Let's face it. Relationships are what we seek most yet have the hardest time finding. We all want to have a solid marriage, a happy family, good friends, and peace where we work, but wanting good relationships doesn't mean that we know how to develop them. All relationship are built on love, but love is complex, right? But here are some tips from Scripture on how to start improving your relationships today.
1. Understand that love is a skill, not a feeling
The Scripture gives us a great definition of what love is. We tend to think that love is that fluttering of butterflies that we feel toward someone romantically or the deep emotional bond we have with our children. But these are feelings, not love. Love is action. Read the following passage:
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. (NIV)
For example, I may have strong emotional feelings toward my wife, but if we get into an argument, the minute I lose my patience, I have stopped loving her.Of course, I still love her, but I am not lov-ing her in that moment because love is patient. I may love my children, but if, while I am disciplining them, I dishonor them with extreme anger or by calling them names, I have stopped loving them.I love them, but I am not lov-ing them.
Because love is an action that I take, it is more a skill that I can refine than a feeling that I can’t control.Love is patience and we can work to develop more patience.Love is not easily angered.I can work on not losing my temper and get better at it.
2. Be determined to love better
If love is a skill, then let’s work at it and get better. The Scripture above says that love never fails. This is a confusing statement to someone who associates love with an emotion. If you have always thought of love as an emotion, what seems to make more sense is to “fall in love” which of course means we can “fall out of love.” The word “fall” suggests that we have no control over it. But, according to Scripture, love is something I do have control over. I can choose to love and I can choose not to love. I can choose to be patient or not. I can choose to stay angry or forgive. I can choose to remain jealous or I can choose to trust. If you can accept that love is a skill and a choice much more than it is an emotion, then you are now in control of your actions and you can get better at it. But you must decide that you are going to get better. Just like I have to decide to go on a diet and then remind myself that I am on a diet every time I open the freezer and see that Blue Bell ice cream sitting there calling my name. If I am not determined, then it won’t be long before we have eaten the whole thing. Have you ever just made up your mind that you were going to do something? Have you ever gone after something with all of your heart and disciplined yourself for that purpose? The Bible says that God gives the Holy Spirit to help us:
2 Timothy 1:7
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (NIV)
The Lord, through the Holy Spirit has given us the power to discipline ourselves. Just like we can discipline ourselves to work harder for a promotion, eat better to lose weight, or be on time to work every day, the Holy Spirit gives us power for those things uncommonly difficult like improving how well we love. But before we can access the power of the Spirit, we must be determined that we are going to love our spouse better, our children better, our parents better, our boss better, our co-workers better, our church better, even love our enemies better. Set your mind to hone your skill of love.
3. Work hard to love without condition
When we look at the passage from 1 Corinthians, the word “love” is better translated as “charity.” The King James version of the Bible translates the original language like this:
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: (KJV)
Ok, so what is charity. Charity is giving without expectation of receiving. When we promise to love someone, we are not promising to love them as long as they love us. This is typically what happens. When they lose their patience and stop lov-ing us, then we return the favor and lose our patience with them as well. This is how arguments escalate. This becomes a cycle that happens over and over again. But if we accept God’s challenge to love with charity, then we commit ourselves to keep lov-ing the other person even when they are not lov-ing us. So we remain patient with our teenager who is being rebellious. We still give consequences because the Bible says that a parents who does not discipline their children hates their children, but we discipline with a patient tone, not an angry one. They may be yelling and screaming, but you remain patient even as you hand down their discipline whether that it taking away their phone or not letting them play Fortnite. Here is what the Bible says:
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger. (NIV)
To give a gentle answer is to choose to love because love is patient and kind. This reaction to someone who is angry with you calms them, turns away their wrath. But if you return wrath for wrath, you only stir up more in the other person, who then stirs more up in you, so you stir up more in them, then they…well, I think you get the idea.
If you are married, remember your vows. The traditional wedding vows were not conditional. Neither of you said, “I will honor you…as long as you honor me first.” This takes a great deal of effort.
4. Ignore feelings that aren’t lov-ing
As you begin to work at loving better without condition, it is very important to note that your emotions will remain the same for a while. You will be angry but choose to forgive. You will be irritated but choose to be patient. You will be tempted to hold someone’s past mistakes against them (keeping a record of wrongs) but choose to forgive. Our emotions come from the heart and because we have been born with a sinful nature as a result of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden, our emotions are based in sin or selfishness. Our emotions are going to react in a way to try to force or manipulate the other person to do what we want them to do. For example, when we react in anger rather than patience, this is our emotions attempting to make someone stop doing what they are doing. But just because you feel something, it doesn’t mean you have to do it. You may feel depressed, but you don’t have to walk around acting depressed. You may be angry, but you don’t have to scream, yell, or even get that ugly face where you veins pop out of your forehead. Remember, it’s a choice.
Now, this means that you may feel as if you are being fake. You are not. As Christians, we have both the sinful nature in us (selfishness) and the Holy Spirit in us who helps us love selflessly. When our emotions match up with our sinful nature and we choose to act in love, we are not being fake. We are making a decision to not obey what we feel because what we feel is not helpful nor righteous.
Here is what the Lord does for us when we choose to obey the Holy Spirit instead of our sinful emotions: He purifies our heart. This means the more we obey Him and act according to the definition of love from above, He will see this as an act of faith. It takes faith because it feels as if we are just going to let people walk all over us. But the Lord promises to honor us by changing their heart and He will also change our heart. Before long, our emotions will match up with God’s definition of love. And if people resist the Lord and continue to walk all over us for an extended period of time, there will come a time when God will let us know that if we keep allowing that person to walk all over us, we are no longer lov-ing them because we are enabling them to behave in a destructive way. When that time comes, He will help us to know what to do. Until then, trust Him. Love as God loves-without condition and ignore any emotion that doesn’t match up with God’s definition of love.
5. Apologize quickly
Have you ever done something that you shouldn’t, but your pride wouldn’t let you go and apologize. I know many people like this (I might even be one of them 😊). So what happens is that we just go on as if nothing happened. The next time we see that person, we act as if everything is just fine. But to ignore the wounds we have inflicted with our words dishonors that person. We may love that person, but if we do not acknowledge what we have done. To apologize quickly, we must humble ourselves. We have to admit that we are not always right. We may even have to admit that even though we were right, we didn’t handle being right the right way. You may have to apologize to your children for losing your temper, but remind them that you are still right in what you were telling them. You just didn’t tell them with a patient and kind demeanor.
Something happens when we look into the eyes of the person we have hurt and apologize. We hold ourselves accountable and we have to confess to the Lord what we have done before we confess to the person we have hurt. And the Lord does something when we confess to Him when we have hurt others:
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (NIV)
Again, we see the Lord honoring us by doing something supernatural in us that we can’t do on our own. We can’t purify our heart. We can only obey His call to love. But when we do this, He supernaturally touches our heart and purifies us. Over time, this touch brings healing and slowly begins to align our emotions to God’s definition of love. On the contrary, the longer we wait to apologize, the harder our heart becomes as pride settles in.
I hope these five tips help you in your relationships. I would remind you that one of the best things you can do to help you follow these five tips is to get into a good church that is teaching the Bible in truth and love. Love without condition is not natural. It is supernatural. We have to receive it from the Lord every day so that we can give it every day. As we go to church, we learn how to receive this love and we receive strength to give it.
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