I suspect it goes without saying that most of us have not been loved well by those in our lives. Our parents often did their best, but they had the same problem we have. So do our friends.
When you have not been loved well, you don’t love well. On the surface, it appears to be a vicious cycle from which there is no escape. But it is not a closed system. If it was, this would be true. But there is someone outside the system that can enter it, love us well and enable us to love others well.
10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4
This is the premise of Loving Well (even if you haven’t been) by William Smith. The idea is that we only love well if we’ve been loved well. This is a biblical concept, as expressed in 1 John 4. In the gospel, we see that God brings us into His community of love and love us well. As we are loved, we learn to love.
Smith develops this in a very practical way. The 15 chapters of the book cover 15 aspects of love. He shows us how God has loved us in this way, and provides some practical ways we can express this love to others. As a result, this is a very gospel-centered book instead of a moralistic book. It is about what Christ has done, not a bunch of steps or principles to follow.
Smith has put together an engaging, encouraging and convicting book. I loved reading it because I found it interesting and helpful. I ‘hated’ reading it because I saw so many ways in which I fail to love others well. And William Smith is right with us. He’s not writing from a stance of moral superiority, the “I’ve got it all together” thing, but as one who sees his own failings and need for Christ.
“They need grace from me only when they’re out of line. That means that the only context that anyone will ever have for experiencing grace from me is when she is in need of it- which is another way of saying when she sins against me. So, if you want to be a gracious (grace-filled) person, expect to be sinned against. Otherwise, there’s no need for love to cover a multitude of sins.”
He is honest with us. This is not easy. There is much nature and nurture to overcome (some of us have more than others). He’s also honest about the environment in which we seek to change. Love meets us where we are, and gives us what we need. When we love others, we meet them where they are and give them what they need. We can’t do this unless first Christ has met us and given us those things that we can now pass on to them. We are more like channels of love than tanks.
William Smith is not recommending some sort of mystical experience with Jesus where you go away to the desert for a few years, isolated from everyone, and come back able to love them. In Scripture we see how Christ has loved us. In the community of faith, aka the church, we experience that love through others. He often loves us thru the means of others. He uses you to love others well.
“A mark that shows we have been brought into God’s family is that we care about the physical welfare of the rest of the family.”
I did not expect him to refer to the Lord’s Table as an expression of God’s persevering and patient love. But it is. It is the place we see God continuing to welcome us, despite all the new sins we committed since the last time we enjoyed the sacramental presence. We experience His pardon and nurture as we feast on Christ in faith (John 6). Though he is a Baptist, he doesn’t seem to hold to the typical Zwinglian view of Communion, but more of a Reformed view where Christ is spiritually present to bless His people.
“Communion helps you realize that he doesn’t hold those disloyal moments against you, even though by rights he should.”
So, this is a book that I recommend highly. It is one that should be read, and read again regularly. If love is important, and it is, we regularly need to run to Christ to be loved that we might love others as well. This is a sound and engaging means to assist in that process.
[I received a copy of this book from The B&B Media Group for the purposes of review.]