What Is Biblical Love?
By Leslie Vernick
God calls us to be a people who love, even our enemies. But sometimes it’s hard to know what that looks like in action. One question I ask myself that helps me discern is what action can I take that would be in his or her best interest? For his or her good?
For example, It is always good to encourage someone’s positive qualities and look for ways to do so, even if it’s difﬁcult to ﬁnd some¬thing commendable (Hebrews 10:24). It is always in someone’s best interests to pray for them, even sacriﬁcially through fasting or intercession for extended periods of time.
The apostle Paul tells us that one of the characteristics of godly love is that it does no harm to a neighbor (Romans 13:10); therefore, we are careful with our tongue and our temper, even toward someone we don’t like. We show respect toward someone, not because he or she is acting worthy of it, but because they are a fellow human being, created in the image of God, and we do not want to disrespect God’s image in him or her (1 Peter 2:17; James 3:9-10).
The Bible also says that it is never in someone’s best interest to make it easy for him or her to sin. That would be bad for him (or her) and harmful to their relationship with God and usually with us. Therefore, be wise when sacrificing yourself. Ask yourself, does my sacrifice enable their own selfishness or irresponsibility to grow? (See Proverbs 6 for example)
In another example, Joan continued to permit her husband to live at home despite his drunken rages and hurtful behavior towards her and the children because she said, “I love him and I’m praying he will change.”
Of course Joan prays her husband will change, but is it in his best interests or giving him an opportunity to change when she allows him to continue to be hurtful and drunk with her and the kids with no consequences?
Please hear this. The most loving thing you can do for someone who is out of control with sin is to get out of the way. Allow the person to experience the natural consequences of his or her behavior. Proverbs 19:19 says, “A hot tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.”
It is only when a person experiences the pain and ugliness of his sin that he is most open and receptive to God and to his need to repent and change his ways. Otherwise, it’s easy to continue to deceive himself into believing that his sin is not that bad.
When we commit to love someone, we don’t promise to look out for what’s easiest for him or her or even necessarily for what he or she wants us to do. Instead we look for what God says is best for him or her. In loving that way, the person may even become angry with us because sometimes that kind of love does not feel good.
But that’s what God’s love looks like toward us. He always acts in our best interests, even though sometimes what’s best doesn’t feel comfortable or pleasant in the moment.
C.S. Lewis wisely writes. “Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.