“Hey, Scott, You’re Doing It Wrong.”
Thank God that we can learn big lessons from seemingly insignificant events that occur in our daily lives. One of the simplest, but most impactful examples for me happened on most weekdays. My wife, then a stay-at-home mom, with two young toddlers and me, a 7am – 5pm, Mon-Fri company-man, both had assumptions about how we expected to be lovingly received at the end of the workday. But life happens. Both of us were stressed in our own ways – with Amber being pushed to the limit with toddler pandemonium, while I was overtaxed even before coming home. We selfishly preferred having our own versions of love fulfilled and felt violated when that did not happen. You see how this was a recipe for strife.
What Love Is Not.
Most of us have constructed our definitions of love from our own experiences, and when that is violated, we are ready to fight for them. Often, these personalized definitions are way too small, with us only thinking of one or two attributes of love. For example, many men say, “I need to feel respected,” and women say, “I need to feel loved.”
Think of love more like a diamond. There are many facets to the surface of a diamond, and this is similar to love, but most of us view only one or two aspects, not considering the whole. Love is bigger and more dynamic than we realize, just like there is more to a diamond than one or two facets.
Learning to Love Well from the Ordinary.
By God’s grace, I think Amber and I have become better students of loving well. How? We have grown an increased understanding of how God defines love, how much He loves us through His Son, Jesus, and by using Christ as a model, how that love looks in action. Praise be to God for that knowledge and understanding. His Spirit has changed us and magnified both of our love for God and others to those around us. This understanding has changed the way I think about struggles or interactions I have with Amber (and others). On good days, it moves the point of reference from myself, and my sometimes-singular views, to God’s views of love in all its multi-faceted-ness (remember the diamond). This viewpoint is then brought redemptively into the situation. How does this show in our daily lives?
We understand loving well plays out in insignificant events that happen every day. Nowadays, my wife and I both empathically realize we each have our own days with their own trials, leaning more on grace and patience in the initial moments of greeting each other. We try not to have assumptions constructed from our limiting, personal definitions of love, realizing our selfish sense of entitlement is not at all part of “loving well.” (More about what repentance in those situations looks like later.)
Love is Bigger Than Our Experiences.
We all have a narrow view of love. We are prone to think of a smaller, lowercase view of “love,” and not a bigger, uppercase view of “LOVE.” This uppercase view of “LOVE,” is based on God, who He is, and what He has done for us. A beautiful demonstration of showing us that love was through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. See here in 1 John 4:7-11 a genuine love, in its grandness, where its foundations are rightly in God:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this, the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have 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. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
This bigger LOVE is also a calling to Christians to love one another like Christ has loved us, so that we can show the people around us the personal God who spoke the universe into existence and wants to reconcile a wayward people back to himself. See 2 Corinthians 5:18-21:
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
God Is Love, and He Shows Us That Through His Son.
God broadens love. Remember, capital L. He moves love outside of ourselves and our experiences. God centers love on the fact that He, himself, is love. Love is also action-oriented (think verb); it will sacrifice. As we see in John 15:9-13:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Therefore, our love should be motivated by God’s love towards us. Christ helps us grasp the depth of God’s love for us, so we can love others like He loved us. Christ was God incarnate – referred to as “Emmanuel” which means God with us. As Christians, we are united to Christ via the Holy Spirit, which enables and encourages us to act incarnationally, equipping us to love others well, helping to redeem situations for the better. This makes “loving well” not all just positive affirmations; at times, love needs to say and do things that are hard – not all being “well received.”
We Communicate What We Value.
God is good in giving me my wife, Amber. In my less stellar moments, when I am lost in self-centeredness, I realize my problem with God is greater than my problem with Amber. What?
Often, my relationship problems are worship problems. I am loving something more than I am loving God in that moment. This displaces my love for God with a selfish idol, like the pursuit of my comfort. And when my idol comfort gets violated, it shows. For example, I am worshiping self, and bowing the knee to the idol of comfort, when I arrive home to a chaotic household, desiring to relax, and display my frustrations with Amber and ignore the toddler pandemonium my poor wife has gone through.
The heart of loving well in our communications is rooted in the 1st and 2nd Great Commandment, let’s look at Matthew 22:37-40:
“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
For now, we will focus on the 1st Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37), “Loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” And we will cover the 2nd Great Commandment later.
The first command to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is a far-reaching task covering every area of our lives. Also, within the terms heart, mind, soul, and strength, there is an obvious overlap. God uses these overlapping terms so that there can be no mistaking what He requires from us – an all-consuming love. The Bible has a word for this all-consuming love. It is called worship: a devotion that shapes and directs every area of one’s life.
This may surprise you, since we often use the word worship in a very limited sense. People think of worship as a set of specific activities that we perform on one day of the week, usually Sundays. We go to a special place, sing songs, pray, listen to a message, stand, kneel, and so on. We then leave that special place and worship is over. But it’s not!
In fact, as humans, we are built for worship – in that we are worshiping God or something else. When it is not God and “something else,” it can be ourselves, another person, group, or object (like sex or money). This is called idolatry. Therefore, our calling as Christians is to be guided by our love of God, in our every act, including how we communicate. It is all to be guided by our devotion to him. See Romans 12:1 says:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
For further information on worship, please refer to “Communication: A Revelation of What We Truly Love.” as a good starting place.
The Spiritual and the Non-Spiritual. Is There Such a Thing?
Why does my worship matter in how I communicate? Isn’t this a matter of my spiritual life? Isn’t this separate from my nonspiritual life? God is only concerned about what we do with our spiritual lives, but we are left to handle the rest, right? This division of the spiritual from the nonspiritual does not match reality. This cultural fallacy is like pounding a square pig through a round hole – not only does it not work, but it is also harmful if believed. This belief sets us up to think that things like our relationships and marriages are outside of God’s interests. When we think in such a subdivided way, we lose the much more holistic view of the spiritual and nonspiritual being interconnected or woven together. God is here, concerned, and has thoughts about how we look at and handle our relationships amongst all the other areas of our lives.
Loving God Is a Start to Good Communications.
So, the lack in our ability to love means whatever problems we are having with others, we have a bigger problem with God. Jesus gave two commandments instead of one in the 1st and 2nd Great Commandment in order to show that loving your neighbor is a necessary way of expressing love for God. In this way, the 1st Great Commandment is a gateway to a journey into loving others around us properly. What do you mean by that? We know to worship God is to have our entire life and being oriented around Him. So, now you could say that the foundation of loving others well (like your spouse) can happen only when you are truly worshipping God. The 1st Great Commandment isn’t just an obligation that God lays upon us, but a blessing, the first waypoint on a journey to change.
Loving God = Honoring Others. Loving Idols (Sex, Money, Comfort, Control) = Manipulating Others.
Let’s recall my previous scenario of how my wife and I greet each other after work, as a diagnostic tool. How we interact with people exposes or points back to what we are loving in any given moment – God or idol? On those less than stellar days, it is like replacing God as the center of my solar system, which is my mind and heart. How do you think I would act? Like most people in this state of sinfulness, I lean toward manipulating others rather than honoring others because in that given moment, I am treating Amber more like a means-to-an-end (or treating her like an object) losing sight of her as a person to the idol of comfort. This is happening less, thanks be to God for His Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in believers.
The Vertical and Horizontal Components of the 1st and 2nd Great Commandments.
Regarding the 1st and the 2nd Great Commandments, thinking of a cross formation is helpful in illustrating the necessity of our hearts and minds needing to be in the right place for communications to even start from a loving place. On the inside, enabled by the Holy Spirit, the Christian’s stance (or attitude), their heart and mind, is vertically oriented, loving God (worshipping Him); This is the 1st Great Commandment. This naturally produces the horizontal component, the 2nd Great Commandment which is an outcropping from our hearts and minds (the 1st GC) when love for God travels out through our mouths, hands, and feet (actions) to others around us – loving them well within the specific situation. When both these commandments are lived out, it is God acting through us.
The 2nd Great Commandment Is Incarnational.
The incarnation is a historical event when Christ came to Earth as a human and lived as a man with us. That is why we call Christ the Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.” This act of God in history split time into BC and AD – to redeem wayward sinners like you and me! See in John 1:14, 18:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
As Christians, we are called to be incarnational to those around us. There are two parts to this. First, it has an agenda, see John 17:20-23 for the agenda:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Second, it is a calling, 2 Corinthians 5:20,
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
This calls all Christians to be His ambassador’s – representing His message, His methods, and His character.
Note: A great resource that unpacks this further is in a book called, “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.” By Paul Tripp. (Specifically, pages 97-104). This is an affiliate Amazon link.
The 2nd Great Commandment Is Action-Oriented. “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.”
The 2nd Great Commandment speaks to us as sinners because, as sinners, we want to love our neighbor less than ourselves. Therefore, we need to come to God actively and through prayer to enable us! Pray and ask for this: Philippians 2:13,
“for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
What happens when you make love a verb? That means you are acting incarnationally, right? Which naturally leads to the 2nd Great Commandment. Think what this looks like in your relationships with co-workers, our spouses, etc.
The Call to Communicate with Intelligence and Creativity.
Let’s think about this – is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit loving you now in the same ways compared to other Christians around you? No! He is loving you creatively and intelligently, which will look differently. What does that mean? What would that look like? He is loving you uniquely. So, we are called to love those around us with godly creativity and intelligence within the context of the situation we find ourselves. How can you act incarnationally in the situation? What would this look like in how you interact with your frustrated spouse, needy coworker, estranged friend, mother-in-law?
Attitude Is Important.
Questions to Ponder: A Gauging Tool.
- When we are not loving God (the 1st GC) but are in pursuit of sex or money, what are we doing with the 2nd Great Commandment – the call to love others around us like ourselves?
- What does manipulation, compared with honoring others, look like in this situation?
Well, let’s look at what you’re doing with the 1st Great Commandment. Where your heart and mind are is important, expressed in its most basic level as – attitude or your stance. What we are doing with the 1st and 2nd Great Commandments always shows up in our stance – it can go either way (See above picture). When we are loving God and others – we honor others. When we are loving ourselves or something else – we manipulate others to get what we want. Whether honoring or manipulating, this affects how we view people and our approach to them. Therefore, our stance (loving God or being selfish) influences every aspect of how we do relationships: communicating, defining relationship roles, expressing intimacy, and handling conflict. People are made in the image of God and belong to Him. That is why we are called to honor them. They are not objects to be more valued or less valued by us. They do not exist for our use or purposes. We need to be honest and realize, as sinners, we all are manipulative. Do not wonder if you manipulate. You do, but ask yourself, “How do I manipulate?” Taking the time to name the ways you manipulate others will aid in genuine change and growth in loving well. Why? Because it enables specific repentance, which equals specific change! Note: Another great resource that unpacks this point further is a book called “Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change through Ordinary Moments.” By Winston T. Smith. (Specifically, Chapter 6). This is an affiliate Amazon link.
If you need more personalized help with communications or marriage counseling, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for counseling from a biblical perspective at https://www.providencebiblicalcounseling.org.