It sounds so clear, Paul’s good advice to the Corinthians. But a moment’s thought brings the truth that in our own strength it isn’t really possible. Our fallen human nature resists loving others above ourselves and probably at least some of our actions have been self-focussed. But there is good news for those who know the Lord. God’s love has been working in us as we daily yield to Jesus, and Holy Spirit has, and is, transforming us to be more like Him. Jesus is love and His actions are, always motivated by love and totally untainted with any selfishness. Hopefully, we are all becoming more able to act out of that true heartfelt love, as we mature in Him.
However, even as we grow in this love, our actions, despite being motivated out of love, aren’t always well received or understood. For example, parents’ love for their children motivates them to take even the most reluctant child to the dentist or to the doctor for an important injection. They may need to cajole, encourage, or even promise rewards, and despite the child’s fears and misunderstanding of their motive, they will persist.
So, despite the challenges, the parents remain dedicated to what they are doing, motivated out of their great love for the child. Sometimes love has to be ‘tough love’. The Scripture tells us that discipline is part of this seemingly tough side of love, ‘For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as s father corrects the son in whom he delights’ (Proverbs 3:12).
I’m not sure any of us like ‘tough love’, but God’s love is thankfully robust enough to persist, even when we find it hard. Recently, I’ve been thinking about various aspects of true selfless love and considering what these actions motivated out of God’s type of selfless love look like.
I started thinking about this because of my interaction with an elderly neighbour. She was living alone in the same house for forty years and has no family. Latterly, she has not been managing to look after herself in all day-to-day issues of life. Several others have tried to support her over the last few years, in mostly spasmodic and limited ways, but recently it seemed that this support had ceased to be in her best interests.
The casual caregivers had started their actions in love, but it became obvious that this rather minimal input of assistance was now in part ‘enabling’ her to believe she could continue to live alone and in this very unsatisfactory way. She wanted to stay in her bungalow and in what had become her ‘comfort zone’, but without a lot more regular support the situation was intolerable. The time for tender love was past and a little tough love was needed. She needed to go into a respite care situation so she could be assessed for a more permanent solution to her needs. It seemed hard to have to encourage her to accept this truth. She initially felt less loved, but it was clearly in her best interests. It was the loving thing to do.
I wonder how often we misunderstand God’s actions, although they are always motivated out of His great love for us. If we do, like the fearful child or the lonely old lady, we may resist change, thinking, “How could this be loving towards me?” God’s love sometimes seems tough, but He is always motivated by our needs and His unfailing tender love for us, even when we don’t recognise that. He never wants us to remain in what seems comfortable to us, if it is an unsafe situation.
As we are transformed into the image of Jesus, let’s pray that our love will not just be ‘soft and tender’ with a feel-good factor for us, but will be mature and tough when needed, even if sometimes misunderstood.
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