Modeling and teaching love: It starts with Christ

“Above all else, love each other deeply” (1 Peter 4:8 NIV). 

I’ve been so struck by these words recently that I even purchased a watercolor painting of this passage on Etsy, and hung it on our living room wall. Why? Because it’s definitely an area where I need improvement in my own heart and home. 

When I consider if I’m loving my children “above all else,” this passage comes to mind: “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 my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–3 ESV). 

If I don’t take care, here’s how I could rewrite this for my own life and heart: If I quote all the scripture and correct all the bad behavior, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have all the multi-tasking of home chores and organizational habits known to man, and understand all the theology, and go through all the motions for daily Bible reading and church-going, but have not love, I am nothing. If I sacrifice myself constantly all day long for my family through cooking, cleaning and transporting to the various activities of my kids, so that I’m utterly exhausted at the end of the day, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

Ouch. 

Our insufficiency but God’s perfection

I can easily become guilty of this. 

If love is a value of our family, which it clearly should be as followers of Christ, then how can we intentionally approach not only Valentine’s Day, but every season, with a focus on modeling and teaching the concept of love? 

It’s crucial that we begin with a solid foundation for how the Bible defines the word, rather than passively letting culture inform our understanding of it. 

“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” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8 ESV). 

If you’re anything like me, this kind of love sounds amazing, and yet so far out of reach. How do I display it? How am I really able to love my kids in this manner? 

I seem to fall short daily. Let me offer some encouragement that removes our eyes from our own insufficiency, and instead reminds us of God’s perfect love for us and how he is the one to love through us. When we do this, I think we find some principles that inform how we can best model Christ’s love practically for our families. 

Find true love in Christ alone 

We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19 ESV). 

We are unable to love our families on an empty tank. Despite the good gifts that a spouse or child can be, we simply cannot root our own love in them—they will fail us, they will disappoint us, and they will love us rather imperfectly. 

We likewise cannot show Christ’s love if we have not first experienced it ourselves. So how do we do that? 

We daily cultivate a remembrance in our own souls, hearts and senses of the love of Christ. We experience perfect love by spending time daily in God’s Word, enjoying and engaging the divine through our senses of delightful, truth-filled music, nourishing food, comforting hot drinks or refreshing cool ones, and walks through nature. 

And then what happens? When discussing his ministry, Paul makes the point that “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14 ESV). We need these experiences with Jesus if we want any hope of imperfectly loving the imperfect ones around us in a similar manner. It’s only through our personal experience of Christ’s love that we can then share his love with our children. 

We must evaluate our day and schedule and be sure to simplify it so that we can personally remind ourselves of the love of Christ. This is where it begins.

Three ways to demonstrate love

1. Love caught—spouse to spouse 

Somewhere years ago I heard the quote that more is caught than taught in parenting. It’s so true that our actions and what we model will make a great impact on our children. 

When it comes to modeling love, perhaps the most significant relationship modeled for our children will be how we love our spouse. This is often overlooked in parenting. 

The tendency to allow our lives to be consumed with our children is normal, but so very dangerous. The last thing our children need is for us to neglect love of our spouses in order to put them first. Instead, we need to strive to cultivate unity and love in our marriages, which will have a profound and long-term impact on our children in ways we may never fully understand. 

Our children learn to love others (including their future spouses and families) based on what we model, so let’s be mindful of that and make sure our priorities are aligned. Don’t feel guilty about scheduling date nights to cultivate your relationship with your spouse. 

Have conversations together. And may we also take care how we respond in love and respect to our spouses in the everyday talk and actions that our children observe around the clock. It matters. 

2. Love with time—one-on-ones  

Josh McDowell wisely teaches that “Kids spell love as T-I-M-E.” For our children, this is so very true. One of the best ways we can model and extend love is by being available. 

I have a few brief scheduled one-on-one times with each child throughout the week, but one of the best ways I can love them is by simplifying my schedule so that I can be still long enough when they need or want my attention. 

If I’m steadily moving around the house doing chores or checking my phone or computer or “accomplishing” something, there is no space for a child to stop their play and come sit in my lap or ask me to join in their LEGO playing. 

Perhaps you need similar encouragement. Let’s slow down, simplify, and become available. We might be shocked what connections and love happen with our children when we do. 

3. Love taught—practical ways to be intentional 

As already hinted, how we model love makes the greatest impact on teaching the action to our children. However, alongside our modeling should come intentional conversations and tools to shepherd our children in understanding and practicing love. “Dear children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth,” (1 John 3:18 ESV). 

Here are a few things you can do  that could easily become part of your family’s atmosphere!

I’ll leave you with this encouragement. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 ESV).

(Originally published here at christianparenting.org.)

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