Love is clearly not something that comes easily to all of us. Books have been written about "love languages", which would indicate that love is something we 'speak' and not all of us are speaking--or hearing--love the same way. Many years before these books on love were written, the apostle Paul wrote the well-read 1 Corinthians 13. Recently, as I've been meditating on the concept of love, I returned to Paul's writings for some answers.
When I read 1 Corinthians 13, I am usually in the thinking-mode of how I am to give love. Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy or parade itself around. Okay, so, when I am loving my husband, or my children, or all those other people, I need to be kind with my words and not proud. Got it. It's hard, of course, but I got it. Typically, this is the way I read 1 Corinthians 13- this is what love looks like and acts like and this is how I am to give it out to other people.
But, what about receiving love?
Receiving love from others is typically high on our list of needs, isn't it? If I'm honest, receiving love is more urgent to me than giving love to others. Why? Because I, because we all, struggle with selfish pursuits. To be selfless requires a significant battle against our natural tendency of selfishness. So, if you're fighting that battle, you're likely "Amen-ing" me right now. If you're not fighting that battle, you're likely confused or offended. Please forgive me and consider these truths, though.
How does the Bible, God's very word, instruct us to receive love?
I have found the answer to be the exact same Scripture passage, 1 Corinthians 13. When others love me, I am to be patient in receiving that love. When others extend love to me, I am to think no evil (don't attribute motives) and to receive it kindly, not rudely. Now, for most of life I am sure this is common sense, right? Someone extends an act of love toward us and we receive it graciously.
But, just as it is sometimes hard to give out love to certain people, is it not hard to receive love from certain people as well?
I can receive love easily at times--taking it in wholeheartedly--but other times I am questioning motives, I am comparing, I am thinking about past sins. When I do the latter, I am not receiving love, though. I am not being loving. And, I am sure making it hard on the person trying to give love to me.
Just as we are to give love to others with patience, kindness, without envy, without pride, without being rude, without selfishness, without provocation, without thinking evil and remembering past offenses, with truth, and by bearing all things, believing all things, and hoping all things...
we are also to receive love from others in the same exact way. Again, that may be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy when that love is coming from someone 'speaking your love language', but what about when it's coming from someone you don't understand? don't relate to? struggle with? feel rejected by?
The answer from God is the same. Receive love from others with patience and kindness--perhaps even more so, because it's likely very difficult in a strained relationship. Receive love without comparing, insecurities, pride, selfishness. Receive love by thinking the best of the other person--again, perhaps very difficult to do, yet when God commands us to do something He will equip us with the ability to do it. He has given us His Holy Spirit--the same power who raised Jesus from the dead!--and this power gives us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Through His power, we can obey.
Perhaps the most critical component of giving and receiving love is truth. As we fix our minds on the truth--God's way of thinking as evidenced in the Bible--then we can stand on His promises when it's difficult to give or receive love. Someone has hurt my feelings? God says He is with me. He loves me and He will not harm me. Thinking on the truth changes my perspective from me to HIM.
Godly love does not come easily. It involves loving those who are hard to love (both giving it to them and receiving it from them). It involves getting outside of my comfort zone. It involves being generous when I want to be stingy. It involves correction when I only want to hear encouragement. It involves God's truth when I want to believe my own version of truth.
Godly love does not come easily, but it is what we must give and receive or else we cannot say we love God. See, if we're not loving our brothers and sisters then we are hating them. And, the apostle John had some very serious words about that:
It's not easy. In some situations, it might seem impossible. But, with God NOTHING is impossible.