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Sacrificial Love

By Tricia Kinsman
In Hope & Healing
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Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:13

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. -1 John 3:16

During this month of February where we focus our attention on those we love, I have often asked myself what sacrificial love should really look like. Having experienced loss, trauma, and abuse, sacrificial love for me tends to cross over into what looks more like codependency than the love Christ offers us. This often leaves me asking how I am to love myself while I’m loving others.

Sacrificial love begins and ends with God. It thinks more highly of God’s love for someone else than for my rights. Sacrificial love does not thrive to support my individualism, my comfort, or my desires. It focuses on the highest good of another person.

But what happens when it all goes south? What happens when our attempts at sacrificial love land us in unhealthy patterns, codependency, and emptiness? It’s at points like these that we need to ask ourselves if we might be carrying an unhealthy definition of sacrificial love.

Does sacrificial love always look for the best good of another person? That answer is a resounding YES. Does it discount MY needs? Absolutely NOT. Does is call me to give up my rights? SOMETIMES IT DOES.

What IS the way of Jesus when it comes to sacrificial love?

Let’s first take a look at what it’s not.

Sacrificial love is NOT pouring out to the empty point. It is not discounting my needs. I have a need for love, health, relational reciprocation, and time with God. When I discount or deny those needs, I am exhibiting either a trauma response, codependency, or grandiosity. The command to love like Jesus gets us twisted up sometimes in the false idea that I surrender all of me for the best good of you. If we look at the verses above without context, we can often find ourselves in a world of hurt as we live for everyone else and deny that we need anyone or anything. It is so easy to get caught up in thinking God will take care of me while I take care of everyone else. And we find ourselves months, maybe years later, living half a life: burned out and unhealthy physically and spiritually. Sacrificial love is not living without any expectations, needs, or feelings and as if we are invincible.

So, what does it mean to sacrifice for the best good of others?

Here is what Jesus’ example leads us to understand about sacrificial love. Though He was fully God, He was also fully man and showed us how to be a fully healthy human being. Jesus recognized His own needs, gave them space in His life, and took care of His health and His soul. He was not a loner, but instead brought others alongside him as companions to carry the load.

Jesus recognized that He needed friends. He spent time with human beings enjoying a good meal, good wine, resting with them, talking with them, and filling His tank up.

Jesus recognized he needed to take care of His soul. He went away to spend time with His Father. He saw His need for connecting His own soul to that of His sender, His truth-teller, His comforter.

Jesus delegated the work. He entrusted some of the work to his disciples while He walked this earth and prepared them to carry on that work when He was gone. He knew that this not only helped accomplish the goal of the spread of the gospel, but it also accomplished the goal of spiritual formation in His disciples.

Jesus knew Himself and His purpose here clearly. Jesus used His voice when it was appropriate and chose not to speak when it served His purposes. This choice to keep silent in the face of accusations did not come from a place of fear or shame and was not a discounting of His own truth. It was a healthy, deliberate act to allow the goal of His time on earth to be accomplished.

Jesus laid his life down, yes! He sometimes gave up His right to speak the truth on His own behalf. He cared for the sick and dying, for the souls of others. But He did all these things from a healthy place, a full tank, a place of purpose. Jesus knew Himself and did not discount His needs. He knew His part to play and knew He needed others to play their parts as well. He enjoyed time with friends and took care of His health and His soul while He did hard things.

For those of us who easily discount our own needs for the needs of others, we would do well to take a look at the life of Jesus. He loved sacrificially; He IS love itself. Yet He kept appropriate boundaries and is our example of how to love ourselves sacrificially as well. After all, the command to us is to love our neighbor AS we love ourselves.

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