Has someone — your parents, spouse, friends, anyone — ever made you the uninterrupted focus of his or her attention, consistently had your best interests at heart, and guaranteed he or she would forever be selfless when it came to you? What would your world be like if you were loved this way?
My parents loved me totally when they were alive, and I know my wife’s parents love me totally as well. My wife is in love with me, and I have a few friends I can honestly say love me in an appropriately manly way. But none of them love me exclusively.
Exclusive love is what God demonstrates toward us in a forever patient, kind way that is never resentful or irritated. Though I love others totally, I can never love them exclusively. At least not the way the apostle Paul described in his exquisite description in 1 Corinthians 13. Knowing that this is the manner in which God wants my love to be demonstrated toward others, even strangers, doesn’t help me love more perfectly as a man.
At best there are moments when my commitment to others is devoid of self-interest, greed, pride, insecurity, and selfishness. But when those moments happen . . . Wow! The results are incredible! What would life be like if I could extend those moments and experience more of them?
Paul went on to illustrate how this kind of exclusive love works itself out in our relationships: In these moments we do not act out of self-protection, do not focus attention on ourselves, are not arrogant, do not act improperly toward others, do not strive to achieve something just for ourselves. Neither do we explode in temper tantrums, hold a grudge over the meanness or hateful acts of others, or secretly rejoice at the failure of others.
- Exclusive love rejoices when those of us struggling with failure embrace the truth and accept responsibility.
- Exclusive love puts up with absolutely everything, continually has confidence in others, has only the highest expectations, and stands up under pressure to be less loving.
- This is world-changing love, love that can never produce ruin for anyone, that can be counted on no matter what, and that never ever comes to an end!
So why can’t I love like this? What went wrong, and how can it be fixed? Why do I have such a hard time loving?
Perhaps I had poor parental models growing up. Or maybe it was childhood trauma that arrested my emotional development. Maybe it was the pervasive influence of society, dictating to me what it meant to be a man.
The reason I can’t love exclusively is because I run and hide at the suggestion of intimacy; I fundamentally do not want to take responsibility for my problems; I am committed to avoiding pain and maximizing enjoyment; and I am only interested in you so far as you are able to satisfy my drive for safety, security, and significance. I would like to sugarcoat this reality and rationalize with you, minimizing this description of a man’s heart at its worst moments. But the truth is there are times when I — we — are like this, and that is when I am most ashamed and the most in need of more work, golf, a good football game on TV, a distracting relationship . . . anyplace to hide.
In spite of these failures, Jesus loves me exclusively, dying for me even though I still fall way short of his expectations on a daily basis, and gives me the gift of change (Rom. 5:8). In Christ I am a brand-new person, continually changing for the better as a result of my relationship with him (2 Cor. 5:17). Men, it is possible for us to love the way God intended we should; and when we do, things like work, recreation, and relationships snap into their proper perspective, and the world changes.
My world has certainly changed! All the tools, all the skills, all the secrets we need to succeed are locked up in five short verses in 1 Corinthians 13. Lived out, the message of this passage sets men free to love forever, forever changing the lives of those we touch.
Paul put love in perspective with his closing thoughts on the matter at the end of the chapter. Faith, hope, and love remain; but the greatest of these is love. Now faith and hope are both pretty big world-changing concepts. How can love be greater than these two? Perhaps one reason why this may be true is seen in how love emulates God. When we love the way God intended us to love, we see in each other something of who God really is; and in so doing, we glorify God.
Glory has tied up in it the idea of modeling or illustrating some truth about the object we worship. Loving others the way God designed us to demonstrates for them some truth about who God is, what he has done through his Son, and the response he desires but does not demand from us. Through love and loving behavior we reveal something of God to ourselves and to others, bringing glory to God. Faith and hope spring from our hearts, but only love can change the heart of a man. When men love from a changed heart, this small Christlikeness bursts upon their world with eternal consequences; and the world changes forever.
Adapted from The Power of a Loving Man.
Copyright © 2006 by Jeff Jernigan, published by Broadman Holman, used with permission.