One Sunday Paula and I were arriving home from church and not only was I tired, but my mind was full of the events that had happened during the day. We pulled up in the driveway and I grabbed my Bible, notes, and folders and headed toward the front door.
I hadn’t taken ten steps before Paula called out to me. I turned and saw an incredulous look on her face as she said, “Rick, aren’t you going to help me carry some of these things from the car?” I quickly apologized and was embarrassed at my thoughtlessness and went back to help her.
It was a good lesson for me. Since then I have tried to always ask what I could carry for her before getting out of the car. Here is my thought I want to emphasize from that incident; it’s not how indifferent I was to helping my wife, but how she would have responded to me if I had treated her that way over time.
It’s tough to serve others when they aren’t good to you. The Bible teaches that love “thinketh no evil” (I Corinthians 13:5). Though my inconsideration was obviously unloving she, too, had to make a choice about how she thought about me. She was right to speak up (men are sometimes so clueless) and it helped me to treat her with more respect.
But would she catalog those unkind slights in her mind and review them each time I did something similar? The longer she held those offenses in her mind, the more resentful she would become and our relationship would suffer.
There is a correlation between your thoughts about a person and how close you feel to them. The word “heart” in the Bible typically refers to one’s way of thinking. So, when we say, “I love you with all of my heart”, it is equivalent to saying, “I love you with all of my mind”. (I’m not suggesting we change our verbage, but am only trying to make this very practical and helpful).
It isn’t just the quantity of your thoughts about a person, but also the quality of them that determines the depth of your love. It’s possible to have a lot of negative thoughts as well as positive thoughts. This is what the Bible is referring to when it states that love “thinketh no evil”. You cannot love a person and keep a record of past offenses against them.
The sure symptom of this is when our desire to spend time with them and help them begins to wane. Love’s focus is on serving people rather than thinking about how they have badly treated you. Love is giving, not trading. It isn’t contingent upon reciprocation.
It’s easy to help people that like you, compliment you, and return the favor. But what about when you are the one that seems to always be giving? This is when you choose to love by the way you think. If you hang onto negative thoughts about people long enough your spirit will sour and soon your kind deeds for them will cease.
When we love as God loves us there is a mind set about giving and serving that endures in spite of a lack of gratefulness or response. People that love this way think differently about the people they are helping. Their focus is on serving, not the response (or lack of) from the one to whom they are helping.
If you expect people to reciprocate what you do for them then you will be greatly disappointed. Someone said, “The reason we become disillusioned is that we had an illusion in the first place”. The illusion is that you will receive what you given. That’s not true in marriage and it’s not true in parenting. As long as your focus is on benefits you are going to have a tough road in your family and friendships.
Genuine love focuses on serving people and giving rather than the way they have been wrongly treated. This is the way our Lord Jesus lived and loved. Consider the thoughtless and cruel treatment He received from His friends in the following story.
The night before He was crucified He had a special meal with His disciples. In a little over twelve hours He would die for the sins of the world and they were not only indifferent to His breaking heart, but they had an argument over who was the most important among them. Here’s one of the saddest stories in the Bible. Read it as if you were in the room with them and feel the emotion.
“But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table. And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed! And they began to enquire among themselves, which of them it was that should do this thing. And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.” (Luke 22:21-27)
Jesus challenged their perception of greatness. They equated it as having a visible position of authority; Jesus told them it was about serving people. Note the last line in the passage – “…I am among you as he that serveth”. In that small room with his friends He took the initiative to be a servant (He humbled himself and washed their feet) and delighted in doing so. He didn’t “think evil” about them because they were selfish and so proud that they waited to see who would take the role of the lowly servant to wash dirty feet.
The disciples were ego-centric, insensitive, and unloving. They didn’t love Christ or each other; they loved themselves and their reputations. A servant was someone that was unappreciated, unknown, and did common things rather than what was “important” and sure to be recognized.
What does serving difficult people look like in practical terms? Let me give you another passage of Scripture and then I’ll briefly summarize it in a few sentences.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:38-45)
The verses above mean that when I love someone I am willing to be defrauded, do more than is necessary and required, give even when it is costly, say good things about them when they say bad things about me, do good things for them when they hate me, pray for them when they mock me and are determined to bring me harm.
This is what love looks like. It’s not easy, is it? In fact, it’s impossible apart from the help of God. It is the Lord that prompts our minds to do the exact opposite of what we want to do. He helps us to change our actions by changing our thinking.
Christianity isn’t just doing right, but thinking right. Before you will ever love with your actions you must first love people with your mind.
Have you stopped giving and serving the way you used to because your love has been ignored, rejected or not reciprocated? As long as you keep a record of their wrongs and rehearse them you will only respond in kind.
There have been times in our family when each of us has let the other down, been a source of irritation and even sinned against each other. During those times there’s a simple choice to make. I will think negatively about them, serve them but with a resentful spirit, while growing bitter until one day I won’t do anything for them. Or I can focus on grace and serve them in spite of whether they deserve my help and kindness.
It’s a lesson all of us must learn if we would enjoy a home that blesses us and others. That Sunday I learned a lesson about being attentive to help Paula even when I was tired and distracted. It was an opportunity for her to learn a lesson, too: to focus not on my failure, but to still help and love me in spite of my neglect. I think Paula has learned her lesson well and I’m still working on mine.