Deuteronomy 6:5-7 in the context of parenting responsibility informs parents that they are to teach their children to “…love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Dut 6:5). To do this, parents must develop a strong understanding of what love is and is not, so they can, not only teach love, but model it through their parenting style.
Understand that each member of your parenting team is an individual, and as much as it is necessary to parent with mutual intentionality, the way each of you loves is unique to you. What will unite you in style is an understanding of love and how to use it as a basis for your collective parenting plan. Regardless of who your parenting partners are, having a unified understanding of love will help you agree and unify as intentional teachers and coaches.
Your parenting style guides your parenting practices, much like your worldview guides your outlook on life. In fact, your worldview considers your purpose in life, and since you are, or are about to be a parent, one of your purposes in life is parenting. Our worldview is the culmination of all that we know to be true about life. For Christians, developing a worldview is a bit easier and less scary than it is for those who are putting life together from their own imagination.
Christians have the advantage of God’s word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Christians also have the added advantage of hope in their future as a result of the gift of hope in their eternal future given as a result of the Virgin Birth, Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As such, the Christian worldview is not one built on the imagination of the liver of life, but is built on the truth of the Giver of Life. Therefore, the person seeking to build a solid parenting style is not stuck developing it out of their own imagination, but has the advantage of that same word of God, as well as Holy Spirit guidance.
So now we need to get a grasp on this love thing we are directed to experience so we will be able to teach our children about it. We have many relationships that will relly on our ability to love, not just the one we have with God. However, we will soon find out that with God is where love starts.
As it relates to our general lives, we must be able to give love to others (we call this loving out), and receive the love of others (we call this loving in). As it relates to parenting, there are three specific relationships that must function well in love. The one we have with the Lord, the one we have with our parenting partner(s), and those of our children. To understand the basics of loving in and loving out, consider each of these love directions based exclusively on each of the involved members of your family.
Loving Out (give)
The way you love the Lord
The way you love your parenting partner(s) (spouse, ex-spouse, extended family)
The way you love your child/children
It is not only important for you to do love, but it is also important for you to receive well the love of others.
Loving In (receive)
The way you receive the love of the Lord
The way you receive the love of your parenting partner
The way you receive the love of your child/children
Loving-relationship Loving with each of these family members indicates that we have managed to establish such a relationship that we are able to be the giver of love, and the receiver of love as one seamless, yet intentional relational process. In other words: a loving relationship requires one to both give and receive love. When two people are both able to love in this way, they are considered to have a loving-relationship.
Balanced Loving Family Family love is a mutual experience in each of these three relationships. You must be in a state of love, or as we say, in love, with each of these identified members of your family for there to be balance. Being in love indicates that you have a desire to express love to each member, as well as experience the love of each other person in your family. When every relationship combination in your family is a loving-relationship, your family is considered to be a (balanced) loving family.
What is it that causes these relationships to develop into loving ones? In many cases, love is emotionally driven and just seems to be a naturally occurring drive to love another. Many emotions are experienced together to form the emotional basis for a desire to love one’s counterpart(s). In many other cases, there may be somewhat fewer emotional stimulations, coupled with some identifiable needs that drive a desire to give and receive love from another. In this case, many emotions are experienced together, including identifiable satisfaction of needs which establish feelings of relative safety and security. In some rare cases, love may be more need-based than emotionally driven.
Concrete Standard of Love In all of these scenarios, loving (v) indicates a relationship with someone – who is not you. What we all need to be aware of is that each of us gives love in the same way we expect we would receive it. If we are giving unselfishly – not expecting a return – we still give that love based on how we believe it will be received. The only way we can understand how it will be received (before it is given) is to identify how we believe we would receive it. We simply imagine how it will be received.
This is where the difficulty of love begins. If we are starting with an understanding of love that comes from many sources, there can be no concrete understanding of love. We can make it, or imagine it as whatever we want it to be. The difficulty of imagined love is that it is not possible for two people to imagine something in exactly the same way. If each of us concocts our own concept of love, there can be no mutual love standard and our expectations will not be fulfilled as the giver or the receiver. The giver may not see the expected results and will likely not believe themselves to be effective lovers. On the other hand, the receiver may also see the giver as a poor lover and identify them as incompatible, or not see them as a lover at all. Either way, confusion may inhibit the potential for a quality relationship.
For love to be understood by both the giver and receiver, there must be some concrete definitions of the actions of love. Emotions are hard enough to understand when they are not our own, and since love is emotionally driven it can easily become confusing to everyone experiencing it. Love must be understood the same by the giver and receiver in such a way that both can identify the difference between intent (love under control) and emotions (which may not be under the control of love). A person who is not able to control their emotions in a relationship is likely not loving according to any concrete standard of love. A person not being able to identify love in the offerings of a giver is either not aware of the concrete standards of love, or is aware of it and recognizes the absence of love. Regardless of which of these scenarios exist, there must be a standard of love that is mutually understood across the family spectrum if there is to be any unity of understanding that can lead to a balanced loving family.
This is a bigger deal for children. Children do not have the ability to imagine love – they are building the concept as they receive from their parents, and later from their social interactions as compaired to what they learned during their development. Young children are left to imagine love based only what they see and experience. If there is a concrete standard of love, they are certainly not old enough to understand it in any practical sense. In almost every area of life, children start with example (modeling) and later learn the rationale of the associated practicality of life. Children first learn that one cannot drink with a fork, and later learn the physics that prove it.
Confusion for the child happens when they move from the ability to experience only (modeling) to being able to understand (learn). When the child becomes old enough to be exposed to truth (concrete standards), they make comparisons between what they learned through experience (modeling) and what they learn from sources of concrete standards. If they originally learn about love that comes out of the imagination of their parents, they will have a difficult time trusting the standard-source (whatever it may be). From the contrast between a fabricated (imagined) concept of love and a new rather unbelievable so-called standard source, a child will learn that sources of truth are not necessarily valid sources of information – they do not resemble reality. They do not line up with what they have always known to be true, and they will not (under most circumstances) appreciate them as valid and superior to what they have lived over time.
They also need to be able to make a connection with a concrete concept of love, so they are able to develop a real concept of behavior. Let us take a look at three flawed concepts of love in action. Note that imagined love is almost always based on emotion and therefore love is likely to be considered to be an emotion. So let us look at how a flawed concept of love as an emotion might be experienced by a child.
Note: The first parts of the statements below identify what love is; the second part is the love-action; the third part is the child’s developed perception of right and wrong.
Love is an emotion; my loving parent was angry when he disciplined me – and that is ok.
Love is an emotion; my loving parent was angry when she disciplined me – and that is not ok.
Love is not an emotion; my loving parent was angry when he disciplined me – and that is ok.
In all three of these examples, emotion is identified as a part of the love-action.
In example 1: love is identified as an emotion, and therefore an emotional reaction can be understood as acceptable to the receiver of the love-action. This is the most common flawed concept of love in our time. Rabbi David Wolpe mentioned in a Time article that he is often told by battered wives that their husbands love them even though they beat them up. In example 1, the child learns that love (like anger) is not something that one has control over and that anger can exist as a part of love
Someone who has developed his or her own understanding of love based on negative experiences or the flawed thinking of those they think love them, may accept any kind of love as real. People have a very hard time accepting that a person, who says they love them could be lying, confused about the concept of love, are trying to manipulate forgiveness, or are simply avoiding justice.
Although we are not very good at loving others, most of us desperately want to be loved. Of course what we really want are the benefits of love, and if we could get away with it, we would do love only to get them. Nevertheless, sometimes our desire to be loved is so needed or desired that we are willing to accept love no matter what. This is often our downfall as we deceive ourselves into believing that bad-love is good enough – usually because we do not know any better. But worse than our own self-imposed deceptions are those concepts that we pass on to our children, who like us, do not know any better. If bad-love is all they ever experience, they will likley accept it as authentic – just like we did..
We do not want our children to believe that emotions like excitement, anger, anxiousness, fear, and sadness are synonymous with love. Love is to be a pure act, not inspired by the world and guided by our emotions, but inspired by God and guided by the Holy Spirit.
In example 2: love is identified as an emotion and all subsequent love-actions are evaluated as acceptable or unacceptable emotional reactions. This may seem acceptable since negative emotional love-actions can be dismissed as unacceptable. However, such a concept can go the other way. What if the love-action was: “my loving parent was happy when she saw my grades – and that is not ok”. Mom being happy with the child’s grades indicates an emotional response to accountability. If mom’s response can be dismissed as just an emotional response, and the child feels enabled to dismiss whatever loving emotional responses he or she is unwilling to accept, the child can learn that it is ok to pick and choose what components of love he or she is willing to accept in any relationship. Not receiving love well is as detrimental to a relationship as not giving love at all.
There is also the risk of the child learning that love can have associated with it a negative experience. We will learn in this series that God is love, and if God is love – there can be no place for negatives in love. By allowing for the existence of a negative love-action, love can be seen as negative. People are disappointed when something they look forward to in life turns out to be a negative experience. Imagine that the first time you kissed your parenting partner was the worst experience of your life. As unbelievable at this may seem to you today, if it were to have happened that way, you probably would not have wanted to kiss again. It is the same for love, no one wants to relive a negative experience twice.
It has been identified that children who experience the divorce of their parents (the conclusion of willingness to love), they refuse to get married when they become young adults – even if they believe they have found the right person. This is because they do not want to experience again the pain of divorce. In reality it is not the divorce they wish to avoid, it is the negative experiences associated with love and the parents withdraw from love. As a result, couples simply live together and avoid the concept of love altogether. As a result, the children will not learn of love at all, or will learn flawed concepts of love from others.
In example 3: love is not defined as an emotion, but negative emotions associated with the love-action is acceptable to the receiver. For the receiver in this example, it seems he or she can accept that a person can be loving while being hateful. Of course, it is not necessarily true that anger constitutes hate, but anger associated with physical-discipline (or battering) will always be identified by the receiver as hate. The last thing we ever want to do is establish a condition that makes love and hate to look compatible.
Love and Hate Cannot Exist Together. Biblical scholars believe there is no mean between love and hate, light and darkness, and life and death. They believe one can only exist in the absence of the other. 1 John 2:9-10 explains this concept in clear termes when it says: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him” (KJV). Here there is a correlation between being in the Lord (The Light) or being in sin (darkness), where light makes love possible, and the absence of light leaves sin (hate) a place to flourish.
Therefore, Hate is not the opposite of love, it is the absence of love. The way hate becomes manifest in a relationship is when one withdraws love from it. Note that 1 John 2:10 identifies that if one will just remain in the light, sin has no place to flourish. This concept suggests that people do have the ability to turn love on and off, but clearly love and hate cannot exist in the same time together in a relationship. We can only understand from this that love will exist in the light of the Lord, and will always overpower the hate of darkness. Note that this all starts with a relationship with the Light (the Lord).
Anger and Love. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger… (Ephesians 4:26, ESV). Notice that the Apostle Paul uses the word and when he presents the conditions of anger and sin. It appears that Paul is suggesting that one should not be both angry and filled with hate. By extension, we can understand that Paul is saying that you can be angry and still in the light; and therefore love is possible. This is logical only if love is not an emotion, and we are able to control ourselves enough to not let the emotion of anger cause us to withdraw love and allow the sin of hate a place to flourish.
But understand that if a parent is in the light, the child will experience love even if they are being admonished and disciplined. Punishment is another story; according to Romans 6:23, punishment for unforgiven sin is death. If a parent becomes angry to the point that love is withdrawn, the sin of hate will flourish. The objective is no longer to help the child learn not to stray from what is right, but to get even for the child’s transgression against the parent. God calls this revenge and if one is to avenge himself he or she must allow for wrath to become a part of their reaction to the transgression. A hatefull parent will identify the transgression of the child as and unforgiven sin agaist them and such a sin unfogiuven calls for punishment; and in Romans 6:23, God calls such punishment for unforgiven sin death.
God gives parents (and all of us) an example of parenting in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 with the acknowledgment that ”… God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV). This is the model we must provide to our children, so they can understand that even though they may have broken a rule, they too are eligible for the forgiveness available through Jesus Christ. Psalms 7:11 acknowledges that every day our Father is transgressed against and this brings him to anger, yet according to 1 Thessalonians 5:9 He does not seek to destroy us. Instead, He loves us even when we tend toward the darkness by remaining the Loving Llight in our lives. This is the model parents should live also for their children.
Of course, these examples are very general in nature, but we hope you can see in them how love miss-conceptualized can create a flawed love concept. If we are to truly give and receive real love we must understand that love is not a product of the human, and therefore it is not possible for us to define it. Love is a product of the One Who is Love.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
Later in this series, we will connect with this passage in more detail, but for now we only need to recognize that love comes naturally only to God and that we are only inclined to love because we are told to do so by God.
God is love and therefore, only God can define it.
As we begin our study of biblical love, we will learn that an appropriate concept of love is one that sets boundaries for how we experience the love of God through worship and personal development, how we cooperate and develop with our parenting partner, and how we teach, train, and discipline our children. As parents, we are to model true love to our children and teach it to them from the Bible, so they will know what love really is.
Love is the mechanism that governs boundaries. It is the mechanism that makes character possible, because it regulates our expectations of ourselves and others. Therefore, love is what makes healthy relationships with God and others possible.
If it is true that the future is now, today is the day that our children must begin experiencing true biblical love, so they will know well what they need to model to their children.
As we get started with learning from the Bible what love really is, let us establish a raw understanding of parental love as it relates to our three necessary family relationships. We will fill in the blanks from time to time to evaluate different love and parenting love-actions. What you may notice is that we are indicating that love is an action that controls, in this case, a supplemental love-action.
Love is an action; my loving God ______________ me.
Love is an action; my loving parenting partner ______________ me.
Love is an action; my loving parent ______________ me.
Of course, emotional considerations will be made as we learn to love in a biblical way, since it is our emotions that define how we will give and experience love, but we will allow the Bible to define love. The most important consideration when we go to the Bible to develop an understanding of love is to do it together. This is the first area where a parenting team needs to be unified in understanding since it is the foundation of a parenting style. Love is what binds a family’s members together with each other, and with its head – the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (ESV) We want to get to the characteristics and virtues of love as soon as possible since these things are our destination in this series, but first, we need to see what it is that love brings to the parenting table by looking at the first part of 1 Corinthians 13.
Looking at 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 we can get a pretty good look at how having love benefits the family.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (v. 1).
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (v. 2).
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (v. 3, ESV).
These three verses speak of one who has nothing to say, is nothing, and has nothing. Paul was addressing people in Corinth, who put great value in the gift of eloquent gab, and had great respect for those who were religiously knowledgeable and spoke in ways that they believed angels would speak. Verse on identifies that the speaker was hollow and void of any content, like a symbol; verse 2 identifies a biblically knowledgeable person who is not respected; and verse 3 identifies one who will not inherit anything, even if he gives all he has to the Lord – because what is left when all is given away is love. This man has no love and there for is just a noise that no one respects or loves.
But parents hear this, if you have true love, your children and your parenting partner will listen to you in respect and will love you just as you love them. This is exactly what God revealed to John when He inspired 1 John 4:19: “We love him, because he first loved us”(KJV).
If we love them, our family will love us.