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How often do you consider what you mean when you say, “I love you” to that special person? The actual words are not hard to say. The bigger issue is, What exactly do they mean? Or, in other words, What is their significance, especially for a follower of Christ?

Concisely stated, Love is the selfless care, concern, and subsequent action for another person which is motivated by and models Christ’s love.

Let me share six simple thoughts for you to consider regarding true love.

True Love

True love imitates Christ’s love (Ephesians 5:1-2). “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” To imitate means to copy or mimic something. As followers of Christ, we mimic His love toward others. Here, the emphasis is on the selflessness of His love which pleased His Father. True love then acts selflessly and puts the cares and concerns of others first, which in turn, pleases or honors God.

True love puts the other person first (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” With the love of Jesus motivating our love for Him and others, we choose not to live for self and self-pleasure, but instead, choose to live for Christ and others.

True love never harms the other person; instead, it seeks to bring the other person pleasure (Romans 13:8-10). “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Our obligation to others is to love them by bringing them greater pleasure in life, to help them feel our love. What can we do so that our neighbor, whom we love, is blessed, encouraged, and refreshed? Furthermore, we do everything in our power not to harm or hurt our neighbor.

True love prioritizes giving not receiving (John 3:16). “For God so loved the world that He have His only Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” If we are going to practice true love, our intentions must be toward giving instead of receiving (cf. 1 Cor 7:1-5). It is so easy to be driven more by the gifts we receive than primarily finding pleasure in giving. Often we are distracted when we do not receive what we personally want in a particular relationship or from a particular person, which in turn encourages selfish, less-than-loving, responses from us toward him or her.

True love remains consistent (1 John 4: 2 Corinthians 5:21). “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” We didn’t deserve God’s love. He loved us and Jesus became the wrath-bearing sacrifice for us – before we ever loved Him. We deserved His judgment, wrath, and, ultimately, condemnation. Yet, God still chose to love us despite what we deserved. God’s love is contraconditional; it is in spite of what we deserve. Paul described it this way: “For He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we [saved people] might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God loves us and treats us like Christ; He placed our sin on Jesus, Who ultimately paid for them. This is why it is important to consistently love. Regardless of what is deserved or is not deserved by the other person, you love others consistently.

True love originates in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” True love is produced by the Spirit Who lives in you. When you have a hard time loving, recognize, that is the time you need to consider if you are walking in the Spirit or are living by the flesh. Paul explained that God grants us daily opportunities to lovingly serve those around us. We must choose then to lovingly serve rather than taking the energy God provides us daily and serve ourselves (Gal 5:13).

So, before you go tell someone you love him or her…

  • Have you made the choice to truly love someone or are you struggling instead with love of self?
  • Do you love from a desire / decision to put the other person first?
  • Does your love seek to bring another person pleasure or does your love harm the other person?
  • Do you love because of what you get out of it, or do you love because of what you can give?
  • Does your love ever depend upon the other person “deserving” it, or is it contraconditional love like Christ’s?
  • Does your love reflect the beauty of walking in the Spirit or is it consistent with walking in the flesh?

If your loves lacks the qualities of Christ’s love…

If your love lacks the qualities of Christ’s love, talk to God and seek His forgiveness. Consider where your love has been weak and create a clear plan to do move forward. Determine specific and concrete ways that you can demonstrate your love. If you don’t “feel” like it, ask God to give you the strength to love like Christ. Take time to meditate on Christ’s love for you, His sacrifice on the cross, and His daily provision of grace. Allow the tenderness of the gospel to soften your heart toward the one you love. Plus if you are struggling thinking the other person doesn’t deserve your energetic, creative, selfless love, then again, reflect on how Jesus’ love never fails to be those things toward you.

Don’t miss this…many times in marriage counseling as a pastor and counselor, when challenged to love their spouse like Christ, I hear people say, “I just don’t feel like it.” There are two issues to consider. First, when this is said, they choose to allow their feelings to dictate their response instead of allowing Christ’s love toward them to dictate their love toward others – which is wrong. Secondly, if you are married, as a friend of God and desiring to be a friend to your spouse, why wouldn’t you want to demonstrate love for your closest neighbor? Why wouldn’t you want to exhibit love? Why wouldn’t you want to bring him or her pleasure which produces greater joy? Any reason you can imagine that would encourage you to not bring pleasure and joy is selfish and sinful. Love perseveres. Love acts. Love sacrifices. Love imagines. Love demonstrates. And do you know what you will find? You will find your own joy in the process because God is honored and your spouse is pleased.

What a great privilege to share the love of Jesus with another person!

Now, go tell your special person you love him or her, and, with the passion of Christ, mean it and live it!

© Kevin N. Carson, D.Min. 2016