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The Key to Loving

 By Dr Charles Stanley 

Until we have genuine feelings of belonging, competency, and self-worth we cannot begin to address the other emotional needs that we feel in our lives. These are the bottom line when it comes to emotional neediness, especially the need for worthiness. Until that level of neediness is met, all efforts to meet other emotional needs will fall short.

Consider for a brief moment the rather gruesome picture of a person whose arm has been broken and the bone has ripped through the skin. You can place all kinds of bandages on that wound, using entire bottles of disinfectant and a round of injections to keep infection from developing in the wound, and perhaps, with a little shifting of the bone, you might get the surface wound on the skin to heal. In the end, however, that arm will remain useless and the problem will never be fully resolved until the broken bone is set and allowed to mend.

The same is true for belonging and worthiness needs. Bandaging efforts may work to a degree. But genuine wholeness and an ability to function well with others require deep inner healing. As long as a person remains needy in the deep emotional area of his life, that person’s ability to reach out to others, accept them, and love them as God desires is limited. Our ability to minister to others is directly related to the degree to which we are whole in emotions and spirit.

 Learning to Love Others as We Love Ourselves

 Jesus taught that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. (See Matt. 22:39.) Even so, many of us Christians have been taught from an early age that we should not love ourselves—that to do so would be self-centered, egotistical, or prideful.

When we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we are to love our neighbors as God loves them just as we love ourselves as God loves us. When we factor God’s love into the equation, everything becomes crystal clear! To love others in a genuine, sacrificial, and pure way, we must know what it means to be loved.

We see the evidence of such love best in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Jesus genuinely loved those who followed Him. He gave His life so that others could experience God’s forgiveness. His love was pure, vast, and eternal. Jesus’ love was unconditional. It is only as we receive such love into our lives and acknowledge the importance that God places upon us as individuals beloved by Him that we truly can give such love to others and fully appreciate the importance that God places upon them.

 Self-Respect Is the Highest Form of Self-Love

 God has given us a healthy way to love ourselves. The word that most readily comes to mind is respect. Respect yourself. That is what it means to have good self-value or self-worth. Regard yourself as God regards you—a unique, irreplaceable, and beloved creation with a divine and eternal plan and purpose.

Don’t allow what others say to drag you down.

Don’t put yourself down.

Hold your head up and face the world with the knowledge that you are a child of God and your Father is the King of the universe!

Respect your body and the way God made you. Don’t abuse your physical body by putting harmful substances into it.

Respect your mind and the purposes God has for it. Don’t feed your mind the trash of this world. Give your mind only the most noble and uplifting ideas.

Respect your emotions and the role God intends for them to play in your life. Don’t engage in activities that eventually dull your conscience. Don’t negate your emotions or deny their existence. Don’t continue friendships or career associations that bring emotional heartache on a continual basis. It is not God’s desire that your emotions be constantly abused or trampled.

I have met people through the years who believe that in some perverse way God wants them to suffer emotionally. Some people have said to me, “I’m not worthy of being loved by others,” or “God seems to allow my heart to be broken again and again so this must be His will for my life.”

No, an ongoing broken heart is not God’s will for you. It is not His will for you to be without the love of other people. You are worthy of being loved. God sent His only Son to die on a cross for you because He considered you to be worthy of His love and forgiveness. God desires for you to be in loving and giving relationships with other people and for your heart to know the fullness of what it means to give and receive love. Don’t buy this lie of the enemy another day! God loves you and He desires love for you. He wants you to be the object of great love from others who rely upon Him also as their supreme source of love.

Respect yourself enough to hold out for God’s best and highest in your life. Refuse to engage in evil. Refuse to give in to temptation. Refuse to negotiate away your integrity or to make compromises in your character.

Respect yourself enough to say no to anything that would diminish, destroy, negate, or deny you the full privileges of being God’s beloved child.

 Let God Define Who You Are

 Suppose you are shut out of a particular social circle.

Suppose you lose your job.

Suppose you are in an accident that results in deep scars on your face or body.

If your worthiness is rooted in your status, performance, or appearance, you are likely to come apart at the seams when tragedy strikes. You are likely to be swallowed up by shame. You may seek to move to another community so that nobody will know what happened to you. You may try to shut yourself off from people.

Is that God’s desire for anyone? Absolutely not.

Furthermore, if the person who struggles with unworthiness is honest with himself, he doesn’t like associating with people whom he perceives to be down and out. He doesn’t like to be near anybody he considers to be a loser who doesn’t come up to his standards.

Is that God’s desire for a Christian or for a church? Absolutely not.

God’s desire for us is that we seek Him first and foremost. Our definition of character and all matters pertaining to the human heart are to be derived from looking at Jesus and seeking to become like Him.

God’s desire is that we have inner strength based upon our faith and our relationship with Him. Then when storms strike, everything around us and even our own health and well-being may take a hit, but our spirits remain vibrant, hopeful, and strong.

God’s desire is that we reach out to others regardless of their status, level of performance, or appearance. We treat winners and losers alike. We are gracious and kind to all we encounter without any regard for their appearance.

Those who have deep feelings of unworthiness can rarely extend worthiness to others in this way unless God does a healing work in their inner souls. Those who feel worthy before God, on the basis of what God has done for them and who God proclaims them to be, are men and women who are capable of making others feel worthy and of accepting others as they are, even as they encourage others to accept the love and forgiveness of our heavenly Father.

 A Practical Means of Loving Others

     Love is far more than an attitude or a feeling. It is behavior. As one person has said, “An attitude in action.” Jesus was very practical in His definition of who our neighbor is and how we are to love our neighbors. Jesus taught:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven … For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? (Matt. 5:43–47)

It is easy for most of us to extend love to those we like or those who are close to us. However, Jesus taught here, as well as in other places, that our neighbor is not only the person who attends church with us, lives in our neighborhood, or is a person who is like us, but our neighbor is every person who crosses our path.

James reminded us that “if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). He wrote this specifically in reference to what he called the “royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (James 2:8). Every person with whom we have contact is our neighbor, even our enemy.

And how are we to express love for our neighbors, those who are enemies as well as those who are friends or family members? We are to bless them, do good to them, and pray for them.

1. Blessing Others

 To bless people means genuinely to desire that God’s best come into their lives. God’s best, of course, is God’s forgiveness and love. To bless people is to desire that they come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.

2. Doing Good To Others

 To do good to people is to extend practical and tangible acts of kindness toward them—--

to speak well of them and not evil,

To help them rather than hinder them,

to refrain from gossiping about them even if the story has truth in it, to be courteous and kind to them, and

to point them toward others who may be helpful to them.

3. Praying For Others

 To pray for others is to ask God to push back all of the forces of evil that are at work in their lives, to ask the Lord to heal the deep emotional wounds in their lives, and to ask the Lord to send someone to them from whom they will be willing to receive the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection on their behalf.

To love our neighbors is not some sort of ephemeral, otherworldly attitude toward others. It is a practical love.

Truly this is the way we are to love ourselves as well!

We are to desire God’s best in our lives—--God’s highest and richest blessings. We are to receive God’s forgiveness and love in an ongoing way in our lives and to diligently request and seek out all of the truly good things that God desires for us to have.

We are to extend kindness to ourselves—--receiving the forgiveness of Jesus and then forgiving ourselves. We are not to beat ourselves up over the past sins of our lives. Rather, we are to receive the forgiveness that Jesus extends to us and then forgive ourselves and move forward in our lives. We are not to belittle ourselves or to criticize ourselves before others from a motivation of trying to appear humble, saying, “Oh, I really don’t deserve that,” or “I’m really not that great a person.” Rather, we are to receive compliments with a grateful heart and view ourselves as Christ sees us: forgiven, beloved, and growing each day more and more into His likeness of character.

We are to pray that God will defeat the enemy at every turn and that He will keep us from evil influence and evil temptations. We are to pray that God will heal us and make us whole. We are to be open to the truth of God’s Word at all times, eager to learn and to grow in our faith and in our understanding of the Scriptures.

Do you truly love yourself in this way—--completely open to God’s blessings, forgiving yourself and treating yourself kindly, and praying for yourself? Are you loving others in this threefold way: blessing them, doing good to them, and praying for them?

 Loving Others Is a Reflection of Loving God

 Our love for others is vitally connected to our ability to show love to God and receive love from God. Jesus addressed this issue clearly:

Then one of them [the Pharisees], a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:35–40)

When we love God with all of the heart, soul, and mind, we must recognize as part of that very process that God has given us a heart, soul, and mind. We become aware of the eternal part of us, the deep emotional current that runs in us, and the will that has been given to us by God. When we become aware of these things in us—--and value them—--we become much more aware that God has made others with a heart, soul, and mind. We become more keenly attuned to the fact that God desires to spend eternity not only with us, but also with those we love as well as those who are strangers. We become more sensitive to the fact that others have deep emotions that may not be readily expressed and emotional needs that may not be met. We become aware that every person has a will and a decision-making capability, and thus, we are not and can never be the “savior” for another person. Only Jesus Christ can fill that role.

John wrote of this vital link between our love for God and our ability to love others: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: That he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20–21).

Just as loving God with all our being is the way to have a right relationship with God, so loving our neighbors is the key to having right relations with other people.

To love God with all of the heart, soul, and mind is to love God with a right attitude and a right humility of heart. To love others as ourselves is to have a right attitude toward others and to live in humility toward them.

 Loving Others Is a Commandment

 Are you aware that you are commanded to love yourself as God loves you and to love your neighbor as God loves your neighbor? This teaching of Jesus that is directly related to your emotional need for worthiness is not optional. It is required of you.

Consider this statement of Jesus:

Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Matt. 19:16–19)

Jesus did not say, “Love others as you love yourself,” as a nice idea about human relationships. His statement was not a suggestion; it was a commandment. In fact, Jesus was quoting a commandment given first to Moses. (See Lev. 19:18.) Jesus believed that commandment, kept it, embodied it, fulfilled it, and taught it. The commandment is no less in effect today than it has been in effect from God’s perspective for thousands of years.

The command to love yourself must be kept before you can keep the command to love others. It is not possible to give to others a greater amount than you have received, not in any area of life. A basic law of transaction that God has set up in our world says we can give only from the supply that we have received. Yet an equal aspect of that law of transaction is that the more we give, the more we receive. To give love and a sense of self-worth to others, we first must receive love and have a sense of self-worth. And the good news is that we can receive love. John wrote it plainly: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). In like manner, we love others because we have experienced God’s love. Again, as John wrote, “Let us love one another, for love is of God” (1 John 4:7).

 To Love Is to Refrain From Harm

 I recently heard a man say, “I love my children.”

A person interviewing the man on television responded by asking, “Then why did you kill their mother in their presence?”

He said, “I made a mistake. But I still love my children.”

No, I don’t believe he does. If that man had truly loved his children, he would not have hurt them by murdering their mother! Love does not act in a hurtful way, either to oneself or to others.

Every person who has ever loved another person, a spouse, or a child knows this to be true. We seek only good for those we love. We feel terrible when we accidentally hurt loved ones, and we feel indignant or angry when others hurt our loved ones.

God’s command for us to love ourselves means, in part, that we are to do nothing that will bring harm to ourselves. We will take no substance into our bodies that is known to cause bodily harm or mental deficiency. We will engage in no activities that we know will bring detriment to us. We will forge no alliances or relationships that we know will be hurtful to us financially, materially, physically, or emotionally. God gave His law to mankind not to diminish man’s fun or to put a damper on man’s ability to experience life fully; rather, He gave the law so that man might avoid circumstances that would produce physical, material, emotional, or spiritual harm.

Every one of God’s commands related to other people exists so that both you and the other person will be in a position to avoid harm. God’s command, “You shall not commit adultery,” was given so that your heart might not be broken, your marriage might not be destroyed, your reputation might not be damaged, your future might not be impaired, and your standing of innocence and purity before God might not be tainted. The commandment, when kept, yields a benefit to others and to society as a whole, but the primary beneficiary in keeping the commandment is the person who keeps it.

The commandment “You shall not murder” is of benefit to the other person, but the primary beneficiary is the person who keeps it. A person who keeps this commandment is spared the guilt of murder and all of the possible consequences that may come to pass in the life of a murderer: separation from family, imprisonment, a life on the run, lingering nightmares, hardness of heart, overwhelming remorse, or death.

Paul wrote to the Romans,

 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:8–10)

 Consider these words of Paul: “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Gal. 5:14–15).

Sin breeds guilt and unworthiness inside us, and it puts us into a position to bring back upon ourselves the very sin that we inflict on others. Who is the person most likely to be murdered in an act of revenge? The person who has murdered. Who is the person most likely to have something stolen from him? The person who has stolen from others. As a simple, practical matter of living at peace with others in this world, it is wise to keep God’s commandments. The benefits are great, outwardly in the material, physical, and natural realms of life, and inwardly in the emotional and spiritual realms.

Sin is also a way of harming oneself. Its consequences are always negative and eventually deadly. Sin kills from the inside out.

Show me a person today who is bent on destroying himself with alcohol, drugs, or an illicit love affair, or who harbors unchecked anger and bitterness in his heart, and I will show you a person who does not love himself. Such a person has no sense of worthiness. The undercurrent of that person’s life is shame, guilt, and intense emotional need. Such a person is incapable of freely giving unconditional love to another person and of extending to another person great value and worthiness.

The person who genuinely loves will not harm either himself or others.

 God Desires for You to Be His Agent of Ministry

            God desires to heal you in your inner self and to meet your needs, but His desire is with a purpose. He desires for you to be equipped and fully able to be His agent of love and ministry to others. Giving to others is part of the reason you were created and exist today. Giving to others is the only means by which you will feel fulfilled and satisfied that you have accomplished your purpose in life.

God stands ready, willing, and able—--right now—--to meet your needs for forgiveness, self-worth, belonging, and competency, and to complete the meeting of all other practical and material needs in your life if you will only turn to Him, seek His help, and be willing to live according to His plan.

Don’t let anything keep you from receiving all that God desires to give to you through Christ Jesus.

I declare to you the same thing Paul declared to the believers in Philippi: “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

Go to Christ Jesus today and receive the overflowing abundance of supply that He has for you. Your needs can be met!

 

Father, we honor and praise You today as our Need Meeter. Give us the courage and ability to see the deep inner needs that exist in ourselves and in others. And then give us the courage and direction to address these needs. Help us. Lord, to be honest with ourselves, with You, and with others.

Help us to trust You, heavenly Father, with our whole hearts and minds. Help us to look to You first and foremost as the One who is the source of all that we need. Give us discernment to see who and what means You are putting into our paths to help meet our needs, both internal and external. Give us the courage to accept what You so freely offer to us—Your love, Your acceptance, Your forgiveness, Your daily guidance and comfort, Your abiding presence and help. And then, Father, help us to love others as we grow in our ability to love ourselves. Use us for Your glory and for the building of Your kingdom.

 We ask this in the name that is above all names, the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen!

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