About 30 years ago I wrote an article entitled, “I Love You, But I Do Not Like You,” emphasizing that the love Jesus commands is “agape-love” — a choice of the will and not merely “phileo-love” — an emotional response or feeling of affection. But I have never read an article on “How to Learn to Love,” relating to agapao, phileo, stergo or erao.

When Jesus said, “Love your enemies” (Mt.5:44), it is probable that the average person thinks, “It is hard enough to love my friends. I can never love my enemies. How could one go about doing that?” In this article, I will suggest a few simple rules by which love may be created, strengthened, or improved. These rules or principles will operate to produce or increase any one or all of these kinds of love in any situation when that kind of love is appropriate. I will try to state them first in a simple form, so they may be remembered more easily, then enlarge on them so they may be practiced more readily.

The first rule is:  “Think good.”  By that we mean, if you do not love God, your parents, your mate, or the lost as much as you should, think good things about them. We know of nothing that will increase your love for God as much as meditating on His attributes, nature, and activities on our behalf. When Paul said in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things,” he was not just expressing an idea about how to find peace. He was expressing a tremendous universal principle that applies in almost every situation in which one may be. If your love for anyone would increase, think of something lovely, good or worthwhile that they have done. We could write pages about that one thing, but you may make your own application in hundreds of ways. Just DO IT — THINK GOOD!

Second, “Say good.” That is, if you want your love to increase, mention those good things about which you have thought. If you think of the glorious attributes or works of God, not only mention them to Him in grateful thanksgiving, but mention them to others, and your love will increase. If you are going with a girl, and you think she is pretty, sweet, kind, or whatever is good, say so to her and to others. If you are a husband, do not be so stingy with your compliments that you seem to be hoarding them for hard times! When hard times come, they may not then be of any value. It will not kill you to say, “You look especially beautiful in that dress,” (although she might fall over in a dead faint), or “That was some of the best cake I ever ate,” or whatever is the truth. If you can not say that and tell the truth, do not say it, but you could at least say, as they do in some parts ofNorth Carolina, “That is some kind of cake!” Say good things to and about others (Col. 4:6).

The third rule is, “Do good.”  That is, if you want your love for God to increase, you must do that which He enjoins upon you. He always asks for us to do that which is good. In every case, if you know God wants some act from you, or some response, and you do not do it, what little love you have will be begin to die, but conversely, if you do that which He enjoins, it will grow. The same principle holds good for increasing your love for your fellowman. When you do good for a person, your love for them grows. That is one reason why parents normally love their children more than the children love their parents — they have more invested in them. They have done more good for them (Gal.6:10). DO GOOD!

The fourth rule is, “Receive good from.”  This is sometimes harder to do than to do good unto. Those of us who were taught, “Stand on your own feet,” “Hoe your own row,” or whatever other colloquial expressions suggested the idea of self-sufficiency may have a hard time graciously receiving good from another. There was a precious elderly Christian lady in a congregation where I preached many years ago who would come to every service. Sometimes she staggered a little as she walked, and occasionally I would offer her my hand to help her down the few front steps of the building. She impatiently shook my hand off and said, “I can get down by myself.” I felt called on to suggest to her that one is in danger of killing love when one refuses to take love when it is offered. She had been “doing her own thing” for almost 90 years, and it bothered her to depend on others at that date. I love her for her independent spirit, and in spite of her refusal at that time to let me help her, but that does not change the principle about which I write.

When God offers you salvation freely by His grace, and you love him a little, you will learn to love him more if you accept it with gratitude on his terms. When you are in need, and one who has not been too friendly toward you offers you his aid (which he may do — sometimes even with the motive of indicating his superiority to you), receive it graciously, and you will be opening up an avenue where love can be created and grow (2 Cor.5:14).

If you will practice at least these four actions regularly in whatever situation you find yourself where and when they can be practiced, you can rest assured that greater love, with all it’s consequent and attendant blessings will result. Remember that you can not only learn to love, but you can teach others how to create love and make love grow.

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