Love is the ultimate level of Christian attainment and is the very essence of God Himself. Unfortunately, in our society, this concept has become so confused and perverted that many people have lost sight of its sacrificial quality and its importance in healthy relationships. God’s type of love is best understood as “having another person’s best interests in mind.” Without this type of love, relationships will not last and marriages ultimately fail. Love is the opposite of selfishness because it gives and selfishness only takes. God even calls us to love our enemies unconditionally. (See my book Faith Therapy for a more in-depth discussion of this subject.) In the verses that follow, I will use the Weymouth New Testament (WEY) in order to more clearly express these concepts. All other verses will continue to be from the Authorized Version of the King James Bible (AV).
1. Love, as a way of life, transcends everything else.
1 Co 12:31... And now I will point out to you a way of life which transcends all others. (WEY)
2. Whatever I do that is not motivated by true love counts for nothing.
1 Co 13:1 If I can speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but am destitute of Love, I have but become a loud-sounding trumpet or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I possess the gift of prophecy and am versed in all mysteries and all knowledge, and have such absolute faith that I can remove mountains, but am destitute of Love, I am nothing. 3 And if I distribute all my possessions to the poor, and give up my body to be burned, but am destitute of Love, it profits me nothing. (WEY)
3. All the other things that we think are important pass away and are imperfect.
1 Co 13:8 But if there are prophecies, they will be done away with; if there are languages, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be brought to an end. 9 For our knowledge is imperfect, and so is our prophesying; (WEY)
4. The perfect state of the future is based on love. Therefore, we should put away the childish ways of this world and focus on becoming a loving, mature Christian.
1 Co 13:10 but when the perfect state of things is come, all that is imperfect will be brought to an end. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, felt like a child, reasoned like a child: when I became a man, I put from me childish ways. (WEY)
5. Current things will be replaced by true intimacy with God and others.
1 Co 13:12 For the present we see things as if in a mirror, and are puzzled; but then we shall see them face to face. For the present the knowledge I gain is imperfect; but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (WEY)
6. Love is the most important of eternal things.
1 Co 13:13 And so there remain Faith, Hope, Love--these three; and of these the greatest is Love. (WEY)
7. Agape or God’s type of love is benevolence toward everyone.
1 Co 13:4 Love is patient and kind. Love knows neither envy nor jealousy. Love is not forward and self-assertive, nor boastful and conceited. 5 She does not behave unbecomingly, nor seek to aggrandize herself, nor blaze out in passionate anger, nor brood over wrongs. 6 She finds no pleasure in injustice done to others, but joyfully sides with the truth. 7 She knows how to be silent. She is full of trust, full of hope, full of patient endurance. 8 Love never fails. (WEY)
8. Human love is based on someone else meeting our needs. Most human relationships are based on conditional or selfish love. We love others because we believe they have our best interests in mind and will meet out needs. If we perceive that they are against us or that they are no longer useful to meet out needs, conflict arises and we usually break off the relationship.
Lu 7:41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? 43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that [he], to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
9. Lust is not true love because it is only selfish. Because it does not truly satisfy, it places a continuing demand on us for more.
2 Sa 13:4 And he said unto him, Why [art] thou, [being] the king's son, lean from day to day? wilt thou not tell me? And Amnon said unto him, I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister. 15 Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her [was] greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone.
10. The very essence of God is love.
1 Jo 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
11. God’s love is not based on the desirability or the performance of the object.
Ro 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
12. Love leads to a desire to please and obey. If we love someone, we want to please them and if we feel loved and believe that the other person has our best interests in mind, we will want to obey them.
Jo 14:23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.
1 Jo 2:5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
13. The measure of love is what we are willing to sacrifice for it. The more we love, the more we want the very best for those we love. Our measure of love is determined by what we are willing to sacrifice for it. There is no greater expression of love than to sacrifice our very lives for someone else.
Jo 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
14. We, as Christians, are to be known for our love one for another.
Jo 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
15. We are to love everyone unconditionally just as God does.
Mt 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more [than others]? do not even the publicans so? 48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
16. Love provides the motivation to work for God’s kingdom. Love is manifested in action.
2 Co 5:14 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: 15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
1 Jo 3:16 Hereby perceive we the love [of God], because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down [our] lives for the brethren. 17 But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels [of compassion] from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
17. We shall never be separated from the love of God.
Ro 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Counseling Methods and Techniques
1. Those who seek love don’t find it, but those who give it freely, get it abundantly. Clients seeking to find the fulfillment of love in the world can be challenged with this “paradox of love.” The paradox of love states that “those who directly seek or demand love never find it, but those who liberally give it away receive it in abundance.” The point is that trying to meet the need for love by direct means fails. A large majority of clients that are struggling to be loved are desperately trying to obtain love and, therefore, cannot find it. What works is to seek God’s kingdom, receive love from Him, and give love to others without any strings attached. (Matt 6:33)
2. The analogy of the emotional train helps us “get our love back.” When clients understand that their emotions are the caboose of the train which follows their will, mind, and actions, it becomes clear that they can only control their emotions through deciding to love, changing their perceptions of the person or situation, and acting in a loving way. Eventually the caboose (their emotions), will follow the rest of the train.
3. Praying for our enemies can lead to loving them. This is because payer is an action that has the other person’s best interest in mind. It is actually acting in a loving way. Our loving action (praying) affects our thoughts. In order to act in this way, we must have already changed our will in relationship to them. Consequently, following the emotional train above, if we decide to love, convince our mind, and act accordingly eventually our emotions (the caboose) will follow.
4. Teach attachment theory. Attachment theory provides a new frame of reference for understanding personal conflict. Until people understand that each of us have different attachment styles and that these are at the core of how we relate to others, they tend to see everything as personal attacks or abandonment. This makes the other person an enemy and it is very difficult to reconcile enemies. Ongoing fighting or entrenched problems with love are many times “love fights” or attachment problems. Both persons desperately want to feel loved by the other one. By teaching attachment theory, identifying the attachment style of each, and re-interpreting their fighting as attempts to make the other person safe for them again, the entire picture can be transformed. (For a fuller explanation of attachment theory see Faith Therapy or Attachments (2002) by Clinton and Sibcy.)
5. Help them use their faith in God to develop a secure attachment style in this life. Secure attachment styles only come through the experience of being secure in our attachments. Although it is possible to feel secure in this world; true security only comes from a trusting relationship with God, the ultimate attachment figure. Secure attachments increase our feelings of security and lead to feelings of being loved. They also provide the basis from which we can love others unconditionally. (See the chart in my book Faith Therapy which outlines how secure attachment provides the basis for developing agape love.)
Faith and Love (from the book and course Faith Therapy)
Love provides the quality of life that makes living worthwhile. In the Bible, Christ summed up the total duty of man as loving God and others. The main quality of God Himself is love and Christians are to be known by their love. Our initial image of God is based on the love we receive from our parents. Without love, we will grow up feeling worthless and cynical about relationships. Love hunger leads to codependency and addictions.
But what is love? According to the dictionary it is, “A deep devotion or affection for another person or persons. A strong sexual passion for another person. A very great interest or enjoyment of something. The kindness and charitableness man should show toward one another.” (Funk & Wagnalls, 1963) As an emotion, it motivates us to move toward a person and to have another’s best interest in mind. It is the feeling that is associated with bonding, attachment and intimacy. The opposite of love is hate which motivates us to move away from others or to do them harm. When we do not feel loved, we may have feelings of fear of abandonment, rage, jealousy, despair, betrayal and loneliness.
Integral to the concept of love is attachment. However, the emotion of love is actually just part of our attachment system that includes the biological components of attachment such as sexual and non-sexual touch as well as the emotions of love and the closeness of intimacy. Attachment adds strength to close or intimate relationships. However, it is possible to have an intimate relationship with someone without being attached to them; and it is possible to be attached to someone without being truly intimate with them.
Attachment is best understood in young children. It is absolutely essential that a baby bond with its mother through physical contact and have its physical and emotional needs met during the first days of its life. If it does not, Reaction Attachment Disorder (RAD) can occur. Characteristics of the unbonded child include a lack of empathy and emotional connectivity, extreme self-centeredness, distrust for others, acting out in extremely destructive and vicious ways, and a lack of regret for what they have done. RAD can be the precursor to Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder.
If a child is separated from an attachment figure or the attachment figure no longer meets its needs, experiments with children shown that the child goes through three stages of detachment. First, they protest through crying or acting out. Second they go into despair where they withdraw, refusing to eat or interact with others; and finally, they detach and will even ignore the attachment figure when they are in need. (Clinton and Sibcy, 2002, pp 17-18)
Four basic attachment styles have been identified through observing the reactions of young children. Although the child’s style can change due to new experiences and psychological development, they usually provide the general framework for relationships throughout the child’s life.
1. The secure attachment style. These children view themselves as worthy of love and feel competent to obtain love when they need it. They view others as reliable, accessible and willing to respond to their needs. They seek out an attachment figure when they feel insecure and will act in ways that effectively meet their emotional needs.
2. The avoidant attachment style. These children view themselves as worthy of love and competent to obtain it, but view others as either unwilling, unavailable or untrustworthy of providing for their emotional needs. They tend to withdraw into themselves, discount their emotions and rely on themselves for nurturing. Many times, they will value accomplishing things over developing relationships.
3. The ambivalent attachment style. These children view themselves as unworthy of love or incompetent to get the caregivers attention, but view the attachment figure as capable of comfort and protection. They tend to throw tantrums or act out in order to receive nurturing but have difficulty receiving it when the caregiver attempts to help them and, sometimes, become angry at the caregiver. They tend to perform for others in order to please them in the hope that if they do well enough their needs will be met.
4. The disorganized attachment style. These children view themselves as unworthy of love or incompetent to obtain it; and they view others as unwilling, unavailable or untrustworthy to give it. Because they exhibit both negative viewpoints and because this style is many times the result of abusive behavior, these children are confused in their attachment attempts. Sometimes they will even run to a stranger for safety. This is because, at times, they have experienced the attachment figure meeting their needs; and at other times, they have experienced rejection or abuse from the same attachment figure. They tend to be overly emotional and cycle between wanting to be close and avoiding closeness. (Clinton and Sibcy, pp 24-28)
A person’s overall attachment system operates similar to a thermostat. If the primary attachment figure becomes unavailable, refuses to meet his needs or is unreliable, he will protest in an effort to correct the perceived problem and to calm the anxiety that he feel. On the other hand, he may feel smothered by too much intervention or demands for closeness and take action to withdraw and get a little space. With insecure styles of attachment, an approach-avoidance dance can be initiated which will eventually damage the relationship. In some cases, when attachment wounds convince a person that the attachment figure is not safe, detachment may occur. Periods of protest and despair usually precede actual detachment. One of the most common signs of detachment is when the other person withdraws from non-sexual touch.
Because everyone emotionally needs someone who is trustworthy, always available and emotionally sensitive, God is the ultimate attachment figure. This is because God cannot lie, He is always available and, through the things that He suffered here on earth for us, He is very sensitive to our emotions. Because He does not change, He provides the ultimate safe haven that each and everyone needs and the safe base from which to venture out into the world. (Clinton and Sibcy, 2002, Hart, 2003)
1. When a newborn child is born, he bonds to his primary caregiver. The child feels love through the facial expressions, the touch and the care he receives from his mother. These experiences provide the foundation required to express love later in his life. These experiences also provide for the child’s perception of his value or worth. A child whose needs are met will feel worthy of another person’s love. If the child’s needs are neglected he feels that he must not be valuable enough to have his needs met and may begin the development of low self-worth.
2. As the child grows, from its experiences with his caregivers and others, he develops a sense of security (or insecurity) in the world and of the reliability of others to meet his needs. During these early years the child also begins to develop ego defenses, the foundation of trust or faith, and the child’s initial perception of God. He asks, “Can others (including God) be trusted and relied upon to meet my needs or do I need to become self-sufficient, rely completely on myself, and become my own god? The more he determines that he must rely on himself, the more insecure he will feel in this life, especially as he realize his limitations to direct his own life and control the world around him. He needs to believe that God is his protector and that it is He that makes him secure in life.
3. From these early experiences, the child determines if he is capable of obtaining love. It may be possible that the child feels he is valuable and that his caregivers are reliable, but does not feel adequate in his attempts to ask for or obtain love. This is the area of significance and is usually based on our own or other’s evaluation of our performance.
4. From these experiences, we develop one of the four primary attachment styles that have already been discussed. These attachment styles will greatly affect how we attempt to attach to others throughout our life. If we believe that we are valuable, that others are reliable and that we are capable of obtaining love from them, we will develop a secure style. If we believe that we are valuable but others are unreliable, we will develop an avoidant style and rely only on ourselves. If we do not feel worthwhile and see others as reliable, we will develop an ambivalent style, trying to make ourselves more acceptable to them. And if we see ourselves as worthless and others as unreliable, we will develop a disorganized attachment style and an emotionally confusing array of attempts to meet our needs.
Intimacy or being intimate is “characterized by pronounced closeness of friendship, relationship or association.” (Funk & Wagnalls, 1963) In the Bible, Christ describes it as God’s highest goal for people and the deep desire of God. It is to be known as we are and to know others as they truly are. It has a lot to do with openly revealing ourselves to another person without reservation or defensiveness. It is the intimate in unity found in the Trintiy.
Jo 17:21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. 22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
Intimate or close relationships are characterized by five types of love. Of course, differentg types of relationships may or may not include any or all of these types. As an example, friendships will not include romantic love and romance can exist without commitment. Because these types of love are more easily differentiated in the Greek language than in the English language, I will provide the equivalent Greek word also.
1. Unconditional commitment or acceptance. In the Greek this is agape love or the type of love that is the main characteristic of God. It is the commitment that cements and stabilizes a relationship. It is best defined in the Bible in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen.
2. Romantic attraction or desire. The Greek the word is eros. This is the romance that attracts one lover to another. It is the chase, the attraction that initializes and sustains a romantic relationship.
3. Friendship or companionship. In the Greek this is phileo. It is also the root word for philadelphia which means brotherly love. It is the give and take in a relationship based on meeting each other’s needs and enjoying the companionship of another.
4. Spiritual or intuitive love. The Greek word is theleo. This is the commonality of beliefs, having the same goals and outlook on life, having the same desires and wants, and feeling what the other feels. When “one cries the other tastes salt.”
5. Physical or sexual love. In the Bible, the phrase “to know someone” is used, as when Adam “knew” his wife and she conceived.” (Genesis 4:1) It is part of the attachment system that makes a couple one flesh. It is the cement of the marital relationship.
Because the natural man of this world is not saved, he is destined all of his life to be dominated by a desire to meet the needs of the self. This results in selfishness and sin. Consequently, it is not surprising that the world’s system for love is the development and pursuit of selfish love. The world cannot go beyond this type of self-centered love because it has no capacity to overcome selfishness without faith and the Spirit of God. The closest it can come to the true unconditional love of God is motherly love. Unfortunately, in the world even motherly love has its selfish aspects. As a mother gives love to her child, she hopes that eventually the child will appreciate what she has done and love her back. This becomes clear when counseling a codependent mother who tries to live her life through her child or finds it impossible to allow her child to develop an independent life of his or her own.
In the world, selfish love is accepted as the norm. It is so subtle that we sometimes do not even know what we are missing. However, our actions make it all clear. I remember many years ago before I was married that a number of girls that I dated had the same poster. It said, “I love you because of who I am when I am with you.” In other words, “I love you for what you do for me.” The Love Bank Theory by Dr. Willard Harley Jr. (2001) makes this kind of love explicit. He says that each of us have a love back account for every other person in our lives. When we meet people and perceive that they meet our needs in someway, we give them points in their account. When they receive a certain number of points in their account, they become an acquaintance, friend, best friend, and, eventually, we love them. If they do things we perceive as against our best interests, we give them negative points. The more negative their account, the more they become someone we do not like, our enemy, our worst enemy, and finally someone we hate. Most divorces cite irreconcilable differences and many marriages fail due to marriage “deadlock.” Marriage deadlock occurs when neither spouse is willing to do something for the other first because they no longer trust their mate to return the favor. Clearly selfish love is well established in our society and, unfortunately, in our churches.
1. Because selfish love can never provide the level of security required for a secure attachment, it easily leads to jealousy. We desperately need others to be trustworthy, available and emotionally sensitive, so we can feel safe in our relationships. However, when the level of the other person’s commitment in the relationship is dependent on meeting his needs, we can never feel completely safe. Another name for this type of selfish love is conditional love. We can count on being loved only to the extent that we meet certain conditions. If our relationship is based on conditional love, we must assume that if someone else met our spouse’s needs better, she might leave us. This type of insecurity easily breeds jealousy.
2. Selfish love looks out for itself first and will refuse to go beyond just being fair. If necessary, a selfish lover will resort to manipulation and coercion to force the other person to meet his needs. Selfish love always wants the best for itself or at least to have its needs met equally in the relationship. To the extent it gives, it hopes to get at least as much in return. If there is not a mutual exchange, one of the persons in the relationship will feel used by the other person. In marriage, we call this level of fairness a win-win solution. This works only as long as each person is healthy, willing and able to give back as much as has been given. In the long run, this does not usually work perfectly because one spouse usually perceives that what he gives is of more value than what he has been given.
3. Selfish love can never fully meet the giver’s needs because he will reap what he has sown. If a person sows only conditional love, that is what he will get back. Since conditional love is not capable of meeting a person’s needs, his needs will never be fully met.
4. Because selfish love violates the natural law called the paradox of love, it chasesaway rather than attracts the love of others. The paradox of love states that those who pursue love in order to get their needs met repel the love of others, while those who give love unconditionally receive it back in abundance. Of course, most persons in a relationship initially try to show some measure of unconditional love, but the test of time will eventually expose selfish love for what it is.
5. Selfish love has difficulty adapting to change. It cannot easily weather the tests of psychological development or growth, because it is basically an agreement between two spouses to use each other to meet certain implied needs. If the dynamics of the relationship change, the implied agreement must also change. Selfish love has difficulty adapting. In some cases, this implied agreement is based on lust or taking advantage of each other’s fears or inadequacies. As one person matures or changes, what they perceive as their needs and desires may also change and difficulties will arise. This is one of the reasons that so many teenage marriages eventually fail.
6. Because a person primarily cares about his own feelings,.he is easily provoked, blames the other person, strikes back when he feels hurt, and ends up in a deadlocked relationship filled with deep emotional pain. When hurt, a person will almost automatically strike back and problems easily escalate when both people refuse to take responsibility for what has happened. Many people will try to get away with whatever they can in order to meet their own needs. Because the expectation of selfish love is that the person’s needs, as they perceive them, will be met; their expectations can differ greatly, especially since males and females have significantly different emotional needs. In most relationships both partners eventually experience some level of disappointment. Because they expect that the other person should meet their needs, they blame the other person or refuse to meet the other person’s needs until their needs are met first. When one or both mates are very insecure or desperately needy, attempts to force the other to meet all of a person’s needs can eventually turn the relationship into an emotional hell on earth filled with angry accusations, deep hurt, and sometimes even domestic violence. If one perceives that the other does not have their best interest in mind, such relationships can easily become two enemies living in the same household.
7. Selfish love and insecure attachment styles lead directly to codependency, addictions, domestic violence and other types of dysfunction. Codependency underlies addictions, domestic violence and most other types of dysfunctional relationships. Codependency is typified by performance or approval self-worth. Performance self-worth is an attempt to be self-sufficient without attachment, and people pleasing is an attempt to make others like us so that we will feel loved. The avoidant attachment style leads to becoming a codependent independent worldly success if we would rather lead, or a codependent dependent rescuer if we would rather follow a good leader. This style can also lead a person to become a codependent worldly failure if the person does not feel adequate or a codependent responsibility avoidant if the person attempts to avoid failure by avoiding responsibility. The disorganized attachment style usually leads a person to become a codependent independent worldly failure or responsibility avoidant. The ambivalent attachment style many times results in a person becoming a codependent dependent passive or, if the person has been severely abused, a codependent relationship avoidant. (To understand these relationships better, see the chart at the end of this chapter. For a detailed understanding of codependency, codependent types, and biblical models for each, see my book Transformation!)
8. Selfish love can motivate a person to protect themselves by avoiding deepattachments. In our society most people do not even know their neighbor’s names, eighty percent of men do not have a best friend, and a large majority of adults use some sort of diversion or false intimacy in an attempt to get their love needs met. These attempts by a person to artificially meet their needs for love can include almost anything: drinking at bars, drugs, alcohol, karaoke, bowling, bingo, watching sports, pornography, “gentlemen’s” clubs, sexual promiscuity, sexual and eating addictions, TV, soaps, romance novels, escape into fantasy, possessing things, maintaining a house or even vacations. Each can be used to make the person feel accepted and loved without the risk of deep emotional rejection.
9. Selfish love easily fails due to superficial attachment. Because people are afraid to become vulnerable out of fear of rejection, insecure attachment styles result in superficial attachments. Superficial attachment has its limit concerning how long or what a person is willing to do to maintain a relationship in which their needs are not completely met. Cohabitation is a clear example of this trend to avoid the commitment of a secure attachment. Lust, as a replacement for true love, is another example. Even in marriages, instead of being fully committed to a spouse, many people are tempted to escape into work, hobbies or relationship with children. Even work relationships are usually superficial where employers are not at all interested in anything more than the work they can extract from the employee, and few employees feel loyalty to their companies. Corporate raiders are only interested in the company, just how much money they can make. For many, even their relationship to God is an external religion of obligation, and they easily shop for a church or pastor who will better meet their needs. Even most marriages are so superficially attached, that over fifty percent fail. Over eighty percent of cohabitations fail.
10. Selfish love can never meet a person’s deep need for unconditional love. No matter how compatible the relationship, deep within each person is a need to be truly loved unconditionally without any strings attached. To some degree this kind of love is found in the parents of very healthy families, but even these parents are primarily motivated to meet their own needs. Jesus was willing to give His life to the slow, excruciating pain of the cross for even the worst sinner on earth. His life and sacrifice are the best examples of unselfish love.
The Bible is a book about love. It provides the basis for really understanding this very deep need.
1. Unconditional love comes only from God and is a primary characteristic of God.
1 Jo 4:7. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
2. Jesus demonstrated love to us when He died for us.
1 Jo 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
3. God’s type of love is unconditional. He loves and values us no matter what we have done or have not done. He is not a respecter of persons. He does not favor one over another based on their works or even their morals or obedience to Him.
Ro 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
4. Nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Ro 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
5. God’s type of unconditional love fulfills the law. This is because love is having another’s best interests in mind and this is the purpose of all the law.
Ro 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love [is] the fulfilling of the law.
6. God values love above everything else. It is even more important to Him than what we accomplish or do for Him.
Mr 12:33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love [his] neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
7. It is through love that God draws people to Himself.
Jer 31:3 The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, [saying], Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.
8. Because we have experienced God’s love, we learn to love others.
1 Jo 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
9. Our experience of God’s love begins with our desire to know Him. The more we seek Him, the more we will experience His love, and the more we experience His love the more we will develop the capacity to love God and others.
Pr 8:17 I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.
10. Loving each other is crucial to the further development of God’s type of love and is the basis of authentic spiritual life.
1 Jo 3:14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not [his] brother abideth in death. 16 Hereby perceive we the love [of God], because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down [our] lives for the brethren. 4:12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
11. Love is the most valuable of all emotions and meets our deepest need. The more we love, the more we are filled with the fullness of God. Without the motivation of love, all that we do is of little value.
So 8:7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if [a] man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.
Eph 3:19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
1 Co 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
12. The Bible clearly describes God’s unconditional love. It is sometimes translated as charity since its prime characteristic is benevolence toward others. Unconditional love is clearly very different from selfish love.
1 Co 13:4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 Charity never faileth:
13. Our human emotion of love is based on what others have done for us and how they have met our needs. This same emotion may accompany both selfish love and unconditional love. However, we must be careful not to base what we do on our emotions. Unconditional love transcends our emotions to do what is best even for others that we do not like and that do not meet our needs. Selfish love can and will never do this.
Lu 7:42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? 43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
Jo 10:17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
14. Love is contagious. When our needs have been met by others, we feel love for them and want to meet their needs.
Jo 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
15. Love is the sign of true Christianity.
Jo 13:35 By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
16. Love provides the motivation for our actions and our actions provide the basis of our attachment in loving relationships.
Jo 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. 21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. 23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
17. Great love can produce great sacrifice.
Jo 15:12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
18. The Holy Spirit within us draws us and produces love within us.
Ro 5:5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
Ga 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
19. Love should be our primary motivation in everything that we do.
2 Co 5:14 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:
20. Fear is defeated through love. The basis of fear is that there will be no one available to meet our needs when we need them. For the child held lovingly in his mother’s arms, there is no fear. For the Christian in the arms of God, there is nothing for us to fear.
1 Jo 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
2 Ti 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
21. When we feel loved, it is easy to forgive the wrongs others have done to us.
1 Pe 4:8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.
22. Love is the end result of spiritual and psychological development and is the ultimate sign of Christian maturity. (See Revelations That Set You Free for a detailed explanation of spiritual growth.)
2 Pe 1:5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity (Agape love).
1. The type of unconditional love that God provides meets our deepest needs and provides the safe attachment relationships that we desperately need. Below I have provided my paraphrase of the description of unconditional love in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8. Who would not want to have a relationship with someone that loves us like this:
Love puts up with a lot, is calmly nice, is not competitive, is more concerned about others, humbly serves others, is not offensive in any way, is not demanding, is not irritating or easily exasperated, does not hold the past against you, loves the truth and hates evil, is always on your side trying to make you look good, always believes in you, always expects the best in every situation, never quits or abandons you no matter what happens, and is always and will always be totally committed to you.
2. Because God’s love is not based on what we do, we can always be assured that His love will never fail us. Divorce could not and would not ever exist if both persons in the relationship had been practicing unconditional love, since they would always have the other person’s best interest in mind no matter what happened.
3. Unconditional love provides the basis for secure attachments. A secure attachment style requires that we view ourselves as worthy of love and others as safe. With unconditional love we no longer have to live up to the other’s expectations, and they do not have to be perfect because our total focus is on meeting the needs of the other person. Even if our needs are not met, we can trust God to meet those unmet needs.
4. Unconditional love eliminates irrational jealousy because it focuses on the needs of the other person, not on our fear of losing someone to meet our needs. In fact, if it is best for the other person, the unconditional lover will give up the relationship in order to ensure that the other’s needs are met.
5. Since unconditional love goes beyond fairness and primarily has the other person’s best interest in mind, it eliminates relationship deadlock. Relationship deadlock is not an issue since the unconditional lover will act based on what is best for the other person; not what the other person will do for them.
6. Sowing unconditional love will result in reaping the unconditional love that we so desperately need in our lives. This does not mean that in each and every case the person we attempt to love unconditionally will love us back in the same way; but that God will use that person, or others to ensure that our needs are met.
7. Unconditional love fulfills the paradox of love since it does not attempt to get love from others but to give it liberally to all that will receive it. According to the paradox of love, it is not those who pursue, manipulate, or demand that others meet their needs, but those who unconditionally love others who, in return, have their needs met.
8. Unconditional love easily adapts to change because it is not dependent on any needs or actions of the other person. In fact, it does not change at all no matter what the other person does or needs. The unconditional lover will always have the best interests of those that are loved, whatever they may be, as the basis for his love.
9. Unconditional love is not easily provoked and stands strong even in the face of the most vicious attacks and rejection. At the most, the unconditional lover will simply set boundaries and become more concerned for the welfare of the one who is attacking or rejecting him. Therefore, unconditional love provides one of the strongest healing agents for dysfunctional relationships. The Apostle Peter suggests that simply doing what is right can bring healing to relationship problems even if the other person refuses to follow the Word of God.
1 Pe 3:1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation (or actions) of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. 7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. 8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: 9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
10. Unconditional love is also the answer for codependency, addictions, domestic violence and dysfunctional relationships. These types of problems result from deep insecurity within the person. Unconditional love provides that immovable wall of security in life, because it will love the dysfunctional person no matter what they do. It will also not enable them since protecting them from their own consequences will not be in their long-term interest. (See my book Transformation! for biblical counseling models for each of these problems.)
11. In order to have unconditional love, we must have been delivered from our selfishness through faith. To the degree selfishness prevails in our lives, unconditional love cannot exist since it is focused on others, not on meeting our own needs. Because most Christians have not yet completely overcome the selfishness in their lives, selfish love is still predominant in most of our churches. This is not God’s will. It is His will that we should all be transformed through the process of salvation by faith until the entire expression of our lives is God’s type of unconditional love. Unconditional love is the full expression of God Himself in our lives.
The process of moving from insecure attachment styles to a secure style and developing God’s type of unconditional love is somewhat complex. Consequently, I have developed a flow diagram presented at the end of this chapter describing this process. Please refer to it as you read the steps in this process described in more detail below.
1. The change to God’s type of love begins with the process of salvation by faith. In order to be delivered from our selfishness we must believe that God has and will meet all our needs. Until this has happened, all of our expressions of love will be selfish and when we love this way, we will receive the consequences of selfish love just like everyone else who bases their relationships on it.
Php 4: 19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
2. We must experience God as our ultimate attachment figure. He loves us unconditionally, will never abandon us, can never fail us, is always available and is emotionally sensitive to us; because, in the form of Jesus, He experienced what we feel. Consequently, having a deep trusting relationship with God is the key ingredient to rebuilding the trust required to have a secure attachment style. We need to just crawl up into his arms and let Him love us until we feel secure in His unconditional love.
Ro 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Heb 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
3. We need to see ourselves as God sees us—One of His dear children who He loves without any regard to our works or even our failures. We are loved by God and nothing can separate us from that love. His love must be the foundation for our self-worth or value.
Ro 8:38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
4. We need to see others as God sees them. They are also His children through faith and He loves them even with all their mistakes and failures. We should trust others only as far as they are trustworthy and rely primarily on God to make up the difference. Jesus did not overly commit Himself or put too much of His trust in men. Because David and Jonathan trusted God, they were able to maintain a healthy relationship even though neither was perfect. (See the model of Jonathan for developing healthy attachments later in this book.)
Ga 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
Jo 2:24 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, 25 And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.
5. Insecure attachment styles are changed through the experiences of healthy earthly and heavenly attachments. Support groups can be very effective in helping build our trust in others. David was greatly influenced through his healthy attachment with Jonathan and God. Our experiences with trustworthy, available and emotionally sensitive people provide an experiential basis for developing our own secure attachment style:
2 Sa 9:7 And David said unto him, Fear not: for I will surely shew thee kindness for Jonathan thy father’s sake, and will restore thee all the land of Saul thy father; and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually.
1Chr 22:7 And David said to Solomon, My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the LORD my God:
6. We have finally achieved a secure attachment style when we are able to deeply attach and yet maintain good boundaries. When Jonathan and Saul were killed, David greatly mourned over them. Even after Absalom rebelled against him and was killed by Joab, David was so attached that “he wished he could have died instead of him.” From all this we see that through the healthy relationships with Jonathan and God, David was finally able to change his insecure ambivalent style into a secure attachment style.
2 Sa 1:26 I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
2 Sa 18:33 And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!
7. The more secure we are that our needs will be met and the more love we feel, the more motivated we are to meet the needs of others and show love to them. Fortunately, even if our father abandoned us or our mother did not show us the nurturing that we needed, if we have failed over and over again, or if we have had such negative experiences in life that we have a hard time trusting anyone, God invites us to experience His love. He will make us feel secure in this world through an intimate relationship with Him. He cannot fail us, will not leave us and is perfectly sensitive to us since He, in the form of Jesus, walked among us and has experienced life with us.
8. Even before we have fully developed a secure attachment style and unconditional love, we must begin using and exercising it. As we start giving unconditional love, we will start getting it back. Receiving unconditional love will help us feel more secure and trusting of others and strengthen our faith in God. We must repent of our defenses and efforts at self-protection. God will take care of us. We must learn to set others free to make their own decisions and learn from their own consequences. Finally, whatever we sow is what we will reap.
Ga 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
9. Faith is the key that holds this entire process of the development of love together. Ideally, we begin by believing that we are of value to others, that others are trustworthy, and that we are capable of obtaining love from others. When our life experiences contradict these feelings, our experience and faith in God Who can never fail, Who makes us completely secure, and Who makes us significant without works, makes us feel worthwhile, secure, and significant. With a secure attachment style, the experience of God’s love, and the belief that God can be trusted to meet all our needs, we experience the feelings of being loved unconditionally, which motivate us to love others in the same way.
10. We must realize that God is love and that we must attach fully and unconditionally to Him through faith. In the verses that I have paraphrased below, we should realize that since God is love, these verses are actually a description of God (as suggested one day on the Worship Channel). Can you, the reader, imagine a safer person to trust with your emotions and attach to than God Himself?
1 Cor 13:4-8 God puts up with a lot, is calmly nice, is not competitive, is more concerned about others, humbly serves others, is not offensive in any way, is not demanding, is not irritating or easily exasperated, does not hold the past against you, loves the truth and hates evil, is always on your side trying to make you look good, always believes in you, always expects the best in every situation, never quits or abandons you no matter what happens, and is always and will always be totally committed to you.
I would like to conclude this section with a story told by Harry C. Mabry. A man, who had just arrived in heaven, asked for a glimpse of hell so that he could better appreciate the fact that he had made it to heaven. In his glimpse of hell, he saw a long table filled with the most delicious food imaginable. The problem with hell was that those in hell had to abide by a single rule: They could only eat food with four-foot chopsticks. Because the four-foot chopsticks were too long, no one was able to pick up any of the food and turn the chopsticks around in order to feed himself. Consequently, everyone in hell was starving to death in the midst of plenty. When the man finally arrived in heaven, he was shocked to find an identical table filled with the same delicious food and the same rule; that they could only eat with four-foot chopsticks. However, in heaven they were having a great time feeding each other! (Tan, p. 758) That is the difference between those who love selfishly and those who liberally give unconditional love to others. It makes the difference between living in heaven and hell.