Devotional: We Love Because He Loved First
A few weeks ago, I wrote a devotional about my struggle with comparing myself to other women. I mentioned that this has been a struggle of mine for quite some time. Something that came to mind while I was writing that devotional is the unlikelihood that anyone would have ever known about my struggle if I had not admitted it. My comparison of myself to other women is silent and secret. In the hidden confines of my mind, I judge and form opinions, while outwardly, I smile and engage in polite conversation – who would ever know what I am actually thinking? I also mentioned that despite my attempts to find myself superior through comparison, I always end up feeling defeated and far away from God. It might not surprise you to hear that another sin, one that Pastor Barry spent some time discussing this past weekend, usually follows that comparison: jealousy. These two sins have wreaked havoc on my ability to love others and are especially dangerous because they are hidden deep in my heart, where only I experience the damage being caused.
Several years ago, I was in a relationship with someone I idolized. Although the Lord had already begun working in me, I had not realized it and was living selfishly, as part of the world. Because God was not the ruler of my heart, my boyfriend filled that space, and I found myself desperately seeking affirmation and assurance from him. As he was never meant to fill that space, I struggled to feel secure in my relationship with him. I lived in fear that he would reject me for someone else that he found more attractive or more charming, etc. This fear drove me to compare myself to other women in an attempt to make myself feel justified. This comparison ultimately resulted in jealousy which manifested itself in my words as I said hateful and mean things about women that I envied.
At the time, I believed that it was my love for my boyfriend that drove me to such fierce jealousy. I believed that my jealousy was born out of a desire for him and that my fear of losing him was because of my love for him. But as God has worked in my life and in my heart over the past few years, I have come to realize that the love that drove me to that jealousy was purely the love of myself. In his sermon on Sunday, Pastor Barry quoted Christian counselor and author, David Powlison, who writes in his book Good and Angry, that “jealousy literally means bad zeal; wanting, seeking, and living for the wrong things. Selfish ambition means lifting me up, aspiring to play God, seeking to control the world, when your anger runs off the rails what demands and forms our self-exaltation at work.” My jealousy resulted from an inward, self-focused desire to be the God in control of my life, and in that desire, I sought to destroy others. It was my selfishness that drove me to hate and murder people in my heart.
Praise the Lord that this place of bitterness and anger is not where He left me. It is through His grace that I have emerged from this darkness and have surrendered my life to Him. There was something that Pastor Barry said in his sermon on Sunday that put his entire message into perspective for me. He said, “We love because Christ loved us first. We can evidence that in our lives, we can express it in tangible ways when we experience God’s love poured out into our hearts.” You see, when I was living for myself as the ruler of my own life, I was not capable of loving others as evidenced through my jealousy and bitterness. I was not capable of engaging the vulnerability needed to love others because that meant I was risking my own identity. But by knowing and experiencing the love of God (the only perfect love that exists) and entrusting my identity to Him, I am now able to share that love with others. 1 John 3:16 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (ESV) We do not know love unless we know Jesus. But once we know Him and the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we are able to share that love with others as we live fully and freely in the love of Christ.
I wish that I could tell you my struggle with jealousy is in the past. Although God has given me substantial victory, I still find myself wrestling with comparison and envy at times. But praise be to Him for the grace He shows in the recognition and understanding of our sin, for it is through this understanding that He draws us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, if you are feeling discouraged because you believe you have failed to love others well, take heart that God loves you enough to convict you of this sin. He longs for you to turn to Him and experience His love in its fullness so that you may know how to love others more fully. If we continue to live as the self-governing rulers of our lives, seeking control and autonomy, we will never be able to exercise the vulnerability that is needed to love others. But, if we experience the love of Christ and entrust our identity in Him, we are able to express that love to those around us as we rest in the grace and peace of Him who loved us first.
Photo Credit: Timothy Eberly