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Learning to Love

January 2002
By: Debra O'Leary
God promises two things for our obedience: His presence and
complete joy. Nothing in this world, no affection from friends
and no pleasure in self-interests, can come close to the
measure of satisfaction found in the joy of God's presence.

The other day I was chatting with my very young neighbor about the advantages and disadvantages of owning a dog. I was of the opinion that owning a dog was a responsibility that I didn't want since I don't really love animals. She was also of the opinion that dog ownership was a responsibility she wouldn't want as an adult, so she said that she just wanted a puppy.

We laugh at such an obvious flaw in a child's thinking. Who wouldn't realize that puppies grow up and that the responsibility continues for many years? Yet, we often fail to take into consideration the fact that when we counsel against abortion we're hoping to save not just a baby but an entire life. The difference seems insignificant if we're merely trying to prevent abortions, but we must do all we can to help the mother make godly decisions, beginning with her continuation of the pregnancy through to the choice between allowing adoption and rearing her own child.

Wise choices for the benefit of the child are made only in love. The decision to place one's child for adoption means bearing the discomforts of pregnancy and delivery, giving up the pleasures of child rearing, and possibly suffering long-term feelings of loss. It is not possible to make this choice for the sake of the child without love. Likewise, performing the tasks of providing food, clothing, medical care, and a home; teaching right from wrong; giving guidance in social skills; overseeing education; and managing a host of other surprises is not possible without knowing how to love. So let's look at three truths about biblical love that can be of great help to us as we counsel: love is a spiritual work, a sacrificial work, and a satisfying work.

LOVE IS A SPIRITUAL WORK
The biblical standard of love is complete selflessness. If you think that's impossible, you're right. There is not a single person on earth capable of complete selflessness. Why, then, are we expected to meet that standard? Because God, Who is love, provides the love He expects us to give to others. This kind of love is accessible only to those who have experienced the love of God through Christ. Those who are alive in Christ and have the Holy Spirit working in them are then capable of giving this kind of selfless love.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (I John 4:7-11, NIV).

Our highest priority in CPC ministry is to evangelize. Since love is a spiritual activity exercised by those who are spiritually alive, let's remember to lead our friends to Christ before we tell them to give of themselves.

LOVE IS A SACRIFICIAL WORK
The call to love sounds pleasant as long as we can control how and when we give love. But as soon as interruptions, demands, and offenses catch us off guard, we get irritated and respond angrily toward the ones who disrupt our plans or threaten our own comfort. Children, born or unborn, often catch people off guard and disrupt their plans. Therefore, children frequently are the recipients of irate responses. Though the world tells us that emotions are morally neutral, instinctive responses to our environment, God commands His children to love and be self-controlled. We must foster a loving and controlled response to pregnancy. Those in Christ have the ability to control their emotions because God enables them. With His help, we accomplish this by the training of our minds, the disciplining of our hearts, and the exercising of our wills.


Submitted by New Life Family Services, Anoka MN

The pattern and the incentive are given to us in Jesus. "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (I John 3:16). So, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus ... who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider him... so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:2, 3). We imitate Christ, knowing that our joy follows sacrifice.

The training of our minds is an essential part of having an enduring loving attitude. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:1-2). We should expect that loving others will require sacrifice. We will be serving others at the risk of missing out on something we want. But the one who loves is ready for this because she has thought about it. If we neglect to train our minds, we always will be surprised by the difficulty that love brings, and we quickly will lose heart.

The discipline of our hearts follows the preparation of our minds. Though we may learn that love requires sacrifice, we still will have the inclination to do that which is self-serving. We're not forbidden to have our own interests, but the Scripture tells us that we must not place them above those of Jesus Christ. "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others ... For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 2:4, 21). The key is to make our interests the same as Christ's. Then, when He is served, we are pleased. If our goal is to honor Him, the sacrifices we make will follow freely.

The exercise of our wills is a matter of faith. We exert ourselves in the service of God by caring for the needs of another while trusting that God will not forget our own needs. I Peter 3:6 says it this way: "Do what is right without giving way to fear." If we refuse to obey without prior evidence that our own needs will be taken care of, we deprive ourselves of the joy of seeing God's loving providence in our own lives. When we insist that our needs be met before we venture out to do His will, we train our minds to think that we cannot rely on God to be there for us. But God has already demonstrated His interest in providing all we need. "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)

LOVE IS A SATISFYING WORK
Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command ... I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:15, 18) and "... remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command" (John 15:9-14). God promises two things for our obedience: His presence and complete joy. Nothing in this world, no affection from friends and no pleasure in self-interests, can come close to the measure of satisfaction found in the joy of God's presence.

The presence of God provides the comfort, encouragement, and the fellowship that we all need if we're going to be givers rather than receivers. The fear of abandonment or loneliness turns our eyes on ourselves, and it becomes impossible to look out for the interests of others. But the promise that we will not be left as orphans assures us that we have the Father's loving protection, the Son's friendship, and the Holy Spirit's guidance. We will never be lacking the relational foundation we need in order to love.

Joy in our obedience is possible if "we make it our goal to please him" (II Corinthians 5:9). If, however, our goal is to please ourselves, our obedience will be burdensome, and we will have no satisfaction. The principle is very similar to that in giving material goods, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). If our pleasure is found in the pleasing of another, the joy is doubled because two share it.

Learning the many ways we should show love to others is a lifelong study for all God's people, but the opportunities to be loving often come during the most difficult circumstances. Pray for your clients and look for ways to teach them how to make sacrifices from a loving spirit. Both they and their babies will benefit for many years to come. Let's engage in this spiritual work, be willing to sacrifice, and have the knowledge that there is no other way to find true satisfaction.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Debra O'Leary is married and has four children. She lives in Reading, Pennsylvania, where she is involved in women's ministries and writing. She is a graduate of Tufts University (B.S.). She can be reached at DJO15@juno.com.

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