Examine Your Love: Is Your “Sacrificial Living” Actually Self-Serving?

Love One Another

The concept of being called to “love one another” is probably familiar to most Christians. Jesus told his disciples that the world would know they were his followers if they loved one another (John 13:34-35). But what does healthy, Christ-like love actually look like in our day to day relationships? Many people believe they are doing loving things when, in fact, they are actually hindering their own growth as well as that of others. Understanding Christ’s love and learning to love others in a healthy way is an integral part of discipleship and spiritual growth.

How Well Do You Love?

The way we learn to show love is influenced by many things, including upbringing and past experiences. Our understanding of love affects how we handle conflict, boundaries, and relationships in general. Your ability to love well has a lot to do with how you view yourself and other people: you either view them as people made in the image of God who are worthy of dignity and respect or you view them as just a means to an end. Viewing people as a means to an end, even if it’s on a subconscious level, skews our relationships, making them look loving and sacrificial when they are actually unhealthy and codependent.

What is Codependency?

While codependency is a deep topic with many nuances, a simple definition is “needing to help or take care of someone, even to the point of their harm or my harm, in order for me to be okay.” It is more about control than love. It is about doing something so that I can be accepted, protected, needed, or loved. Codependency is often masked as “sacrificial living.” For example, I may go out of my way to help another person under the guise of loving them and putting their needs before mine. However, the reality may be that I’m helping that person in order to be liked, and the idea of being needed feeds my sense of worth.

The difference between sacrificial living and codependency is motive. When I’m being codependent, I am more focused on meeting my own needs. My actions are motivated by selfishness or pride, which can lead to resentment, bitterness, and a “martyr” attitude. True sacrificial living, on the other hand, is motivated by authentic love that’s rooted in having a right view on God, a right view on people, and a right view on myself. Developing these right views requires spending time in the Word of God to gain insight into who He is and what he says about us as His image-bearers.

Emotional Health Leads to Deeper Love

Not only should we spend time in Scripture, but we must also spend time examining ourselves and our relationships. Our emotional health has a huge impact on how well we love others.

What are some signs that you are loving in an emotionally healthy way?

  • Recognizing which factors are influencing your motives/behavior (past experiences, fear, trauma, upbringing, etc.), and changing direction if needed
  • Having healthier boundaries (saying “no” without feeling guilty, choosing not to tolerate abusive behavior, etc.)
  • Feeling at peace with yourself and others
  • Not self-protecting out of unnecessary fear and insecurity
  • Being willing to face healthy conflict when necessary
  • Appropriately putting other’s needs above your own desires
  • Controlling your emotions and being more thoughtful of your speech/actions
  • Not enabling other people’s unhealthy behavior
  • Not using your personality as an excuse for certain behaviors
  • Not allowing your mood or sense of worth/identity to be defined by others
  • Not constantly seeking affirmation from other people (Galatians 1:10)

Love Does What Edifies

As you examine the patterns in your relationships and begin to grow in love, ask yourself this question: “Is this edifying?” Love does what edifies. Are your actions/motives helping you grow spiritually? Are they truly edifying to other people? How so? Without examining how you love others, you could be on the path to burnout, resentment, bitterness, and broken relationships. These things do not glorify God nor advance his Kingdom here on earth. So examine yourselves, ladies, and choose love.