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This article is not intended for those who have gone through abuse or other kinds of violence. Loving those who “hurt” you does not mean or imply that you must subject yourself to abuse. The right response to abuse is to leave the abuser.
Motive, thoughts, words, and practice are the components of love and hate. And relational challenges are the context and stimuli that will reveal which one controls your heart.
Every young couple gets married because they are in love. About half of these couples become divorced because they are no longer in love. Rarely will anyone challenge the couple before marriage regarding their understanding and practice of love, and that’s a problem.
We politely assume the young couple knows what they are talking about when they say they are in love. I think if you were to step back from that assumption for a moment and run it through a biblical filter, you might have second thoughts regarding their assessment of love and each other.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9)?
You can say that you love someone, but it is only in the crucible of a trial when your authentic understanding and practice of love will become clear. The young couple in love is no different from you or me.
I loved my wife before she was my wife. After she became my wife, I began to love her less. Of course, I could spin the conversation by saying something like, “I loved her, but I did not like her,” but that would be intellectual dishonesty–to put it mildly.
Let us not split hairs. Call it what you will. Love. Like. The point is, none of us will know the “kind of love” we have for another person until something difficult comes between us. This perspective applies to any relationship.
When my marriage got tough, my definition of love went through a test, to the point where I decided I did not love my wife any longer. I see this outcome all the time in counseling.
People were in love. Then they fall out of love. They start harboring a general dislike for each other. They either endure to the end, or they get a divorce. Then they become former friends who are no longer friends.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).”
There is nothing a person can do to you that can stop you from loving them, even if your love turns into sadness because of the choices they have made. Though they may never love you in return, they cannot stop you from biblically loving them.
Biblical love is not under the power of human sovereignty or human manipulations. God’s love is empowered and dispensed by Him, and the schemes of human conniving can not thwart it.
Most Christians agree with this perspective on biblical love. They know it is from God, a gift given to humanity that is empowered by the Spirit of God. They realize love is a choice and a privilege. They even love the “love your enemy” verses.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same (Matthew 5:46)?
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28).
They know to be unwilling to “love your enemies” is contrary to the gospel as well as the Bible. Believers believe not to love someone is standing in defiance of the Word of God while opening themselves up to the Lord’s opposition (James 4:6).
To be like Christ is to love the unlovable. To follow Christ is to love your enemies. Imagine the good Lord saying, “I do not love you anymore.” Horrors. Unfathomable. We would never un-love that way because we want to be like Him.
Or would we?
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Mable comes to you sharing a tale of woe about what her spouse did to her. He hurt her. The sin against her is objective. Her story is true, and the disappointment is real.
The problem is you cannot change what someone did to her. The toothpaste does not go back in the tube. You cannot undo hate. But it does not have to grab hold of our hearts and control our thinking, and that is what you want to share with Mable.
The danger for Mable will be if the sin of her husband begins to metastasize in her. It is one thing to be hurt, disappointed, and let down by someone. It is another thing when their sin takes root in your heart. You should not give the sin of others “shelf life” in your heart.
She may not be able to do much about what her husband did to her, but she can begin the process of reorienting her heart to the gospel while appropriating its power. One of the first things you want to do for her is to make sure that she has a more profound realization of God’s love.
God’s love is not dependent on a response from others. The Lord is not controlled by us as though He needs us to be a certain way before He loves us. Only when you “need” someone will you fall prey to their control.
If she needs her spouse to like her, for example, her spouse will control her. Our disappointment in others is proportional to how much we want them to meet our expectations.
A person who craves love will spend most of their time thinking about how others are loving them. They will critique and measure the love of others. A person who is not seeking love from people will be more focused on loving others (Matthew 22:36-40). This person will be free from the bondage of love.
When I “fell out of love” with my wife, it was because I was more focused on what she was not doing for me, rather than what I was doing for her. At best, my love was conditional.
My reaction to her actions exposed my love for what it was—self-centered and self-serving. It was more important for her to love me than it was for me to love her. Which is more important to you?
This worldview is just one of the many remarkable things about Jesus. He fixated more on loving others. I am not aware of a time where He talked about how He longed for people to love Him.
He wanted people to love God. He appealed to them to love others. He wanted all people to have what He had, which was the love of God in His heart. He knew the path to freedom was to love others more than oneself (Matthew 22:36-40; Philippians 2:3-4).
But Jesus singularly fixated on loving others so much so that even when they despitefully used Him, He loved them in return. Jesus had a “uni-directional love language.” (See 1 Peter 2:23-24)
His goals were much higher than being loved by us. He wanted to redeem us, even if it meant He was going to die for our crimes.
Your first call to action when someone does something hurtful to you is to ask God to give you compassionate love (pity) for them. If you do not pray and receive this kind of love from the Father, you will not be able to move toward redemptive relational goals.
Redemptive purposes released Jesus to ask the Father to forgive those for what they were doing to Him (Luke 23:34). Jesus was a redemptive lover—a person who was more concerned with what others needed than focused on what He was not receiving from them.
This kind of attitude explains why Joseph could forgive his brothers for what they did to him (Genesis 50:20). He was a redemptive practitioner of love. Joseph and Jesus had a vision that transcended their disappointing creature comforts.
There is a fuller experience of the riches of God that is not found by expecting or demanding others to love you the way you want them to love you. To miss this is to be like a grader, with a clipboard and pen in hand, measuring and critiquing the kind of love that individuals give to you.
When my wife disappointed me, my initial thoughts were not about the magnification of Christ through the trial but about what I was not receiving from her. This self-centered posture led to more relational tension, as it always does.
And things did not take a turn for the better until there was a “turn” in my heart. Because of the mercy that is given to me by the Lord (2 Timothy 2:24-25), my thoughts began to shift toward the Creator rather than the creature (Romans 1:25).
You will know how you think about love by how you respond when you are not loved well. Since your mouth reveals your heart (Luke 6:45), your words will serve as a mirror to show your genuine self.
If the devolvement of your marriage is to the point of abuse and other forms of hostility, your best course of action is third-party intervention from your church and possibly the civil authorities.
The first step in reconciling and restoring a broken relationship with another person is to reconcile and restore your heart to God. When your sinful disappointment with another person’s sin happens, your first action should be vertical, not horizontal.
Let the Lord set you free (John 8:32) before you enter into a relationship that has been disrupted by self-centeredness. If you do not do this, you will not have the love of God in your heart. Your sin at their sin will quench (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and grieve (Ephesians 4:30) the Spirit’s enablement in your heart and life.
Only an offended person empowered by God can engage their offender with love, mercy, grace, and truth. Jesus could ask for the Father’s pity on the mean people who hurt Him because His attitude toward them was full of the love of His Father. His response put Him at a redemptive advantage. Think about it this way:
If this scenario is true for you, it begs the question: Do we want to be redemptive in the life of the person who hurt you? If you do want to be a redemptive force in someone who has hurt you, there is only one thing for you to do: repent.
Repentance would look like this:
As you have probably perceived, this second illustration is how God saved you. You hurt Christ, but He did not make it about what you did to Him. He made it about what He could do for you. The uni-directional force of the gospel leads to redemption (Romans 5:8).
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).