In relationships that are off-balance, whether you define yours as abusive or not, there is a sense of one-way love. One individual is always giving, flexing, changing, doing. The other is always receiving, demanding, taking. Part of recognizing an abusive relationship is seeing that pattern for what it is. It is not balanced, other-focused, or Christ-honoring because it is one-sided, individual-focused, and individual-honoring. As we’ve learned to say in our house, “Show me the money!” It’s all about profit. If one person benefits over and above everyone else in the family dynamic, he will do what it takes to keep it that way. The one receiving the pay-off has the most to lose.
In God’s economy, loving others doesn’t mean I lose; it means everyone wins. I can love others well and benefit at the same time. It’s not all or nothing.
The problem is our definition of “love.” In a human way of thinking, I love you when I do what makes you happy. I believe others love me when they do what makes me happy. Interestingly, the word, “merry” (samach) in the Bible (there is no mention of “happy”), often describes a person who is drunk. That’s not a good thing.
What is God’s definition of love?
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
God’s love is demonstrated, or made evident, through the sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ. Jesus sacrificed His life by taking human form (having lived in eternal glory, He chose a human body!). He sacrificed by living a human existence for more than thirty years in a sin-cursed world with human limitations and sinful people. Jesus then allowed Himself to be betrayed, wrongly accused and beaten. He gave His life in an excruciating way and, in that time and place, took the full weight of God’s wrath for sin–and eternal weight with an eternal price. When God says He loves you, that’s what He means.
God also loves His Son, Jesus Christ. Once the payment was complete, God raised Him from the dead and brought Him back to glory. Jesus sits there now, at the right hand of the Father, praying for us. Someday He will return to rule. He will be the center of our praise and worship forever because of His perfect obedience and love. Jesus did not sacrifice His life for nothing.
God, in His love, grace, and justice glorified, and will glorify forever, His Son. We benefit. God benefits. Jesus benefits. All. Everyone. To the greatest extent possible. The price of love is outweighed by the outcome of love. No one is left empty, used, or taken advantage of. God’s love is inclusive, not exclusive.
As God’s child through faith in Jesus’ payment for our sin, we have His Spirit with the ability and desire to respond and live He did. That means we, too, can love sacrificially. But it’s a different sacrifice than giving and not getting. Just like Jesus, this love means doing what is in another’s best interest whether they appreciate it or not. Our appreciation of Jesus Christ did not limit or affect His giving. His goal was to please His Father. The Father loves us, Jesus loves/d us, and we benefited.
In the same way, loving others happens as we seek to please God first. Others, specifically the individual who has been taking and demanding, will not like losing first place in our lives. It cuts across the grain of their desires and impacts their life negatively. But loving God first does not mean loving others less. It results in loving them more. By not worshiping and giving in to their demands, we allow God to reveal sin and a need only He can meet. By not allowing them to control every element of life and protecting one’s dignity, we remove ourselves from a place of serving others to a place of serving God. It may mean removing ourselves physically. That, too, is an act of love. It says, “This is wrong. It needs to change.” Loving God results in protecting the one He loves and died for–you.
How do we overcome the fear and punishment that is sure to result? It’s important to ask for help in advance. Seek a trustworthy friend to pray, talk through safety issues, and prepare with. Protection and safety are primary goals when living with an abuser. Be smart. Be careful. It’s not a flip-the-switch decision. The consequences could be dangerous. Take your time. Think it through. You are the expert on your abuser. With God’s help you can learn when and how to apply new ways of seeing and thinking about what’s happening in your home and relationship.
Loving God first is not mutually exclusive. When I love God first, I love others as a result. When I love others first, I don’t love God.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:7-21)