The following thoughts were generated in a recent conversation I had with a young man questioning what it means for him to love his wife. At the close of our meeting he asked if I'd mind sending him a bullet point list of the main ideas we covered. In hope that others might also benefit, here's an edited version of my correspondence to him:
- Loving someone involves seeking their good where goodness is defined by God. The essence of sin is to ignore and/or reject what God calls good and to operate as though I or some other creature is the ultimate judge of what is good or evil.
- Fear of how someone might respond to my actions can greatly hinder my capacity to love them appropriately (i.e., according to the need of the moment). For example, love in some instances requires correction. But if my heart is captivated by the desire to avoid conflict, to be well-liked, to avoid rejection at all costs, etc., I will not risk correcting another for their sake but will selfishly serve my own desires.
- When my actions are motivated and determined more by how I think someone else will react to me than by a desire to do what is pleasing to God, then I have made an idol out of that person. Their estimation of me means more to me than does the Lord's and functionally I am worshiping, serving, and trusting in them in place of the true God.
Whether the cause of fear is major rejection or mild discomfort, the final solution is the same: I must be willing to hurt (greatly or minimally), to suffer loss (be it everything or a few moments of social ease). Only when I accept what I fear, resolving that I am willing to endure whatever may happen, will the fear lose its power (1 John 4:18). The perfect love of Christ provides me with what I need to face my fears. In Christ I have a relationship I cannot lose, a relationship sufficient to sustain me if all others fail. I have an unbreakable safety net beneath me as I venture across the tightrope of involving myself in other people's lives.
When I declare myself, by an act of will, to be willing to lose all human relationship (approval, recognition, love, etc.) if obedience to God requires it, I will be freed from the entanglement of fear. And only when I am freed from the fear of losing a relationship will my motivation approach the reality of love. When I encounter an embarrassed stranger in Sunday school or a close friend who is seriously mishandling his problems, my words will have the power to encourage if they are prompted by love. Notice the paradox: To love a person, I must be willing to lose my relationship with him. Dependently holding onto anyone or anything but God is, in its final form, idolatry. Idolatry is at root a fear of the wrong god.