Last night was not my favorite. (If you don’t know, we have seven week old twins…enough said.) I struggled to get out of bed this morning, motivated solely by the little beeping sound of my coffee maker reminding me that there are still wonderful things in life to be enjoyed, even when you’re exhausted and feel like death. I pour a cup, sit down and decide to digitally reach out into the world by checking my twitter feed. Only to be struck upside the head by this tweet from Dr. John Piper,
“If you must choose between loving someone and acting so that they feel loved, always choose to love them.”
I was leveled. At once I recalled the faces of countless friends that I sat across a coffee shop table from, biting my tongue when I should have spoken up. I remembered the passive and indirect ways I tried to bring up things that I knew were destructive in their lives but I was to afraid to come right out and say. I even remembered the self-righteousness I felt when my predictions proved to be true and things went exactly as I knew they would, when I should have been feeling broken for my softness and passivity in not warning them.
If I loved them I would have told them the truth, no matter how much it hurt. Instead, I was like a surgeon who refused to remove a life-threatening tumor because he was afraid to cut the skin. Yes, it will hurt. Yes, it will take time to heal. Yes, it is absolutely necessary and it is my responsibility to them.
So, do I love you enough to tick you off?
If I’m not willing to confront the things in your life that I know are destructive than I just prove that I love myself more than I love you. I care more about being liked by you that I do about your well-being. That’s not love, that’s cowardice.
We tend to define love by how we make a person feel. If I say something that makes them feel good about themselves and their lives than I am being loving but if my words hurt their feelings or make them uncomfortable than I’m being hateful. This is simply too surface of an understanding to be love. Love acts on what is best for the person not on what will make them feel warm and fuzzy.
Am I loving my 3-year old daughter by letting her keep playing with a machete because I don’t want to hurt her feelings by taking it away?
Now, there are those out there that find truth-telling and confrontation easy. We usually know them as “jerks.” They drop truth-bombs on people and walk away without regard for the fallout. They’re willing to cut, but not willing to stick around for the healing process (which is usually long and arduous). Paul told the church in Corinth that they could have all kinds of spiritual merit badges, prophetic powers and even possess all of the knowledge in the world…but if they don’t have love than they’re like a clanging cymbal. Which is another way of saying you’re annoying and obnoxious. What you say may be true, but when your words sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. This is not love either.
The apostle John wrote in one of his letters “God is love.” This doesn’t mean God is a fluffy teddy bear. What it means is if you want to know what love looks like, if you want to know how love acts…look at God. Look at what He does.
One way that God loves is certainly by telling us the truth. The bible is brutally honest about the human condition. It’s not passive and it doesn’t pull punches. The gospel is most offensive message that you can bring to someone (if you are actually speaking the gospel). It cuts deeply against our pride. It tells us that we are rebels, anarchists, liars, thieves, murders, idolaters and God-belittling fools. It tells us that we are hopelessly lost and destined for judgement. It cuts us…deeply. It provokes us. It pulls our defenses up.
But God’s love doesn’t stop there. He loves us in the midst of our brokenness. He loves us even while we shake our fist in His face, refusing to believe the diagnosis. God loves us by sacrificing himself and carrying our punishment and shame. He loves us by walking with us through restoration and healing. He loves us by listening to us and being patient with us.
This is what love looks like. Truth combined with patience, compassion and sacrifice. I need friends love me like that and I need to be that friend.
Jesus once told his disciples “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
We are commanded to love each other sacrificially, as we have been loved. I may be willing to lay down my life for my friend…but am I willing to lay down their opinion of me? Am I willing to sacrifice being liked? Respected? Where do I draw the line on what I am willing to sacrifice for their good. That is as far as my love for them goes and no further.
Are you sitting quietly on sideline watching someone you care about make a tragic decision that everyone knows is stupid but no one is willing to tell them?
Are you watching a friend engaging in behaviors that you know will destroy their career, their marriage, their ministry?
Love that’s not honest is not love at all.
Love them enough to hurt them.
Love is not afraid to cut the skin if it knows it will save the life.