Helping you grow closer to God
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About this series
Taught by Chip's son, Ryan Ingram, Relational Intelligence gives us a clear understanding of what it takes to develop intimate, life-giving, character-shaping relationships where people share a rugged commitment to one another for the long-haul. Ryan exposes the flaws in relational thinking that result in broken, disillusioned lives. He provides alternative, biblical insight into how healthy, mature, and fun relationships can be nurtured and enjoyed.More from this series
My wife and I go to counseling once a month and it’s just this time for us to really grow and develop as a couple.
And there’s times when we are hanging out on the drive, it’s about a thirty-minute drive to where we go and we are talking about, “Hey, what are we going to talk about?” And my wife will kind of jokingly say, “Well, you probably have a list.” And I do! Because I write in a journal and I’m always writing stuff down and I’m, like, Oh, I don’t know how to deal with that, let me write this down. Or, Jenny did this and that kind of annoyed me and I want to see what Sue has to say about that.
And she’s like, and then like, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” There’s no tit for tat, there’s no, “Hey, you did this and you did that and I’m holding this over you and look at you! And I’m going to keep a record. And I’m going to bring it back and I’m going to keep reminding you of how you failed. I’m going to keep reminding you of how you screwed up. I’m going to keep reminding you of how you just are…”
And so, love says no, love does not do that. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects,” means it’s safe. “Always trusts, always hopes.”
This is what you are invited to embrace as the foundation of your love. First, that love is not a noun; love is a verb. It’s an action. It’s not a force; love is a choice. This is how love behaves. It’s not dependent upon your feelings. He says, “This is what love does.” If you want to know what love is, this is just how it looks to be loving. This is how love behaves.
In fact, when I counsel newly engaged couples and talk to them about their wedding, I take them to this passage and I say, “I want you to write this out for the other person and personalize it, because when you say, ‘I love you,’ we are not talking about love, the feeling. We are not talking about storge or phileo or eros. When you are committing love, you are committing agape. You’re saying, ‘I agape you.’”
And here’s what that looks like: I will be patient with you, even when you leave all your crap all around the house and it’s driving me up a wall. Like, you’ve got to get personal. What does it look like? It’s a verb; it’s a choice.
Now, notice this: love is not a doormat and love is not a dictator. You see, love is not to be walked all over to accept abuse. Notice that love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It says, “I stand on the side of what is right and true, and I’ll stand up for that because that’s what is best for you and for me. And I’m not going to allow you to bring abuse or heartache or pain in here,” and it is not a dictator.
Love does not demand its rights. And most often, the way this happens, whether it’s in friendships, dating, even at work, and in marriages is we tend to manipulate others. We try to manipulate them. We call it love but it’s really not a love marked by giving, it’s a love marked by getting.
And we do it in our relationships all the time. I will do this in order to get this. Agape love is a love marked by giving, not getting.
See, the modern love promise says: when I fall in love, everything will fall into place. Relational intelligence says it’s less about falling in love and it’s far more about growing in love. It’s less about falling in love.
And there’s a moment of falling in love, there’s a moment, so don’t hear me, “Ingram, he hates romance!” No! That’s wonderful and good, it’s just not foundational for any great relationship.
And it’s far more about growing in love, so how do you grow in love? How do you build a foundation on agape love? I’m so glad you asked. Turn in your Bibles, to Ephesians chapter 5, verse 1. And we are going to talk about increasing your love quotient.
How do you grow in love? And, in fact, in this text you’re going to see three different forms of the verb agape in this text that is going to help us unpack: how do we actually do this? Because if you’re like me and you read that love thing and you’re going, like, Man, that’s overwhelming. That ain’t me. I want that to be true, I want that to be true of the people in my life and the co-workers. I want to be that but I don’t know how.
Notice what the apostle Paul says. He says, “Be imitators of God,” circle that word be. It’s a command. This is – we are to imitate Him. “Therefore, as dearly loved children,” underline dearly loved. “As dearly loved children, live a life of love.” Circle the word live. We are going to get to that in a second.
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, live a life of love,” how? “just as Christ loved you,” underline that – loved us, “and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Okay, how do we increase our love quotient? How do we grow in love? The first is we need to embrace that we are dearly loved. That you’re dearly loved. The Greek word here is agapētos. It’s the object of one’s affection, having a very special relationship – beloved.
This is embracing your identity and your position in Christ. You’re not working for love, you are loved. You are profoundly and perfectly loved by your heavenly Father right now in this moment.
Nothing you can do will ever change that, whether you have a good day or a bad day, His love does not vary at all. He loves you – period.
Notice this, there is something in you that God loves and if God love you, then you must be worthy of love.
It’s popular in our day to talk about self-love. And I don’t want to diminish this, but the way the conversation is going is, it goes something like this: “I’ve got to love myself first in order to be able to love you.” “I’ve just got to love me!” In fact, in my research, I remember seeing this. “I love you, but I love me more,” is like the modern love phrase. Interesting.
But we live with this. Like, no, I’ve got to love me. I’ve got to have me. And what that is, let’s just unpack this, if you’re starting with a love deficit and you’re trying to love yourself more, you have nothing to give yourself. It is starting with God.
See, to live a life of love, we first have to understand we are loved. Not that you love yourself more, we’ll get to that, but that you are profoundly loved. That God just loves you. You can’t give to others what you haven’t yet received and He says, “I love you. You are My beloved. You’re an adopted child of the King Most High. You are loved,” and everything you do flows from that – your identity, your position.
Embrace, embrace that you are dearly loved. See, one of the most destructive things in our culture today with relationships is looking for the other person to complete or fulfill us. They can never complete or fulfill you. But when your identity is secure, you’re no longer having a love that is need-based. “I need you. I need this. I need that.” No, no, no. I am fully loved, complete, and so I can give love.
How do we grow in love? First, embrace that you are dearly loved. Second, did you see it, commit to living a life of love. “As dearly loved children, live a life of love.”
And that word I had you circle – be – it’s a command. Be imitators. It’s the picture of a little kid imitating their mom or their dad, mimicking what they do. Their hand gestures and all the different idiosyncrasies that they have and saying, in the same way that you have been so well loved by your heavenly Father, mimic Him. Mimic Him.
Begin to put it into practice. It’s that “live a life of love.” That’s a command. Commit to it. See, we go, you know what? We want to grow in this, but I am waiting until I feel like it. You know, when I feel like it. And eventually when I feel like it, then I’ll start to do it.
Agape – let me give you just a little further definition of this. The self-giving, sacrificial love that gives the other person what they need the most, when they deserve it the least. See, first, you start with: I’m dearly loved. I have all that I need from my heavenly Father. Now, I’m going to commit, I’m going to make a choice to love.
The wedding picture when a couple is standing up and proclaiming their vows, a lot of times when we think about it is we think about it as professing love. And it certainly is. They are professing their love for one another, but something that is happening that is even more profound, and it’s missed a lot of time is they are not just professing love, they are promising future love.
They are making a commitment of future love. In sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in good times and in bad times. I am making a commitment to you that my love, this agape love is what I am choosing to respond to and when I don’t, I’ll own it. But I’m promising that circumstances will not change it. I’m making this commitment.
You’re like, Well, what about feelings, Ingram? You’ve been kind of down on feelings. No, no, no. See, love is not devoid of feelings, it’s just not defined by it. And we tend to define our lives by how we feel. And he says, first, you should feel awesome. You’re loved. You’re beloved. And if that just sunk in a little bit, your whole world would change.
You’d go, Man, this is crazy. The God of the universe, the One who spoke all things into existence? That God, He says I’m the object of His affection? Like Zephaniah would say that He’s rejoicing over you with singing? Like, if you just got that for a little bit, you’d just be walking around like, “I’m so confident.” Not cocky. Confident. Right? “I’m loved!” And so I’m committing to give to you the type of love I received from my heavenly Father.
And, by the way, that’s the exact way Jesus has loved you. 1 Corinthians 13 is an expression of how God has loved you. And for us, it’s not just committing to a life of love, we have to rely on Christ’s love to empower you.
He says, “Just as Christ loved,” it’s the Greek word agapaō. I love how Efrem Smith defines this. He says, “It’s the unconditional love of Jesus in us that is flowing through us to be a force of transformation around us.” The unconditional love of Jesus in us that is flowing through us to be a force of transformation around us.
See, as we sit back and we look at that and we go, Man, that agape love, I can’t. That agape love with my co-workers, man she is just really on my case. He is just really tough. Every meeting is a struggle. I can’t. I can’t agape them. And he says, “You can’t but He can through you.” Would you rely on Christ’s empowering love working in you?
With my roommate, with my spouse, oh, it’s been a rough season. Oh man, they are in a mood. I can’t! You’re right, you can’t, but He can through you.
See, the gospel is this. The gospel is that God loves you, that He meets you right where you are, that when you cry out for your need for Him, He meets you. And He says He will deposit the Spirit of God inside you. You are now adopted into the family of God. You are marked among the beloved, that is your identity. And then you have the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, dwelling inside you to empower you to live out a radically new life.
And far too many of us are walking around weak and feeble going, “I can’t, I can’t.” Just own it. Yeah, of course you can’t. But He can through you. It looks something like this. I shared it a few, like, I don’t know, a month ago or something like that, is you know that love is patient? I could grow in that too. But the kind part. And it’s not being kind to strangers. I’m pretty good at that. It’s being kind to the people closest to me. My kids.
See, love is really challenged in the unguarded moments. We are good at loving people when we are kind of on, but it’s those unguarded moments that are generally the people closest to us, whether it’s a friend or family or spouse.
And I go, God, I want You to develop in me gentleness or kindness. It’s actually a fruit or the Spirit so I know that when I rely on the Spirit, You’re going to actually produce that in my life. And I have this little 3x5 card and each morning I review it, I reviewed it this morning. And at the top it says this “Husbands, love your wives.” And I write in our names, “Ryan, love Jenny.” How? “Just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.”
Like, your role is to sacrifice your life for your wife. Not to dominate, but to lay down your life. You’re going, Okay, what does it look like? Okay, God, help! I, in and of myself, I can’t do that. And underneath it, I have the 1 Corinthians 13 passage, “Love isn’t… and it’s a prayer in the morning, each and every morning of, I want to reorient my mind around what is true and invite You to have Your way in me. Holy Spirit, would You empower me to be that kind of man?
And then you take the next step. You just take the next step and say, God, I don’t know how to love this person, I don’t know how to love that co-worker, I don’t know how to love my roommate, I don’t know how to love…and you just go, but I’m going to rely on You and so I am going to take the step I know that love is calling, I know that love asks me to do, and I’m going to trust that You’re going to empower me as I take that step.
See, we don’t take the step, we’re going, God, would You empower me? Would You empower me? Would You empower me?
You just take the next step. And go, I know what love calls me to. I’m asking, would You empower me? And I’m going to take that step.
It’s what Paul would say in Galatians, “Walking in step with the Spirit.” And so, I’m going to leave you with this. This is just simply what love asks. Would you begin to ask this, to help you know what are the steps you need to take? Whether it’s with your friends, with your co-workers, with your ex. What is the highest and best for the other person? This is the questions love asks.
What is the highest and best for your friend, for your boyfriend, for your girlfriend, for your spouse, for your ex, for your co-workers, for your kids? What is the highest and best for them? And then you go, okay, I’m going to remind myself: I am fully loved. This is my identity, so I don’t need love from them. I’m going to choose to do what is the highest and best and I’m going to invite the Spirit of God to empower me to do that.