Learning Love

Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:8

When I wrote the story of how I became a Christian I shared how the genuine love I experienced in the women’s Bible study that summer was so important to me. Soon after I became a Christian I heard 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12 taught by the man who had shared the Gospel with me. The passage was very special because it described my relationships with those who discipled me. During my early years as a Christian with my brothers and sisters in Christ I also experienced that very real and very wonderful mutual imparting of our lives to each other.

How do we learn to love one another? How do we grow in fond affection for each other? How do we learn to impart our lives to each other? I realized the other day that while I’ve written often of Jesus’ command to love our fellow believers, and I’ve discussed ministering to those who suffer there were some things I could share about helping others learn to love.

What did I do? Here are some things I’ve done with women I’ve taught and led. You may not be a leader at the moment, but I hope there are some things here that will spark your thinking or that you could adapt to help those whom you influence right now.

…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…
Hebrews 10:24

I emphasized loving one another by talking about its importance, teaching about it and having women pray about it.

I encouraged it in the way I structured teaching, sharing and being with each other.

I tried to be an example by seeing each woman as a precious individual whose life was important to God. These were women for whom Christ died.

How did I emphasize love?

The first time I tried to put together a forum for an ongoing women’s fellowship I had not yet grasped the importance of emphasizing loving one another, but I did know that the women who were coming to plan were all strong-minded, and I was very apprehensive about how to lead them and get them to work together. I decided to plan a time of prayer for each of us individually in different places in my home and then pray together as a group. I told them we were going to pray for an hour and then plan for an hour. I knew I needed God to bring us together.

I can still remember the difference in the demeanor of the group when they first arrived and when we had finished praying. There was a realization we were there to plan ministry, not to try to dominate each other with our ideas. Prayer together brought the submission of each of us to Christ and the orientation of our wills to honor Him.

Years later in another church I recognized a need for unity among the women. I talked about this with the other women in leadership, and we prayed for weeks before our first event. I wanted our events scheduled in the evening for the first few months so that all the women would be able to come. We met about every other week, and I taught from the Bible on various aspects of unity, acceptance and forgiveness with time for questions and discussion. I then moved into teaching a women’s Sunday School class on friendship.

After years of working with women I’ve decided there are two things that you need to ensure are part of the life of women in the church. You must teach, discuss and pray about and for love and unity. Christ’s new command to His disciples was to love each other, and He prayed for our unity. Paul’s exhortation to Euodia and Syntyche serves to give us women warning there will be pitfalls in loving each other. The second thing, that I’ll write about another time, is that you must teach, discuss and pray about a women’s ministry that is biblical in scope and priorities. For now I want to say that part of doing that includes teaching from God’s Word on the nature and role of women and spending time talking with each other and in prayer together.

How did I encourage love?

I gave women opportunities to share who they were and what was going on in their walk with Christ and in their lives. We had fun, and we were serious. When things were serious, I led the way in how we received God’s Word and in how we received and accepted each other as women and friends.

Food and time to talk is important. Breaks during Bible study for tea and cookies, brunches and dinners give chances to relax with each other. While it’s important for special occasions, such as a Christmas brunch, to have everything as lovely as possible, as a leader you must roll with the punches, laugh at the glitches and avoid seeking perfectionism. So many Christian women feel so judged and found wanting. Behind the perfect makeup and dress can be a woman who feels inferior or unloved and who tries makes up for it with her immaculate appearance. Don’t set a standard or atmosphere that adds pressure.

Working on projects together in ministry is one of the best ways to learn to know and love each other. Be inclusive of as many women as possible. Seek out and recognize the gifts of other women and ask them to bring their expertise to help. Appreciate them sincerely. This cannot be faked, but must come from within—ask God to help you truly recognize the contribution of each woman to the body of Christ. Encourage each woman. Sincere gratitude nixes patronization which is abhorrent, because who wants to feel they’re being humored like a child when they’re asked to help? Even children don’t like that! You must realize and truly believe that every woman in the body of Christ can teach you something and can minister to you.

When I prepared to teach the Bible there was a set of passages that were my target for my life and for the women—always—no matter what I taught. Not only that, but at the beginning of the year I went over these with the women and told them that this is our target in Bible study:

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
Luke 10:25–28
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
John 17:3
Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 9:23–24

These passages were my focus as I prayed and prepared to teach: how does the part of the Bible we’re studying help us to love God? To love each other? I wanted myself and the women to understand and know the Lord truly, fully and richly, and to love Him with all of our beings. In my teaching I wanted to stir up ‘first love’ for Christ—and when listeners hear God’s Word, and it is united in their hearts with faith, love for one another follows.

I fostered an atmosphere of safety, acceptance and love in which the women felt safe to talk about their walk with Christ in their daily lives with their attending joys, heartbreak and sorrow. There were even a couple of times when I had to step in and stop a woman who had just publicly said something hurtful. It was a difficult balance to maintain.

I tried to maintain transparency and authenticity of who I am before the Lord as I taught, and I taught from my heart and mind to their mind and heart. I never pretended to be perfect—I wanted to point them to Christ and not to myself. I also spoke from my current life as well my past, because when you speak only regarding your past, it leaves the impression that now you have everything about the Christian life sewed up.

How did I try to be an example of loving one another?

I worked to love them in how I taught them and how I interacted with them. I had to keep in mind that I was to love God and love the women and demonstrate that by never compromising His truth because I didn’t want to ruffle feathers, yet at the same time correct gently and humbly. Paul’s words to Timothy rang in my mind:

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth…
2 Timothy 2:24–35

I am an appreciator. I think that’s probably one of the most important things I’ve done as a leader. I tried to value each woman—I did fall short, and believe me, there were some who did get under my skin; however, I knew each woman could teach me and could minister to me. I knew I needed to learn to value each one and do whatever I could with my gifts to help them grow to love God and to love other people.

I acknowledged to women what they’d done to help me or to help others. I recognized their effort and their sacrifice, and I tried to be considerate of them—and I told them this or wrote them. Again—and I think this is so important—you have to always be conscious that you are on level ground with other believers: don’t patronize. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re smarter, more talented or more gifted, “What do you have that you did not receive?” Each person always has something to offer you.

Unity is not a matter of a group doing what the leader wants done, but of each contributing their gifts so that the ministry done is far greater than what anyone can do alone. Learning to acknowledge and appreciate someone else’s gifts and their ideas is part of the process of learning to love and glorify God. Not-invented-here-syndrome—rejecting a plan because you didn’t come up with it or because it’s different than what you’re used to doing—is symptomatic of pride.

I considered them. I tried to listen and to hear them—who they were and what they needed. I tried to empathize and walk with them. I tried to make decisions not based on what I wanted to do, but on what would be of benefit to them. One church was small enough that I tried to have lunch with each woman to have time to get to know each one. I tried to be aware of those who were faltering and take time to let them know I cared. I did not try to keep any of the women to myself—what I call relationship hoarding, which women are prone to do—but if there was someone else I thought could help them or whom they would enjoy I tried to get them together.

Has this always been easy? No, sometimes it’s drained me to the bone, and sometimes my heart has been broken. Did I do this perfectly? No, of course not. I have sinned, and only God and my husband know the extent of my struggles and woes; but these were things I was committed to do. And when pride rears its ugly head—which it did, and it does—I have to recognize it and struggle against it. I kept on because I had been loved by other Christians and by the Lord Jesus.

We love, because He first loved us.
1 John 3:19

Jesus commanded us to love, and what He commanded, He did.
Because He loved us, let us learn to love.

__________
Apple tree in full blossom, North Ayrshire, Scotland: Roger Griffith, Public Domain.

Learning Love was published on September 29, 2011.

Original content: Copyright ©2011–2014 Iwana Carpenter

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