom 8:2, 6, 13), and is characterized by immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry (worshipping that which is not God), sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing (Gal 5:19-21) — those are the diabolical qualities of ungodliness and unrighteousness.
• The power of LOVE — results in “life” (Rom 8:2, 6, 13), and is characterized by joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23) — those are the qualities of godliness and righteousness. Note the commands of Jesus, Paul, Peter and John —
Jesus: “Love one another” (Jn 13:34)
Paul: “Through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13)
Peter: “Fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22)
John: “Let us love one another” (1 Jn 4:7)
In addition to the various sources stated in the foregoing study, some of the themes and material was taken from the following authors —
John R. W. Stott — The Epistles of John, Eerdmans Publishing, 1964, p.163
James Montgomery Boice — The Epistles of John, Zondervan Publishing House, 1979, p. 149-150
John MacArthur— Commentary on First Corinthians, Moody Press, 1984, pp. 327-336
C. S. Lewis — The Four Loves, Harcourt Books, 1960
Bill Bright — The Greatest Power Ever Known; Website: http://www.cru.org/training-and-growth/classics/transferable-concepts.htm
Daniel Ehrlich — The Power of Love, Website: http://thelovecomission.com
Ellen McGrath — Author of article in Psychology Today, Website: http://www.psychologytoday.com
David J. Abbott — The Most Powerful Force in the Universe, Website: http://positiveselftalk.com
Jennifer Brennan — Studies Show Physiological Effects of Emotional Support, Website: http://llists101.his.com/pipermail/smartmarriages
Bob Trowbridge — The Effects of Love on Psychological Health, Website: http://www.helium.com
Lorri B. Smalls — The Effects of Love on Psychological Health, Website: http://www.helium.com
Christina Burbeck — Loving and Being Loved, Website: http://www.runningempty.org