A healthy relationship requires both parties to love and receive love, but this capacity has been marred by sin, bringing brokenness into our relationships. Many relationships have been ruined because the love given has been misunderstood, unappreciated, or not returned in equal measure or has fallen short of the recipient’s expectation, resulting in the giver’s withdrawing or reducing his commitment because he is offended by the recipient’s reaction. But an honest appraisal reveals that all fall short in giving and receiving love.
We tend to be impatient with those who do not receive our love gratefully, reasoning that love should be easy to receive. We fail to recognize that all aspects of mankind, including the capacity to give and receive love, are tainted by sin. If we suppose that our ability to receive or give love is perfect, we will not be gracious when someone else falls short.
Ever since Adam doubted God’s love in withholding the forbidden fruit, Adam’s posterity has struggled with receiving love (e.g., Num. 14:1–12). We still doubt God’s love even after God gave His Son. If fallen man doubts God’s love, we shouldn’t be surprised that we doubt each other’s love.
In response to these imperfections, we could pressure each other to try harder to give and receive love perfectly, leading to discouragement at our failures, feeling unloved, and withdrawing from our relationships.
Alternatively, we could let the gospel inform our view of love and seek, by grace, to love as God has loved us. His love does not waver when it’s doubted or weakly returned. He loves us despite our imperfect love (Mark 14:26–30), pursues us when we turn to idols (Hos. 2:5–7, 14–20; 11:7–9), and loves us even while we are still His enemies (Rom. 5:8–10).
God’s unfailing love frees us to be truthful before Him and each other, giving us room to grow in love even as we stumble. It empowers us by filling our hearts, frees us to love others, eliminates the fear of being judged or shunned if we don’t measure up, and assures us that our relationships will endure despite the imperfections (1 John 4:17–19).
Unlike cheap grace, unfailing and unearned love expects change while paradoxically making room for failure. Demanding complete change right away is as inconsistent with Christian love as not expecting change. In our Christian walk, we grow but never overcome all our sins, struggling with some until death.
If we fear that love will be abused if its recipients know it won’t waver when they sin and make love contingent on change, we inadvertently remove the foundation necessary for secure relationships. But God does what we fear by guaranteeing forgiveness for those who are in Christ. Repeated forgiveness of believers flows out of Christ’s sacrifice (Matt. 18:21–22). Unsurprisingly, unbelievers might abuse love, but the gospel calls us to love anyway, knowing there is no miscarriage of justice because no sin will be unpunished (Rom. 12:14–21). Let us open our hearts to love irrespective of its reception and despite its inherent imperfections.