Thousands if not millions of couples stand together and listen to a minister read 1 Corinthians 13 during their wedding ceremony. Many guests hold hands, cast sideways glances, and smile in memory of their own special moments. What a perfect statement for a wedding ceremony: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (v. 13).
In that moment, the focus is on love between a man and a woman. But even though that chapter is often referred to as “the wedding chapter,” God intended the concept of love to extend far beyond marriage.
The Greatest Component
Love is the greatest component in every relationship. The love of Christ. As believers, we know that Christ loved us so much that he died for us. When we surrender our lives to him, his love within us touches those around us.
Sometimes loving others takes effort and creativity. Some people are hard to love. In other instances, love flows with hardly a thought.
Love in Action
The church should be the leader in showing others how to love like Christ. Often those on the outside think of the church as one big happy family where everyone loves each other unconditionally. For some churches that may be true. But most are like any other family. There are times when everyone is happy and times when someone is mad at someone else, not speaking, or avoiding another believer altogether. Here are a few suggestions for loving those around you, both inside and outside the church, during the easy times and the not so easy ones.
Reach out. Have you ever had a thought that perhaps you should call a friend, make cookies for a neighbor, or stop by as you pass someone’s house? Do you act on those feelings? It’s possible that thoughts like these are promptings of God’s Holy Spirit, encouraging you to show love to someone you know. Often such thoughts are random and seem unusual. Don’t shrug them off. Make that call or visit. Bake those cookies. God is honored when you pay attention to his nudgings.
Sarah ordered a new dress. She loved the blue color but when it arrived, it didn’t fit. She kept thinking about her friend, Rosie, whose husband had just lost his job. Sarah knew Rosie wanted to go to the women’s luncheon at church but probably didn’t have anything to wear. Sarah couldn’t get Rosie off her mind. Rosie was just a bit smaller than Sarah and the dress would probably fit her perfectly. Feeling a bit awkward, Sarah didn’t send the dress back. She went to Rosie’s house, rang the doorbell, and smiled when Rosie answered. “I brought you a dress,” Sarah said timidly.
“Oh,” Rosie said. “I love the color. Thank you so much.”
The two women hugged and Sarah left, feeling good about having acted upon her impulse.
Pray. If you are in conflict with another person or find someone hard to love, pray. It’s hard to be negative toward someone you’re praying for. Don’t make it a one-time prayer but pray regularly and diligently for those you want to love. Ask God to let his love flow through you and to let it be evident so that others will ask how you love everyone so well.
Respect Differences. God created us in his image, but that doesn’t mean we’re perfect. Within that image he gave us choices and unique personalities. Some call them temperaments. It’s the part of you that relates to others. For some people that is easy. For others, it is hard and takes work.
When you look at your relationships, appreciate your friends, family, coworkers, and others as God made them. We are not all alike but we are all his. We have different strengths and weaknesses. Understanding who we are can free us to let others be who they are.
Maggie was extremely introverted and her perfectionist tendencies made her and those around her miserable. One day a friend invited her to church. They were studying personalities in Sunday school that morning and her friend thought Maggie might enjoy it. Maggie was fascinated as she learned about herself and how judgmental she was when she imposed her perfectionist inclinations on others. When Maggie left Sunday school that morning, she was free, not only to be herself, but also to allow others the same privilege.
Apologize. If you are in conflict with someone, make apologies and amends. Do it sooner rather than later. Make an effort to get to know the person with whom you’re in conflict. Learning someone’s story may reveal past experiences that cause unlovable behavior that has nothing to do with you. Spending time together may show you what you have in common. You may find out that your friend needs someone like you involved in his or her life.
Forgive. If someone has hurt you, forgive. It’s not always easy to forgive others, but harboring bitterness and not forgiving others will only hurt you. The person who hurt you has likely moved on and never thinks about the situation while you are dwelling on it and the memory is making you miserable. It’s freeing to forgive someone who has hurt you. One of the first verses we learn as children is, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32, ESV). Putting that verse into practice will allow the love of Jesus to flow freely through you to others.
Grow. Don’t neglect your daily quite time. It affects your relationships. If your goal is to love others as Christ has loved you, you will succeed only if you know his method of love well.
Be bold. Never hesitate to be God’s hands and feet to others. Be alert to the things going on around you. When you see a young mother at the grocery store struggling to manage her stroller and the grocery cart, offer to push one. When you see someone coming to a door with an armload of boxes, open the door and assist. There are many little things that happen within our sight or earshot that we can turn into blessings by helping someone. Don’t miss an opportunity to show God’s love to people, even if you don’t know them.
Many children have memorized Bible verses like “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “Love one another” (John 13:34, NIV), a verse that ends with the phrase, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Though loving one another may not be easy, it is always possible when you allow the love of Christ to flow through you.
Linda Gilden is an award-winning author, speaker, and editor. Linda loves seeing people allow Christ to love others through them. Linda lives in South Carolina with family and loves every minute spent with her six grandchildren. www.lindagilden.com.