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 (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV).
One of the things that I have been learning in studying that definition of love is that love is shown by self-control. If we want to love others the way that Jesus loves us, it is going to take self-control.
What is self-control? It means to have control of yourself. What, you were expecting something deeper? Nope! Self-control means exactly what you think it means: it means that you have control of your desires, aspirations, thoughts, and actions. It means that you are in control of yourself.
Why is self-control so important to love?
Because people are not easy to love. Have you noticed that? Love is hard to give because people are often so hard to love! Someone once said that original sin is the only empirically verifiable Christian doctrine. Truer words have not been spoken! On any given day all of us experience the fact that people can be hurtful, self-serving, manipulative, nitpicky, prideful, thumb-sucking spoiled brats.
Lest you think that the problem is only with “them,” self-control is also essential to loving well because it is not natural for us to love our neighbor as our selves. Our nature is to give love to people who we feel deserve it, to people who we think earned it. But when people disappoint, fail, blow up, don’t listen, or show respect, loving people the way that Jesus loves us becomes hard, it becomes costly.
How is self-control important to love? We need self-control for three reasons:
We need self-control to hold back. For instance, being patient requires that we hold back from the natural impulse to be impatient. In fact, the only time you can really be showing patience is when it is tempting to stop holding back!And if you’re honest with yourself, you know that the same thing is true of you too. Now, we are more bent to excel at some of those things more than others, but the fact is, our nature is to speak out, lash out, and drown out, rather than to hold back so that we can flex the muscles of grace and humility.
I don’t know about you, but I never needed lessons, or how-to books, or role models to envy what others have, to boast in my own achievements, to take pride in myself, or to dishonor others. I don’t need any help being self-serving. Those things all come naturally to me. I can get angry with the best of them, and I find myself naturally adept at holding on to wrongs, and smiling when bad things happen to my enemies.
We not only need to have the discipline to hold back the negative behaviors that are contrary to spiritual love, we need to be working to not hold back the right feelings, thoughts, and actions that spiritual love is. We need to be discipling ourselves to give kindness, and to give it freely, willingly, even to people who we are sure will not appreciate it or reciprocate it.
We need to hold back emotional responses to the wrong things so that we can be building the strength to grow the emotional responses to the right things. Love doesn’t delight in evil; it rejoices with the truth. Let me tell you, it is hard to rejoice in the truth of God’s love for you, for the truth of His forgiveness and grace, and to rejoice in truth of His holiness when you delight in the things that are contrary to love.
We need self-control to keep from giving up and giving in. This kind of love that Paul is talking about is very personal, it is very costly, and I’ll be honest, it hurts. There isn’t always a clear return on our investment. Because of that love can be very hard, and therefore, it takes serious self-control to hang in there when things are dark, messy, and painful. It takes self-control to protect, to trust, to hope, and to persevere when we can’t see where we are going, or why we aren’t going.