5 Characteristics of Real Love

People often talk about the “will of God.” Is it God’s will for me to move somewhere, marry someone, or start a business? These questions are legitimate, and God certainly has something to say about them.

We should also remember, though, that what God wants us to do is clear. His greatest priorities are very clear. He wants us to be loving people. He wants us to love God and our neighbor. If we learn to do that, then we are doing what God wants the most. Becoming lovers of God and others will keep us busy and give us great fulfillment.

But what does it mean to love others? There’s a lot of fake love. There are a lot of misconceptions about it. It’s hard to show real love for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons is that we haven’t been taught how to love. We need to think more clearly about what love actually is.

The Apostle Paul gave an explanation of what love is all about in Romans 12. His more famous chapter on love is 1 Corinthians 13. 1 Corinthians 13 is more inspiring, but Romans 12 might have more solid instruction on what it means to really love. Let me show you five characteristics of real love from this chapter.

1. Real love is sincere: it starts in the heart. In Romans 12:9, we begin a long list of commands or rules. The first is, “Love must be sincere.” It must not be hypocritical. What does this mean? We can act like we love (“Bless our hearts”) and not really have that love in our heart. It is an act. We show kindness in our interactions but do not have it in our hearts. We have all known people who acted like they wanted to be with us but who ended up not having any real interest in us. It was a mask. We have also done this to others. It hurts when we discover it and when others discover it in us. This is insincere love.

What this means positively is that love begins in the heart. It is not enough to show it on our faces. We have to have it in our hearts. How do we really think and feel about people? That’s where love starts. Love is a genuine affection of the heart that desires union and communion with others.

2. Real love is attentive: it takes an interest in anybody it meets. Philostorgos is a Greek word. Paul uses it in Romans 12:10, and it is the only place we find it in the Bible. It is love like parents have for their children. It’s hard to translate into English in one word. Love takes an interest in other people’s well-being. Parents generally seek the well-being of their children in a way that simply gives. We need to learn to take that love and extend it out to others. Continue reading “5 Characteristics of Real Love”

Can We Love Others, Even When It’s Hard? (Study of Romans, Part 7: Romans 12:1-13:14)

Key Thought: We grow in joy, peace, and hope by learning to love others, even when it is hard.

Note: How do we find joy, hope, and peace in our lives? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about that. He teaches that we do it by having more faith, hope, and love. In the 7th part of this study, we consider, can we love others, even when it is hard? This is the 7th of an 8 part study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, and part 6 here.

Humans are made for community. We are made for each other, and we are made to love. Love is also our highest duty. All of God’s commands are summarized in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

However, to love people is challenging. People do not always act in lovable ways. They may hate us. They may do us wrong. They may do evil. They may hurt us.

The wrongs that people do to us are one of the chief things that rob us of our peace, hope, and joy. Everybody knows that resentment can embitter our life. It can poison our souls. It can harm our relationships.

So, what are we to do? How can we be loving and forgiving people that will let go of bitterness and love people in a way that will enable us to experience peace, hope, and joy? Continue reading “Can We Love Others, Even When It’s Hard? (Study of Romans, Part 7: Romans 12:1-13:14)”

Community Building: Humble Respect (1 Peter 2:11-17)

[Listen to an audio version here.]

In Seattle’s so-called autonomous zone, they claim they have eliminated the need for cops. Looking closer, you find that they have what they call “sentinels.” These are people, sometimes armed, who enforce basic rules and try to keep order. So, whatever they say, they have replaced the cops with . . . their own cops.

House churches are similar. They say that they are just informal gatherings. However, I’ve always found that one person becomes the de facto leader or pastor. They are just churches meeting in a house, whatever they think of themselves. They haven’t escaped structure or organization or being an institution. They simply emphasize meeting in homes.

Why do I bring this up? Here’s my point. All communities will have authority structures and hierarchy. Continue reading “Community Building: Humble Respect (1 Peter 2:11-17)”

Respect, No Matter What

One of the basic conditions for communicating with others is respect. When we honor who people are as human beings and what they can contribute, then we open to the door to communication.

Respect is easy as long as the temperature is low. When the temperature rises, insults come, and disrespect rears its ugly head, then it becomes extremely difficult to continue to show respect.

And that’s precisely what Jesus did. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23).

And that’s precisely what Jesus has called us to do. “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:20).

Yet as soon as we hear negative comments, experience distancing from people, or find out that others are talking behind our back, we forget: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

Why in the world, though, would we want to maintain respect when others show disrespect?

Here are a five reasons:

  1. You can win people. “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives” (1 Pet. 3:1). This is true not only for wives but for everyone. You can win people.
  2. You can be blessed. When we return insult for insult, we harm ourselves. When we keep ourselves from bitterness and anger, we keep ourselves. To do what’s right, even when it’s hard, is a great blessing and its own reward.
  3. You can trust God. Jesus did not return insult for insult when people attacked Him. However, that did not mean that He saw these things as fine or not wrong. “Instead, Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” God frees us from the burden of righting all wrongs by ensuring us that He will make all things right.
  4. You can be like Christ. Whenever Peter thought about Christ, he could remember His sufferings. Peter also saw him rise from the dead and ascend to heaven. Following Christ means experiencing the suffering Christ and afterwards sharing in His glory.
  5. You are the beloved. Peter begins his exhortation with the word, “beloved” or “friends” (1 Pet. 2:11). When we suffer, we should remember that we are the “beloved,” friends of Peter and friends of God. We are chosen by the Father, sprinkled with the blood of the Son (for forgiveness and renewal), and transformed by the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 1:2). We are called and empowered to live a life that rises above the tit for tat that dominates human life.

When others cause us to suffer, it’s so easy just to see us and them. But there are bigger issues at play. Our own conscience is at stake. Winning others is at stake. Glorifying God is at stake. Advancing God’s kingdom is at stake. The well-being of our soul is at stake. Showing the pattern of Christ to the world is at stake. If we can keep these larger issues in mind, we can maintain respect, even when we suffer. We will all have to suffer, the question is whether or not we will suffer well.

How to Talk About Anything at Any Time to Anyone

When the stakes are high, why is it so difficult to have good conversations?

One thing that keeps us from having a conversation is failing to see that a conversation has two parts. There is the content of the conversation, but there is also a context for the conversation.

The content is the thing that we want to talk about. The context is how we feel about the conversation and the people involved in it.

If someone feels disrespected or threatened (context), it is virtually impossible to discuss what we want to discuss (content).

Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler in their book Crucial Conversations use the metaphor of a pool to explain a conversation. As long as people feel free to put into the pool any of their thoughts, facts, or feelings, the conversation will keep going well. However, as soon as safety and respect break down, people don’t feel like they can freely put their thoughts and feelings into the pool, and the conversation collapses. Once this happens, you have to restore safety and respect in order to resume the conversation.

When you read the Bible, you will find that the Bible encourages us to speak openly about the difficult issues of relationships, morality, and religion. However, it always cautions us to do this with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15, cf. Gal. 6:1, 2 Tim. 2:24–25 and 4:2). This is the same idea.

So, how do we convey safety and respect in our conversations? Patterson et al. provide a lot of practical wisdom on how to establish safety and respect. Here are a few of their ideas:

  1. Use contrasting to avoid misunderstanding. For example, you could say to your wife: “When are you getting a haircut?” She could easily take this as a criticism of her hair. You can use contrasting to avoid this: “I’m not saying you need to get a haircut, but I remember you saying that you wanted to. I’d like to know what day you plan to do that so I can make sure the car is available for you.”
  2. Be tentative. Try to state how you see things in a way that invites people to talk about the issue. Let’s say you’re dealing with theft in a business. You can talk to the employee that you suspect of stealing by saying, “I’ve looked in the books, and it seems like there is $10,000 missing. Have you noticed that? Do you have any sense of why it might appear that way?” You don’t accuse. You start with the facts and invite someone to give you their understanding of the facts and their interpretation. That’s being tentative in a way that invites conversation on a difficult matter.
  3. Apologize. If you say something in a way that does not communicate safety and respect, apologize. If you show by your facial expressions or words that you don’t respect someone, just say you’re sorry.
  4. Establish mutual purpose. I remember hearing about a couple discussing where they wanted to move. One wanted to move to Kentucky and another to Vermont. Seems like two very diverse goals. However, as they talked about it, they realized that the real reason why the one wanted to move to Vermont was to live in the country and the reason why the other wanted to move to Kentucky was to be near their family. Once they realized that, they could establish a mutual goal of living in the country and near relatives. Our goals are often closer or more compatible than we realize. Step back a little bit, and you may find more mutual purpose than you thought possible

For me, this all means that I need to think not only about what I want to say but how I say it. I need to think about what’s the best way to say what I want to say and not merely the content of what I want to say. Giving attention to the context of a conversation enables me to talk about anything at any time to anyone.

Note: I’ve written a fuller explanation of these same principles in an article that you can read here.