The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
What is love? What does it mean to love someone? Is it to have a checklist of actions we have done for others? Is it an emotion we are supposed to feel?
What is love? What does it mean to love someone? Is it to have a checklist of actions we have done for others? Is it an emotion we are supposed to feel?
When the Lord explained, “A new command I give you: Love one another,” he was giving a model and definition of love. I can imagine the disciples' confusion, asking themselves, "This is new? He told us to love our neighbor yesterday." But here comes the new element, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples” (John 3:34, 35). In other words, the new command is that the Lord was giving himself as the standard or definition of love.
JESUS IS THE MODEL OF LOVE
Jesus is saying, "Relate to others as I have related to you." As we study how Jesus related to his disciples, we have the opportunity to see love "in motion" in the pages of the Bible. We can look at the one who is love incarnate and in a very real sense observe love. We study love by observing the elements of how Jesus related to his disciples, beginning with Commitment, Affection and Encouragement, and Honesty through Vulnerability and Confrontation.
Before we discuss these specific elements of love, I need to make a comment about personalities. Loving people is not an issue of becoming an extrovert if you are an introvert. It is becoming Christ-like. For some people, that means to talk a little more, and for others it means to talk a little less. Loving people is not a matter of becoming someone else, but becoming more yourself. As we learn how to love as Christ loves, we begin living as we were made to live.
The first element of how Jesus loved his disciples is commitment. Luke 19:1 relates Jesus’ encounter with the tax collector Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus as he passed by, but Jesus stopped and called out to Zacchaeus to come down and take him home for a meal. To us, it may seem forward to ask to eat at someone’s house, but in that culture, Jesus was showing Zacchaeus commitment and acceptance. The table fellowship of sharing a meal was a powerful statement of acceptance and love that people understood. The Jews of the day were known as never having fellowship with those who were not a faithful part of the Jewish community. One Roman wrote that Jews did “not break bread with any other race.” 
Those who heard Jesus interacting with Zacchaeus were shocked and said, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner!" Zacchaeus, overwhelmed by this acceptance and commitment, proceeded to give half of his money away. People are often overwhelmed when others make commitments to them. Jesus spoke of the ultimate commitment when he said, "Greater love has no one than this that one lay down his life for his friend" (John 15:13). A true commitment of love will require sacrifice. Jesus highlighted that he was making the ultimate sacrifice by giving up his life.
The early Christians were known both within the Christian community and outside it as brothers and sisters. They had a commitment to each other that even superseded family bonds. They were committed to love each other and help each other to reach maturity in the Lord. What does this kind of commitment require? Paul writes in I Cor. 13 that true love “believes all things, bears all things and endures all things.”
“Love believes all things, bears all things and endures all things”
When we love someone, we are committed to them, and we are not turned away by pain or difficulty. But commitment goes beyond who someone is to who they can become. If we really love someone, we see him not only for who he is now in his frailties and character weaknesses, but for who he can become. Look at the disciples: what a ragged motley crew. But they became the core of the most vibrant movement of all time. They were captured by the love of one man.
Anne Lindbergh, a shy, timid girl, became an acclaimed American author. She describes why: “The sheer fact of finding myself loved was unbelievable and changed my world, my feelings about life and myself. I was given confidence, strength, and almost a new character... consequently I found I could do more than I realized.” There are Anne Lindberghs all around us: people who can become more than they realize. The key to the door of their potential is our commitment of love.
But this kind of commitment of love doesn't just happen. It's a choice to trust God and depend on his strength and choose to be committed to people, to love people. We are all tempted when it becomes difficult and painful to write someone off and say, "Well, I might have to relate to that person in heaven, but I'll wait till then." That is a cop-out, a compromise. We cannot love without a commitment that supersedes the normal human emotional ebbs and flows. True love is commitment.
“Love is Patient”
Paul in I Cor. 13 explains that “love is patient.” The word patient often seems to us very soft and pleasant. In fact, “patient” is a very strong word; it means longsuffering and enduring, a steady commitment in the face of pain. To be patient means to stick to commitments regardless of difficulty.
Imagine an older relative who has suffered many difficulties and trials and who wants you to know it. She is bitter, angry, and full of self pity. Has she lasted? Yes. Has she been patient? No.
My mother endured enormous physical difficulties. She had major back surgery, knee and hip replacement surgery, and had severe arthritis joint pain and Parkinson’s. She also lost her husband and one daughter. Yet she loved people, and she didn’t talk about all she had suffered. She was a joy to be with. She was patient and enduring in the midst of life’s pain. Love endures.
“Love is Kind”
Paul goes on to underline that the principle “love is patient” can only be completely understood in relationship with the principle “love is kind.” The reason love is patient or enduring is because love is kind. It is love -- because when it suffers it is also kind. This isn’t just a gritting of teeth and enduring with silent resentment – it is a simple cheerfulness and helpfulness.
Let me tell you a true story of a mother at the end of her rope. Her world was just too much for her: the washing machine had broken down; the telephone was ringing off the hook; she had a headache; and she just received a bill in the mail that she didn’t have money to pay.
She writes “Almost to the breaking point, I lifted my one-year-old into his high chair, leaned my head against the tray, and began to cry. Without a word, my son took his pacifier out of his mouth and stuck it in mine.” Her son was instinctively kind.
Think about the Lord’s life. Much of what he did could be called kind. He welcomed the little children. He gave comfort to the heavy hearted and healing to the sick. He brought a ray of happiness into an often dreary world. This is kindness, giving human compassion and tender heartedness to people.
How much better our lives would operate if we were kind. The oil of human kindness eliminates so much of the friction of relational strife. A large part of healthy relationships is being kind. How much of our interaction with others would take on a spiritual, even eternal, flavor if we treated them kindly.
Most of our interactions with people that we meet in the world are impersonal, quick, antiseptic and safe. Studies have shown that if you look someone in the eye for 7 seconds, you are recognizing them as a human being. If done with compassion you, in fact, are being kind.
2) Affection / Encouragement
The second part of love is affection and encouragement. Jesus not only showed affection and gave encouragement to his disciples, but also to others. Mark l0:4 says that Jesus "took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." When he sat down at the last supper, he described how much he had looked forward to eating the Passover with his disciples. At the last supper John (“the disciple whom Jesus loved”) leaned against him to ask a question. When Peter rightly acknowledged that he is the Christ, Jesus blessed him and called him by a new name. The affection and encouragement that Jesus reflects provides an atmosphere of joy and warmth.
Peter tells the believers to greet one another with “a kiss of love” (I Peter 5:14). Thus the very first responsibility of believers is to greet one another with affection as a sign of their love for each other. This area of affirmation and encouragement is one of the most difficult for me. For example, a member of my small group once, un-requested, prayed for me, "Lord, enable Greg to be more encouraging." I have a tendency to notice all the bad in others, and out of a desire to help, I feel the need to let them know the truth. So I pull up my dump truck of truth and unload. I'm not dismissing constructive honesty as we will see in a moment. We need to change, and we need to tell each other the truth, but the ratio should be 10 (positive, affectionate, affirming, encouraging) to 1 (negative, difficult, confrontational). What do we see in others? Do we see the possibilities? Do we relate to them expecting the Lord to work?
A few years ago, I joined a small group which met every Wednesday morning so I could learn and grow in the Lord. Why? Was there some great theologian in this group? No, there was a guy who has such a severe problem with dyslexia that he could hardly read. He failed second grade twice. But I had heard for years about what a great encouragement he was to so many people throughout Europe. I had heard of how he loved the Lord and experienced a deep richness in his relationship with the Lord. I had heard of how the Lord had used him in many people’s lives as he loved them. I decided that I wanted to meet and spend time with this 65 year old guy. I know theology much better than this guy, but I knew how much I needed to learn from a godly man who knows and lives in the Lord’s love and loves people. I discovered that his greatest gift was encouragement. All of us in the group felt lifted up and wanted to love the Lord and others more from just being with him.
Affection and encouragement should be not only verbal but physical. This is particularly difficult for men. Psychologist Alan McGinnis explains, "Except to shake hands, men are not even allowed to touch each other." In contrast we see John leaning against Jesus to ask him a question. We find the Ephesians elders weeping and hugging Paul when he tells them he won’t see them again in this life. If we are going to imitate Christ we need to love like he loved, and this may include hugging a close friend. To follow Jesus we need to love like Jesus and be willing to be counter cultural.
I left a position a few years ago as the Chief Operations Officer of an Investment Firm. I made decisions that affected the staff members in that company. When I left, I received a small party, and every one told me that they would miss me. (What are they going to say? That they aren’t going to miss me?) When I am gone from this planet, will it ultimately matter what business decisions I made in that job? No, probably not at all. But I received a card along with the party in which about six people told me about the impact I had in their lives – including one who is now a child of God. One individual wrote, “Greg, there is no way to express my sense of loss for you not being here. God has blessed me tremendously through you. I am very thankful for you. This company and the people will miss your guidance. God bless your new ministry.” Another dear friend wrote, “It has been an honor and privilege to get to know you and work with you. Thanks for everything, especially your desire to do what’s right and to challenge me and others. Fight the good fight with all your might.” I did not quote these comments to pat myself on the back. They nearly brought me to tears when I read them. Why? Because I knew I was investing my life at least part of the time in what matters – loving people.
I also have to tell you that I left that job with a great sense of failure. Why? I have a very strong personality, and two of the people who worked for me didn’t. This wasn’t a daily occurrence, but it wasn’t uncommon for me to be harsh or to lose my temper. I believe that these two individuals knew at a deep level that I wanted the best for them, but I wasn’t always, as I Corinthians teaches, patient and kind. What a difference that makes. What a difference that someone knows how much you love them – or when they aren’t quite sure.
What is your heritage? What is your obituary going to read? The only thing that lasts is love. The only thing that ultimately matters is love.
3) Honesty of Vulnerability
The next principle of love is honesty-- the honesty of vulnerability and the honesty of confrontation. They are actually two separate principles, but they both have the same root: telling the truth. Vulnerability is telling the truth about oneself, and confrontation is telling the truth about another person.
In the garden of Gethsemane, we see the principle of vulnerability. Jesus exclaimed, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me" (Mark 14:34). Jesus himself didn't hold machismo up as an ideal, but when troubled was willing to say so. Paul likewise was brutally honest when he wrote “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (II Cor. 1:8). I have a close friend who has helped many men because he is open about himself. His own honesty has provided the freedom for others to be honest in response. In true honesty, there is a certain guilelessness, which makes one approachable.
Curiously, honesty is a foundation for even knowing ourselves. Interestingly, often in counseling sessions, the counselee says to the counselor, “You are the first person I have ever been completely honest with.” This statement, to a certain extent, describes the cause for why they are in counseling. Problems develop in our souls when we aren't honest with others, when we don’t have the kind of honest loving relationships that Jesus had and teaches us to have.
This willingness to be honest and vulnerable is a great challenge. To express weakness or need is threatening and often greatly feared. To be sure, we aren't speaking of a constant whimpering self-pity that some are tempted by. Honesty is also not someone telling you everything about themselves whether you want to hear it or not. But to speak openly of who one is, "my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow," takes great courage and strength. And, in fact, this lack of vulnerability corresponds to a lack of courage. Timidly, we hide behind our strong walls of who we are projecting ourselves to be. It is actually quite simple: either we are honest with who we are, or we are hiding or lying. Part of loving someone is being willing, like Jesus, to be honest and vulnerable with them.
We can’t love others into something that we are not doing. James exhorts us to “confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16). If we don’t have this quality and depth of loving relationships, where we can confess our sins and ask a close friend for wisdom, counsel, and prayer, then we need to. I am not suggesting that this will happen overnight -- it won’t. This process takes time.
This is part of the basic quality and depth of relationships we need if we are going to become the kind of godly people the Lord wants us to be. This is what it means to love people – being like Jesus. Yet we live in world that is dominated by image, and we feel enormous pressure to present the perfect Christian image. We don’t want to be honest and tell mature, godly people about our struggles, pain and sin. But we cannot biblically fully love others if we don’t build relationships of this quality and depth.
4) Honesty of Confrontation
The second part of honesty is confrontation. In my master’s thesis on communicating the truth, I wrote a chapter on the context, or ethos, of the teaching of Jesus. An entire section was dedicated to confrontation, because Jesus confronted everyone. He rebuked his disciples ("Oh you of little faith") and the religious leaders he called "hypocrites” and “white washed sepulchers” (Matt. 8:26; Matt. 23:27). Jesus had a ministry of confrontation. He was not reticent to confront his disciples, for this was a part of how he loved them.
I have several close friends who have a ministry of confrontation in my life. A number of years ago, a co-worker confronted me about certain areas of weakness in how I lead and manage. Following the biblical principle of being honest with trusted brothers in the Lord, I told a close friend what had happened, and I explained why I just happened to be right. I was looking for his support and affirmation. But he responded, “Brother, all of us are riddled with character flaws, but not all of us get to see them all at once.” In other words my co-worker was right and I needed to look at my glaring weaknesses. As you might imagine, I didn’t like hearing that. But this was a Christian brother who loved me enough to tell me the truth about myself. We don't love each other as Jesus loved, if we don’t tell the truth to each other. We need to speak the truth in love—because we love. The only question is whether we will be teachable enough to learn from one other.
This idea of love reflected to us in honest confrontation could be pictured as a mirror. We need a mirror to see ourselves physically, and we need the mirrors of others’ loving confrontation to see ourselves truly. We can’t see ourselves spiritually, emotionally and morally without loved ones who are willing to ask us tough questions, and reflect back observations and concerns.
I have had the opportunity to do some management consulting for businesses. These organizations hire a consultant, because they are looking to become better and more effective organizations. One of the first assessment tools given to the senior leadership of an organization are 360s. What are 360s? 360s are a management tool that asks an employee’s coworkers to evaluate their job performance and alignment with company values.
We need spiritual 360s in the church. We need to know each other well enough and love each other enough to give each other 360s. Where are you spiritually? Where are you relationally? What are your growth areas?
Let me give an example of someone from history who worked at being honest. Martin Luther, the leader of the Reformation, wrote about the importance of being willing to confront others.
“I should certainly rebuke and reprimand my brother, but I should not be hostile to him. If I say to him out of a brotherly heart: ‘You fool,’ as Christ says to His disciples: ‘O fools and slow of heart,’ and St. Paul to the Galatians: ‘O foolish Galatians,’ this is no sign of anger; it is a sign of friendly love. For if I did not have the welfare of my brother at heart, I would certainly be quiet and let him go.”
Yet the willingness to love someone enough to confront them is rare. This is love – but it is love that is often not appreciated. Do you instinctively appreciate it when someone confronts you? Humanly speaking I don’t. Our first instinct is to reject the interfering person and say, “Who do you think you are?”
I once confronted a young lady who professed that she was a believer but who was seriously dating a nonbeliever. She reacted to me and was offended and angry when I said that she was disobeying the clear teaching of scripture. This is our human prideful response to having our warts and pimples reflected back to us. Luther explains how people often responded to him, “I know well that people do not like to hear themselves rebuked. Nonetheless, I will speak the truth; I must do so even though it were to cost me twenty necks.”
We must be committed to the truth enough, and love others enough, to lovingly confront them.
Biblically this confrontation should proceed in stages. Virtually every time the term reprove is used in the New Testament, the world gentle is used as a modifier. We are not to treat each other as rugby players with the responsibility of knocking each other over. No, we are to gently love and raise issues.
Like a wise doctor who observes a lifestyle pattern that will cause the ruin of his patient’s health, we need to be willing to ask questions or say, “brother or sister, I love you, and I want the best for you, and I am concerned for you.” Again Luther gives insight, “You must inflict the wound in such a way that you know both how to soften the blow and how to heal the wound; you must be severe in such a way that you do not forget to be kind.”
Learning to love people is no easy task. It requires commitment, affection and encouragement, and honesty through vulnerability and confrontation. It requires stepping out of our comfort zone to love others.
Next week, we will discuss more elements of a biblical model of loving people.
 Diodorus the Sicilian (Historical Library 34.1.1-4) in Louis Feldman and Meyer Reinhold, Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans: Primary Readings,(Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996), 384.
 Charles R. Swindoll, “Love without a Net,” in Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 1983), 66–68.
 Clara Null. In Chicken Soup for the Working Woman’s Soul: Humorous and Inspirational Stories to Celebrate the Many Roles of Working Women by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Mark Donnelly. (Backlist LLC, 2012),
 Alan McGinnis. The Friendship Factor: How to Get Closer to the People You Care for. (Augsburg Books, 2003), 4.
 Ewald M. Plass, comp., What Luther Says, vol. 2. (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1959), 1169.
 Plass, comp., What Luther Says, 1169.
 Plass, comp., What Luther Says, 1170.
Greg Pritchard earned his MA from Trinity School of Divinity before continuing on to finish his PhD at Northwestern University. The intersection of theology, history, philosophy and sociology is Greg’s primary focus both in teaching and writing. He has taught graduate-level courses on apologetics, theology, history, leadership, the New Testament, ethics, and Christian Thought at American, European, and Asian institutions of higher learning. His book, Willow Creek Seeker Services, has been published in four languages. In addition, Greg has worked as the COO at a Chicago investment firm. Currently, he serves as the President of the Forum of Christian Leaders and as the Director of the European Leadership Forum.
The Forum of Christian Leaders (FOCL) is the sponsor of the European Leadership Forum (ELF), which seeks to unite, mentor, and resource European evangelical leaders to renew the biblical church and re-evangelise Europe. This happens first at the ELF's annual meeting that occurs each May in Poland. In addition to the ELF, FOCL is host to an online media library and learning community for evangelical Christians. Learn more at foclonline.org and euroleadership.org; or join us on Twitter @FOCLonline and Facebook Forum of Christian Leaders.