Love isn’t always smiling

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There came a point in my life where I realized that being around people wasn’t about me. I didn’t need to overthink things. I didn’t need to be afraid about what people might be thinking about me. I didn’t need to hide inside my comfy turtle shell and watch the world pass me by.

Praise the Lord! The whole point of social interactions isn’t about me. I’m not the center of the world. You’re not either. We can forget about all the craziness of what’s going on in people’s minds and focus on the point of living.

Because the whole point of being in community with others is simply to reflect the love of God. That’s the beauty of the gospel. It gives us the Spirit of Christ that creates restoration, peace, and sweet fellowship among people. It gives us a sacrificial type of love that breaks barriers and searches for people’s needs, lifting up the broken and humbling the proud in the gentlest of ways.

Love God. Love people. It really is that simple.

But recently a question was hanging in my head that I didn’t know what to do with: What’s the difference between love and people-pleasing?

Because when we set out to love people on our own strength, often people-pleasing takes control instead of true, Christ-like love. A genuine desire to love people in order to bring glory to God can all too easily turn into a desire to please the world. To grant the world’s wishes, not meet their needs.

But is that true love?

“Love is patient, love is kind… It is not self-seeking.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

It really does seem all sweet and dandy when you please others, and they in turn please you back. But is that ultimately seeking for the good of your own self?

What is true love? Is it always smiling? Always pleasing? Always making sure you feel good?

Sometimes, maybe? But not all the time? How are we to define which circumstances demand which responses? It gets too complicated when you look at things that way.

Instead, we can find true love by looking at God. He Himself is Love for us, manifested in His Son, a human we can touch and see. Jesus Christ demonstrated love when He washed His disciples dirty feet, performing the job of a servant. His ultimate act of love was when He sacrificed Himself for us on the cross for our eternal salvation.

Our Savior came to serve us sacrificially, but when it came to people failing to understand the truth, He did not serve their own desires and sacrifice His own. He told them outright that they were wrong and He was right. He loved people too much to let them go astray into false beliefs.

Jesus demonstrated love when He reprimanded His disciples for falling asleep instead of staying awake at the Garden of Gethsemane, and when He rebuked His disciples for assuming that they could call fire down from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village (Luke 9:52-56).

God both serves us sacrificially and disciplines us gently because He loves us.

“And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’ Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” – Hebrews 12:5-7

The definition of God’s love isn’t good feelings. It’s patience. Kindness. Sacrifice. Discipline. It’s meeting our deepest needs, not our surface-level wishes. And sometimes God is gracious to grant our wishes, but only with the intention of pointing us back to Him, the Giver of good gifts. Because, ultimately, love is all about bringing us closer into relationship with the God who is Himself the only source of true love.

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 John 4:8 

The way to get to know Love is by getting to know Jesus, who is God in human form. And the best way to love someone is to point them to Jesus and to help them get to know Him. He alone is what we need. He alone brings us into a secure rest in God’s love and gives us the means to love other people.

We can’t love people on our own strength without being self-seeking and people-pleasing. We need to humble ourselves before God and ask for His strength in order to love selflessly.

So, pray with me for this kind of love that only comes from God. The kind of love that casts out fear. That brings people out of hiding and into His wonderful light. The kind of love that sometimes smiles tenderly, sometimes cries with us, and sometimes disciplines us, but is always right there, giving you everything you need (Phil. 4:19). Put your faith in that kind of love, because He exists, in the form of Jesus Christ.

And together we can learn to love people in a deep way that doesn’t merely cheer them up, but instead directs their affections to the true Author of life and love.

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