Yesterday I argued that God’s kind of love begins in the affections and shows itself outwardly in action. But that kind of love is difficult, so we come up with poor alternatives. In this post, I’m going to explore some of those alternatives.
One such alternative that I hear people say goes something like this: “Love is not a feeling; it is an action. So do the right action and the feelings will follow.” I may or may not be guilty of this logic in my past (years and years ago when I was so young and immature). I understand the thought, and it may be true sometimes in experience. Sometimes if we will just do the right thing—even when it’s difficult—our feelings afterward may be a lot different than our feelings before.
But there’s a real danger in this way of thinking. We may be performing the right action with the right feelings following afterward. But it’s equally possible that we outwardly perform the right action without dealing with the negative feelings we have toward that person. This leads to hardness of heart. Bitterness. Anger. Callousness. Hypocrisy. All sinful traits we are called to put away from our lives—and replace with God’s kind of love (Eph 4:31-5:1; Col 3:8-10; 1 Pet 1:22-2:3).
Too often my love is captured in the saying, “I’ll love ’em, but I don’t have to like ’em.” I don’t say it, but I do it. I love by gritting my teeth and putting a smile on my face and trying to act kindly and appropriately—but inwardly I don’t feel very loving toward that person.
When I find myself with less-than-perfect feelings toward a person, I don’t need to respond with a “I’ll just sacrificially serve them” mindset; I need to deal with my sinful feelings. At these times, if I’m really honest with myself, what I find is a love that has run cold, a heart that has become hard, and an affection that is really lacking for the person. To just outwardly “love” the person in the hope that the feelings follow after tends to do nothing but solidify my affection-less attitude toward that person. It becomes easier and easier to distance myself from him or her without having to deal with what is going on inside me.
This is far less than God’s kind of love.
The kind of love we are called to in John 13:34-35 and Romans 13:8-10 and Ephesians 5:2 and 1 John 4:7-11 and on and on is the kind of love God has shown us. The kind of love that starts in the heart and moves to our actions. The kind of love that is an affection shown in action. The kind of love that flows from a genuine care for the person instead of just outwardly doing the right thing to them.
So the next time that saying, “I’ll love ’em, but I don’t have to like ’em” (or one like it), pops into your head—or comes out your mouth—start by dealing with your heart before the Lord. The next time you don’t feel like loving that difficult person, remember God’s love for you. Allow His love to shape your heart, and then watch how you will actually care for the person—which will move you to action.
Then you will be able to say, “I’ll love ’em—and I actually like ’em too.”