Do you love your spouse?

Do you love your child?
Do you love your best friend?

I’m sure you said “yes” to each question. Of course. But here’s another way to ask:
Do you love your spouse well?
Do you love your child well?
Do you love your best friend well?

Hmmm. I’m wondering what you’re thinking now. How does adding the word “well” to the question change the meaning for you–or your answer? Does it make you reconsider? Or maybe you are  scratching your head wondering about the distinction between loving and loving “well”?

These two words, “loving well,” are words I first heard together from our counselor/teacher, Patti Cepin, when Larry and I were going through our Potter’s Wheel counseling training. I’d never really thought of putting those two words together before. But since then, they have been very instructive and something that makes me question my quality of love for others–and make some wise choices. Because loving “well” means I would love someone according to what is best for them. 
I think I found three ways to determine if we’re loving well in Paul’s words to Timothy:
“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (I Timothy 1:3-7).

Paul gives three ways to be able to love well: a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. 


1. A pure heart wants what is best for the other person, not what will benefit ourselves. The use of Paul’s word “heart” refers to motives. What is our motive for loving that person? Or what is the motive for the way we choose to love them? Paul says we need to have pure motives.

He contrasts that with the Judaizing teachers who wanted to teach the believers for the purpose of being elevated as teachers–not to benefit the people. They did not have a pure heart. They didn’t want what was best for the people (to know the true Gospel of grace) but to teach out of ignorance that which didn’t draw the people closer to God. They wanted to put the people back into bondage under the Law even though God wanted to set them free. If the people were under the Law, the teachers could be in the powerful position of dictating how they should obey the Law. The people would be dependent upon them, not dependent upon the Lord and His Spirit’s leading.


As I think of having a pure heart, I think of the kind of love that Proverbs 22:6 talks about: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Yes, that’s referring to the way of righteousness but as the commentator Barnes notes, it’s also the way indicated by the child’s temperament. A “well-loving” parent doesn’t try to fit his child into his own mold or tries to live out his own un-realized dreams through his child. He wants what God wants for him. How God has “bent his tree” (as Charles Swindoll writes). The parent’s own fears don’t get in the way of encouraging that child to seek God’s will, even if it means going onto a dangerous mission field or seeking a job that doesn’t fit in with the parent’s definition of success.  

Years ago, (should I say eons?), when Larry and I had been married seven years, we experienced the seven year itch. I wanted to scratch my way all the way to divorce court. Since I couldn’t do that, I prayed for the plane he was flying to crash. That’s an acceptable choice, right? 

Since my attempts to change him through anger and manipulation weren’t working, I made what I thought was a loving choice in one moment of sanity. I planned a surprise birthday party for him. I expected that doing this loving thing would awaken his love for me so that he would treat me better. After all, I personally would love to have a surprise birthday party thrown for me. (The fact that I’m still waiting for it to happen will not be brought into the discussion–but no worries, I’m not holding my breath. I am NOT turning blue… Sorry.) If he threw a party for me I would love him to pieces. Therefore he should want it also, right?

Wrong. When Larry walked through the front door of our house looking sweaty and tired after a game of tennis and was greeted by twenty-five of our closest friends yelling “Surprise! Happy Birthday!”, he graciously smiled and even enjoyed the party–(along with the black-painted wooden coffin in the living room). But guess what? He didn’t change! He didn’t stay home more often to help me with the kids or do anything loving for me. A complete bust. What a disappointment.

Should my disappointment have alerted me to the fact that I had merely changed my tactics? That my love wasn’t pure because my motives were still controlling and manipulative? That I wasn’t loving him well because I didn’t choose something he valued? He would have valued a wife who didn’t nag, whine, mope and complain. That would have been a valued birthday gift!

But I didn’t have a clue. I only chalked up another example on my mental white board list of “Why I am entitled to be angry.” And layered on more nagging, whining, moping, and complaining. 

In time, God’s power and grace intervened–to His praise and glory and next month we’ll celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary. And I think Larry would say he has the gift of a wife who respects, admires, appreciates, and loves him well (though imperfectly). And I have a husband who loves me very, very well. 

That incident in our history stands tall as a reminder of not loving with a pure heart. Maybe you can think of some of your own. Or maybe you’ll want to ask for the first time, “What is my motive? What is my heart like as I try to love this person? Am I loving well?

Next time I’ll continue on to talk about loving well with a good conscience and a sincere faith. For the present, think about loving well and see if it gives a different perspective to the way you love.