Day Three - Loving Sacrificially

Week 3

“The degree to which you love and value yourself is the degree to which you will be able to love and value others.”
― Pete Scazzero

When we love, we are showing that we know God and are part of his family (see 1 John 4:7-12). Our ability to give and receive love demonstrates maturity in our faith. We must remember that “love” is not warm feelings or good wishes. Love is not defined by our thoughts or intentions. Love is shown by our actions. 

Love is a sacrifice. That doesn’t mean loving others can’t be fun or that it brings no benefit to us. But it does mean that love requires us to set aside our own interests in order to prioritize the well-being of another. 

It is all too easy to view our activities as transactional, but when we do this, we aren’t loving. Transactional relationships are focused on benefits.  They are entered into, and continued, as long as we are benefiting in some way. We subconsciously keep score of how much has been done, shared, given, and received. Admittedly, it’s difficult to avoid thinking this way. It’s natural for us to prioritize our own interests. The great early church theologian Saint Augustine famously said that humanity is incurvatus in se, “curved in on itself.”

As we grow spiritually, we learn a better way. Jesus repeatedly taught of the importance of considering the needs of others and not obsessing over our own needs. And yet, we can be quick to forget these things. There is one significant cultural factor that impedes our ability to love sacrificially, but it’s easy to miss: We can easily forget what it means to be dependent upon another for our well-being. Young children and those who are frail or severely ill understand dependence. They are often recipients of care that they cannot reciprocate, whether that care comes from love or duty. But for the rest of us, we work hard to avoid this dependency. We may even become prone to attaching our sense of worth and identity to what we are able to offer others. If we are accustomed to this, it will be agitating or even embarrassing to be put in a position to receive sacrificial love. But if we are unwilling to receive sacrificial love, how can we expect to give it?

When we learn to receive sacrificial love, it can be incredibly humbling and transformative for us and our communities. If you have ever spent time with recent refugees, you’ve likely seen beautiful examples of this. Refugees come into spaces where they are dependent on the sacrificial love of others. This love is offered in the form of housing, resourcing, and friendship. Often those providing these things aren’t looking for anything in return. This sort of love is transformative for these refugees, especially since most of them are fleeing situations of danger and mistreatment and have little to no resources on their own. As we learn to receive the love of God and the love of others with humility and gratitude, we are propelled to imitate such love. The truth is, we have all received sacrificial love from God, who sent His Son into the world to save us from our sin. This demonstration of love is meant to inspire our love toward others.

One beautiful element of sacrificial love is that it is not motivated by self-interest. So many apparently loving actions in this world lose their formational power because the motives behind those actions are suspicious. When we love sacrificially, we are focused on being a blessing. Theologian Ed Stetzer explains,

“When you give somebody a thing without giving yourself, you degrade both parties by making the receiver utterly passive and making yourself a benefactor standing there to receive thanks—and even sometimes obedience—as repayment. But when you give yourself, nobody is degraded—in fact, both parties are elevated by a shared joy. When you give yourself, the things you are giving become, feconde (fertile, fruitful). What you give creates new, vigorous life, instead of arrogance on the one hand and passivity on the other.”

When we are focused on bringing blessing, we will be ready to meet needs around us with sacrificial love. We can step forward and see how we are divinely placed to meet human needs, through loving channels, to the glory of God. But this comes with another caution: Love is meant for the long-term, it’s not a one-time event. We are all, of course, limited in the time we have and the love we show. None of us are called to singularly solve all of the world’s problems. And yet, part of loving sacrificially is looking for opportunities to love those both inside and outside our natural networks of relationships. Jesus himself expressed that loving one’s friends is something any person without God or faith can do (Matthew 5:43-48). But loving those you are unfamiliar with, who you even perceive as enemies, is something that can only be accomplished through the example and transformative power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to live and love in a way superior to the patterns of the world around us, and to be more loving than the common person.

The call to sacrificial love can grate against our cravings for comfort, freedom, and efficiency. Nonetheless, love for others takes those cravings and turns them into gifts to another person. We turn our naturally self-centered focus inside out, as Jesus transforms us to love others with His awesome sacrificial love and gives us the strength we need.

My Response

  • How do you feel about helping a stranger or loving a person who may never reciprocate? What makes that difficult? 
  • What limits you from loving others in a more tangible way: time, resources, ideas? What might you need to sacrifice in order to start loving greater?
  • When have you received sacrificial love from another person? Take time to reflect and journal about a personal experience you’ve had. What was hard about it? What was a blessing?
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