Loving Others — What Does It Look Like?
Anyone who reveals God’s character in their life, and who attributes all honor to Jesus as the Son of God, is living in unity, harmony, and loving fellowship with God. And thus we have been genuinely transformed from beings motivated and driven by selfishness to fully healed children of God, motivated and energized by the love God has for us. God is love, and those who live a life of love live in unity and oneness with God—and God with them. It is in this way—through the fellowship of a community of love—that God’s true character of love is made complete among us. And because we have been restored to full unity with him and are like him in heart, mind and character, we are confident to stand before him. In love, there is no fear. Fear is part of the infection of selfishness, but is purged by love, as fear has to do with concern for oneself. The one who remains self-focused and afraid has not been healed by God’s love.
We are able to love only because he first loved us. If we claim to love God, sacrificing self for him, but go right on exploiting others—we are liars. For those who exploit the person near them—whom they have seen—cannot sacrifice self for God whom they have not seen. God’s prescription is this: Internalize God’s love—which transforms the entire being—so that you love both God and people; for whoever loves God will also love others (1 John 4:16–21 The Remedy).
But what does it look like to love others? To love others means that we seek to do what is in their best interest, even when they might want something else. In order to do this, we must not only have loving concern for the other person, but we also must understand God’s design laws, how reality works, what the problem is—and then, when appropriate, use our ability to act in harmony with God’s design laws to bring healing influence to others. Below is a series of thought-problems designed to help you consider how to apply God’s principles to bless; in other words, to love with action, to do what is best for others.
If your grandmother is weak and struggles to walk but is able to walk, is it an act of love to give her a motorized wheelchair for her home so that she doesn’t have to walk anymore? What if your grandmother has arthritis and walking is painful—would it then be an act of love to give her the wheelchair?
If your child struggles to learn to read or do math at a fourth-grade level, is it an act of love to pass them to the fifth grade even if they haven’t mastered their current level? What would happen when faced with even more difficult material at the higher level? What happens to their forming sense of self?
If your friend is hungry because they have a serious drug problem, won’t work, have been arrested multiple times for shoplifting in order to fund their addiction, and then they ask you for money for food, is it an act of love to give them money?
If your child disobeys repeated warnings and touches a hot stove, is it an act of love to quickly numb their hand so that when they touch the stove they don’t feel any pain?
If you’re hiking with your spouse and she falls and breaks a leg, and you need to splint her leg, but doing so will cause more pain, would it be an act of love to splint the leg? Would it be loving to have surgery even if that caused pain? And when it is time for physical therapy and your spouse cries from the pain, is it an act of love to do her exercises for her?
What if it is not a broken leg, but a broken heart—she has been traumatized in the past and is hurting—is it an act of love to focus on merely relieving her pain, or to focus on healing the emotional wound even if the work to heal it is painful? What if she gets angry and accuses you of attacking her—is it love to accept the accusation and apologize for trying to help?
If your child has a temper tantrum when you don’t give them candy, is it an act of love to give them the candy to stop their tantrum? What if it isn’t a child, but an adult, perhaps your spouse, who yells, accuses, screams, threatens to leave, or even threatens suicide if you don’t do something they want—is it an act of love to give in to them in order to calm them down?
Once there is brokenness, there are no pain-free options. The path of love is to bring healing, even though the healing interventions are painful. Unfortunately, many people focus merely on the immediate experience and instead of seeking to heal, seek to relieve the pain or discomfort and, thus, actually harm. Love understands design law and reality and acts to heal and restore even if it is painful.
Love Your Neighbor as You Love Yourself
When the Bible says that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, what does it mean?
Do parents with three children and limited income have to prioritize their resources, time, and money to fulfill their responsibility to their own children, even if that means not feeding homeless children in the neighborhood? If resources are limited, is it an act of love to neglect one’s own children in order to give to needy children in the community?
If a farmer loves people and wants to feed as many starving people as he can, choosing to donate all the food from his farm to the poor, and refusing to take any food or even eat one meal a day, will he actually be capable of loving others?
If there were a mass-casualty incident in your community and a call for blood donations went out, is it an act of love to donate? But how much? Would it be an act of love to limit the amount of blood you donate? And what about the doctors and nurses providing the care—would their refusal to give blood, because they are working double shifts and need all their energy to care for the wounded, be an act of love?
Is it love for a church to limit the amount of money it gives away for missions or feeding the poor? Is it necessary for the organization to maintain its own health in order to be able to continue ministering over the long term? Is it an act of love to set such limits on charitable giving? Would the church be best served in giving every penny away and go into bankruptcy?
What about a government? Is it an act of love for a government to set limits on whom they help? Like a parent, should the government use its resources for its citizens, or bankrupt itself trying to help all the needy peoples of other countries?
What about setting boundaries at a nation’s border that regulates those coming into a country—is that an act of love? What happens to the most vulnerable in a society when unregulated immigration occurs? Do wages rise for the poorest? Would social resources, such as Medicaid, low-cost housing, mental-health treatment programs, social support systems, student aide, etc., be more available for the most needy in our society—or would those systems be overwhelmed and, thus, those with the least resources would find themselves with less opportunity to get assistance to develop and advance?
The first rule of caregiving, or ministry to others, is the health of the caregiver. If the ones providing care, ministry, and service are incapacitated, then those who are in need can’t be helped. Thus, it is an act of love for the farmer to eat, for the blood donors to limit the amount they donate, and for churches and nations to limit the amount they give away.
When Rahab lied, was she acting in love for the spies hiding on her roof?
When Loving Others Is Hard
What is the loving action to take for a Christian wife who is repeatedly beaten by her husband, who has never been sexually unfaithful to her? What happens in the heart, mind, and character of the husband who beats his wife? If the wife loves her husband, does she submit and allow such behavior to continue—or does she, in love, stand up and say, “What you are doing is searing your conscience, hardening your heart, warping your character, and I love you too much to go along with this; either get into therapy to deal with your anger issues, or in love, I must leave”?
If you had a prodigal son who left home with his inheritance and used it to live wildly, blowing all his money and ending up living with pigs eating slop, would it be an act of love to send him more money? To put him up in a hotel? To send him pizza delivery every day? Or does love, no matter how painful, allow the child to reap what he has sown in order to provide him the opportunity to “come to his senses,” and turn his life in a healthy direction?
If your child were chasing a ball heading toward traffic, does love not only yell a warning, but perhaps even threaten a spanking if necessary to get the child to stop? What if neighbors hear the threats and think you are a cruel parent? Would you still yell at your child to save his life even though everyone would misunderstand you?
Is it an act of love for God in the Old Testament to threaten His children, who were running into the self-destruction of pagan worship—even if millions would later read about this history in Scriptures and end up concluding that God is a punishing God?
Let’s consider the movie The Miracle Worker, which is about Helen Keller. Helen’s mother loved her very much; she had a tender heart and felt deeply for the suffering of Helen, always acting to protect her and limit things that would cause her pain or add to her suffering. Yet under her mother’s care, Helen became a dysfunctional, out-of-control child who required constant oversight and attention.
Annie Sullivan, hired as a nanny and teacher, set boundaries with Helen, and Helen resisted, fighting back and eventually slapping Annie, who responded by slapping her back. (What do you think would happen today if a social worker slapped a blind, deaf, and mute child?) Was Annie abusing Helen? Why would most people today want a social worker who slapped a blind, deaf, and mute child arrested or removed from their job?
But under Annie’s care, Helen learned self-control, learned to sign, read braille, and eventually got a college education and achieved many things. Who functionally loved Helen more: her mother or Annie?
Why did Annie have to take Helen away from mother’s day-to-day care? Was there tension between her mother and Annie? Was it because either of them wanted to harm Helen? No; they both wanted what was best, they both had good motives, but the mother was driven by compassion without understanding how reality works. She let her feelings drive her actions. But Annie understood the laws of exertion, the laws of sowing and reaping, and the law of love and applied these to her actions in a way Helen’s mother did not.
Many in society today struggle with how to actually apply love in the choices they make. As Christians, we are to be thinkers, to understand God’s methods and principles, and to take actions that bring healing and restoration to people, leading them to develop their God-given abilities to the fullest. Such actions require understanding of God’s character of love, His design laws on how things work, and a willingness to act on truth, principle, and not feelings, which sometimes means tolerating the suffering of others or allowing us to be misunderstood.
Love does what is right, healthy, and reasonable—in harmony with God’s designs because it is right, healthy, and reasonable. Love doesn’t do what others think seems right, but what is actually right, even if it is painful at the time. We are only able to do this as we come into unity with God, keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, and understand God’s design laws for life.