If it doesn’t cost me anything, it isn’t really love.
During the most recent Bible class I taught, I challenged my class with the above statement. It is my restatement of this quote from Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm:
“The moment I deliberately do something definite either for God or others that costs me something, I am expressing love.”
I am still pondering if my restatement is true to Mr. Keller’s intent. I know I find his statement very challenging. More importantly, I am examining whether my statement and Mr. Keller’s are true to who God is.
I have learned a lot about loving people. I nurture, support and give of myself unconditionally to my children. In thirty years of marriage, I learned that love was a choice and not a feeling. I learned to put someone else before myself, to respect another person’s needs, feelings and preferences above my own. In two and a half years of caring for my husband through cancer treatment, I learned how to pour myself out for another human being with no expectation of reciprocation. Through friendship and sisterhood, I learned to accept people as they are, mostly, and to be a light in their lives that points to God. In thirty-eight years of walking with God, I am learning God’s love is unsearchable and unmatched.
“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” 1 John 3:16
To express love, according to Mr. Keller,
I must be deliberate,
I must act,
I must do it for God or for someone other than myself,
it must cost me something.
I must be deliberate. Love is, indeed, a choice. It must be intentional. There is no such thing as accidental love; accidental affection, generosity, or compassion, perhaps. To choose to love another person is to decide actively that I will provide for another person’s need or desire or best interest, freely, without reluctance or resentment. If my will is not involved, then I am not expressing love, no matter how much the recipient of my haphazard activity feels blessed, no matter how much God may use my accidental endeavor to bless another. Crumbs falling from the table that the beggar may grab before the dogs get to them do not come from love.
God gave me free will for this purpose–that I would choose to love Him and follow His example in love.
“Beloved , if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11
I must act. Love is an action, not a feeling. In fact, I can love another and not feel affectionate towards them. My heart must be willing to act in another person’s best interest, but I can love another and have difficulty with how they behave toward me. I can love another and still my relationship with them is broken. However, I cannot love a person and continue to harbor ill will towards them. (Matthew 5:43-48) God’s perfect law of liberty is love. It frees me to love the unlovable, to do what is best for them in spite of how I feel about them, just as He loves me.
“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:25
I must do it for God, or someone other than myself. When I act in the best interest of another by my choice, if it serves my interest in any way, it is not love. I may be acting with affection, I may be sharing with kindness, I may be giving to satisfy a need, I even may be blessed because I act with the desire to serve another, but if I accept a benefit from it, if I gain from it in any way, it isn’t really love. It may not be a bad thing, it may be a very good thing, but it is not an act of love if I gain anything from it–self-esteem, financial or material gain, social stature, or good will. This is the place where I get stuck. I want human credit for the good deeds I perform. I want the feel-good experience and the pat on the back. True love, though, is truly selfless. True love knows its only reward comes from God Himself, and knows His recognition is more than enough.
“…it [love] does not seek its own,…” 1 Corinthians 13:5b
“Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.” 1 Corinthians 10:24
It must cost me something. Love is sacrifice. It requires that I be ‘worth’ less after than before I give it away. When I truly love, I pour out on another what I would have given to myself. And I feel the loss. I know that I am less in some way. Whether it be time or energy or money or affection or patience or kindness or food or clothing or shelter or discipline or example, whatever I give selflessly, if I know what it costs me and I do it anyway for the benefit of God or for the benefit of another human being, it is an act of real love. If I give out of my surplus, out of what I don’t really need, out of my wealth, if my serving does not challenge me in some way, it is not an act of love.
I need only to look to God Himself for the example of true love:
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:5-8
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
Selfless–“while we were yet sinners”
Sacrificial–“died for us”
God is good. God is love!
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.” Psalm 73:25
“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:8
All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan
NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.