How to Develop Genuine Love
“Love is the elixir of life; love is life.”—Living to Purpose, by Joseph Johnson, 1871.
HOW does a human learn to love? By studying psychology? By reading self-help books? By watching romantic movies? Hardly. Humans learn to love in the first place by the example and training of their parents. Children will learn the meaning of love if, in an environment of warm affection, they see their parents feed and protect them, communicate with them, and take a deep personal interest in them. They also learn to love when their parents teach them to observe sound principles of right and wrong.
Genuine love is more than just affection or sentiment. It consistently acts in the very best interests of others, even if they do not fully appreciate it at the time, which is often the case with children when loving discipline is involved. A perfect example of one who shows unselfish love is the Creator himself. The apostle Paul wrote: “My son, do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, neither give out when you are corrected by him; for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.”—Hebrews 12:5, 6.
Parents, how can you imitate Jehovah in showing love to your family? And how important is the example you set in your relationship with each other as husband and wife?
Teach Love by Example
If you are a husband, do you esteem, or set a high value on, your wife and treat her with honor and respect? If you are a wife, are you loving and supportive of your husband? The Bible says that husband and wife should love and respect each other. (Ephesians 5:28; Titus 2:4) When they do, their children see Christian love at work firsthand. What a powerful and valuable lesson that can be!
Parents also promote love in the home when they adhere to high standards for the family in regard to things like entertainment, morality, and goals and priorities. Worldwide, people have found the Bible to be a great help in setting such family standards, providing living evidence that the Bible truly “is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) Indeed, the moral precepts and guidance for life found in just the Sermon on the Mount are widely considered to be unsurpassed.—Matthew, chapters 5 to 7.
When the whole family looks to God for guidance and adheres to his standards, each individual feels more secure and children are more likely to grow to love and respect their parents. Conversely, in a home with double, flawed, or loose standards, children may become exasperated, angry, and rebellious.—Romans 2:21; Colossians 3:21.
What about single parents? Are they at a serious disadvantage in teaching love to their little ones? Not necessarily. Although there is no substitute for a good mother-and-father team, experience shows that the quality of family relationships can compensate to some degree for a missing parent. If you are a single parent, strive to apply Bible principles in your home. Yes, one proverb tells us: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight”—including the path of parenthood.—Proverbs 3:5, 6; James 1:5.
Many fine young people were raised in a single-parent environment and can now be found faithfully serving God in the thousands of Christian congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. This is evidence that single parents too can be successful in teaching their children about love.
How All Can Cultivate Love
The Bible foretold that “the last days” would be marked by a lack of “natural affection,” that is, a lack of the natural affinity that family members usually have for one another. (2 Timothy 3:1, 3) Yet, even those who may have grown up in an environment that lacked affection can learn to cultivate love. How? By learning from Jehovah, who is the very Source of love and who demonstrates love and affection to all who wholeheartedly turn to him. (1 John 4:7, 8) “In case my own father and my own mother did leave me, even Jehovah himself would take me up,” said one psalmist.—Psalm 27:10.
Jehovah expresses his love for us in many different ways. These include fatherly guidance by means of the Bible, the help of the holy spirit, and the warm support of the Christian brotherhood. (Psalm 119:97-105; Luke 11:13; Hebrews 10:24, 25) Consider how these three provisions can help you to grow in love for God and neighbor.
Inspired Fatherly Guidance
To cultivate a warm bond with someone, we must get to know that person well. By revealing himself through the pages of the Bible, Jehovah invites us to draw close to him. However, reading the Bible is not enough. We must apply its teachings and experience the benefits that result. (Psalm 19:7-10) “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself, the One causing you to tread in the way in which you should walk,” says Isaiah 48:17. Yes, Jehovah, the very personification of love, instructs us for our benefit—not because he wants to restrict our freedom with needless rules and regulations.
An accurate knowledge of the Bible also helps us to grow in love for our fellow humans. This is because Bible truth teaches us God’s view of humans and shows us the principles that should govern our dealings with one another. With such information, we have a solid basis for cultivating love of neighbor. The apostle Paul said: “This is what I continue praying, that your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment.”—Philippians 1:9.
To illustrate how love can be properly directed by “accurate knowledge,” consider the fundamental truth stated at Acts 10:34, 35: “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” If God assesses people by their righteous deeds and godly fear, not by their nationality or race, should we not view our fellowman with similar impartiality?—Acts 17:26, 27; 1 John 4:7-11, 20, 21.
Love—A Fruit of God’s Spirit
Just as timely rain on an orchard contributes to a good harvest, God’s spirit can produce in receptive individuals qualities that the Bible describes as “the fruitage of the spirit.” (Galatians 5:22, 23) Foremost in this fruitage is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13) But how do we obtain God’s spirit? A vital way is through prayer. If we pray for God’s spirit, he will give it to us. (Luke 11:9-13) Do you “keep on” praying for holy spirit? If you do, then its precious fruitage, including love, should become ever more manifest in your life.
However, there is another type of spirit that works in opposition to God’s spirit. The Bible calls this “the spirit of the world.” (1 Corinthians 2:12; Ephesians 2:2) It is an evil influence, and its source is none other than Satan the Devil, “the ruler of this world” of mankind alienated from God. (John 12:31) Like wind that whips up dust and litter, “the spirit of the world” stirs up hurtful desires that corrode love and cater to the weaknesses of the flesh.—Galatians 5:19-21.
People absorb that evil spirit when they expose themselves to materialistic, me-first thinking, to violent attitudes, and to the distorted and often perverted view of love that is so common in the world. If you want to grow in genuine love, you must firmly resist the spirit of the world. (James 4:7) Do not, however, trust in your own strength; call on Jehovah for help. His spirit—the most powerful force in the universe—can fortify you and give you success.—Psalm 121:2.
Learn Love From the Christian Brotherhood
Just as children learn to show love by experiencing it in the home, all of us—young and old—can grow in love by associating with other Christians. (John 13:34, 35) Indeed, one of the key functions of the Christian congregation is to provide an environment in which individuals can “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”—Hebrews 10:24, New International Version.
Such love is especially appreciated by those who may have been “skinned and thrown about” in the loveless world around us. (Matthew 9:36) Experience has shown that loving relationships in adulthood can overcome many of the bad effects of a childhood deprived of love. How important, therefore, that all dedicated Christians extend a truly heartfelt welcome to new ones who come into their midst!
“Love Never Fails”
The Bible says that “love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) How is that so? The apostle Paul tells us: “Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5) Clearly, this love is no fanciful notion or superficial sentiment. On the contrary—those showing it are aware of and acknowledge life’s disappointments and pains, but they do not allow these to destroy their love for fellowman. Such love truly is “a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:12-14.
Consider the example of a 17-year-old Christian girl in Korea. When she began to serve Jehovah God, her family disapproved and she had to move out of the house. However, instead of becoming angry, she prayed about the matter, letting God’s Word and spirit mold her thinking. Thereafter, she wrote to her family often, filling her letters with the genuine warm affection that she felt for them. In response, her two older brothers began to study the Bible and are now dedicated Christians. Her mother and younger brother also accepted Bible truth. Lastly, her father, who had been bitterly opposed, had a change of heart. The Witness girl writes: “We all married fellow Christians, and our family of united worshipers now totals 23.” What a victory for love!
Do you want to cultivate genuine love and help others to do the same? Then turn to Jehovah, the Source of that precious quality. Yes, take his Word to heart, pray for holy spirit, and regularly associate with the Christian brotherhood. (Isaiah 11:9; Matthew 5:5) How heartwarming it is to know that soon all the wicked will be gone, leaving only those who practice genuine Christian love! Truly, love is the key to happiness and life.—Psalm 37:10, 11; 1 John 3:14.
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Prayer and study of God’s Word will help us to cultivate genuine love