Sacrificial love in any relationship, be it with a parent, sibling, spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, or or friend means loving the other person with good intentions, good actions, and with no regards to yourself. Sacrificial love can be restricted or restrained by what you are willing to sacrifice in that relationship. Being afraid to love certainly affects the other people in our life. We may be allowing ourselves to hold back love based on fear of rejection, codependency, unrequited love, or for other reasons.
1 John 4:18 states that: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (NIV). We have to look beyond our own emotions or feelings and love others regardless of what we fear or consider to be faults or sins in another person’s life. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Therefore we have to remember just as God has forgiven and will forgive us, when we humble ourselves and ask, we need to forgive and continue to forgive others.
Love happens on an individual basis and rarely at the same time. One rarely notices when they may have failed to give sacrificial love in their relationship. However, it becomes easy for us to recognize or feel we haven’t received love. We start noticing small things that aren’t reciprocated and make them big things. We notice if someone never says “I love you” first. We notice if a person doesn’t wait up for us. We notice if they never cook or buy us dinner. We know when our needs have not been met or when we are being treated differently than how we treat the other person. This can create a spiral, and we can become consumed with thinking “what about me?”
Ephesians 5:2 tells us to “walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (NIV). Even as our self-doubt of love starts to build, it’s important to remember to keep our minds off of ourselves and instead on how Jesus Christ loves us despite all of our shortcomings. Jesus did not disown his disciples when they could not stay awake with him (Matthew 26:43). Even though Jesus knew Judas would betray him, he did not ban Judas from the last supper (John 13). In the days Jesus Christ walked this earth, he showed us that sacrificial love requires us to abandon our natural reaction to our feelings and continuously love because it is the reason we form relationships.
Sacrificial love is pleasing to God (1 John 3:22). And 1 John 3:16-18 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. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (NIV). When you sacrificially love in a relationship, you are making a choice to honor and respect the other’s thoughts and feelings. You need to treat their feelings as if they were your own. You include their needs and desires in your actions. You learn to grasp a sense of honor and pride that comes from loving them. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12 NIV).
While the idea of sacrificial love maybe not sound complicated, living it out in this fallen world can be difficult because how we give and receive love is both universal and specific. I had a co-worker who was upset that her boyfriend was not a sweet talker, but she would tell me that he would always say, “you have always been there for me.” So one time I asked her about the female relationships in his life (his mom, sister, etc.). With each one she mentioned he did not have a good relationship with them. I told her that when he says you are always there for me, it is his expression of love. But because she felt it wasn’t reciprocated in a way that she understood she became frustrated and distant. She felt as if she was a dummy for being nice. He was not a bad guy, it’s just that there was no foundation for healthy female relationships in his life. However, over time, he did come to understand the words I love you, and he did use them in his proposal to her.
Proverb 10:12 says, “Hatred stirs up conflict but love covers over all wrongs.” It is the trick of the devil to allow us to see only one side of a situation. Will you love when you feel rejected? Will you accept someone’s apology, again? Will you move past your feelings and see their side of things, without an apology? Making that kind of sacrifice is tough, but it’s how Jesus would have us love each other.
I once heard a preacher say, “If you want your spouse to be more loving, then be more loving. If you want your mate to pray more, then pray more.” Sacrificial love can like Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (NIV). However, I believe a better understanding of sacrificial love is expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
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 preserves. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (NIV)
God has shown us love through Jesus Christ: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
Jesus shows us how to love. And while sacrificial love may often be difficult, God will guide us in how we can best love others. As Jesus says about the most important commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31). Putting God first will help us love as Jesus loved–sacrificially.