The Ten Lepers painting by Michelle Winter used with permission. You can enjoy more content from Michelle at her blog, Creator Spiritus.
Today’s post is from my new book Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus). Last Saturday we posted Chapter 15: Love Like Jesus–Don’t Love Everyone The Same. Love Like Jesus is due to be published later this year.
How I Removed “I Love You” From My Vocabulary
“. . . just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
While I was researching this book, I was thinking about how Jesus is never quoted as saying the words, “I love you.”
So toward my goal to love people the way Jesus loved people, I decided to try it. I decided to try it for about a week. So for about one week, I took the phrase, “I love you,” out of my vocabulary.
And what happened? It turns out that removing “I love you” from my vocabulary was one of the most powerful practices I’ve ever implemented.
As a writer who works at home, most of my time is spent with my wife Kathy. And I love her. I mean I’m crazy about her. But that week I was under this self-imposed vow of silence when it came to saying the words “I love you.” So what happened was this pressure very quickly built, until I was almost bursting inside to find ways to express my love for Kathy. Not saying, “I love you,” was like putting a cork in the bottle of bubbling emotion inside of my body. Suddenly I just had to find a way, a way to communicate to my wife how much I loved her.
So I acted. I acted because — what else could I do, but act? I expressed my love through acts of service. Nothing major, just small gestures during the course of the week. I cleaned the kitchen. I cleaned the garage. I did some yard work. And I expressed my love through a gift, again nothing spectacular, just a small gift. I bought Kathy some flowers. And the result was, in my quest to love like Jesus, that was one of the best weeks of my life. Who knew not saying those particular words could have such a powerful effect?
I want to encourage you to try it sometime. Take the words, “I love you,” out of your vocabulary for a week and find creative ways to express your love for people. Try it, especially if you’re like me and you tend to communicate love using words.
Try it and see what happens.
It will help you to love like Jesus.
Jesus And The 5 Love Languages
In Gary Chapman’s classic book, The 5 Love Languages, he identifies five distinct ways in which love is communicated. According to Chapman, the five emotional love languages are: “Words of Affirmation”, “Quality Time”, “Receiving Gifts”, “Acts of Service”, and “Physical Touch”. The premise of the book is that problems arise when one person’s love language doesn’t match up with another’s, but relationships can flourish when you communicate with someone using their primary love language.
In my and Kathy’s example above, we see Chapman’s principles at work. I’m a person whose primary love language is the language of “Affirming Words”. As Mark Twain famously said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” That’s me. But Kathy’s primary love language is the language of “Acts of Service”. It’s instinctive for me to show my love for Kathy with “Words of Affirmation” because that’s my personal primary love language. It’s natural for me to offer compliments, words of encouragement, and words of appreciation. It feels right for me to say “I love you.” But I can offer up words of affirmation for days on end without eliciting much of a response from Kathy. What Kathy responds to is when I do the dishes, or install the natural gas hookup for the barbecue, or help her paint the outside of the house. She loves it when I say I love you by doing. I love it when she says I love you by telling. If you stop and think about it for a minute, you can probably identify your own primary love language.
And then there’s Jesus. In the course of my study of Jesus, I couldn’t help but notice that he used all five love languages throughout his time on earth.
1. Acts of Service: Jesus’ First Love Language
One of the most famous acts of service performed by Jesus occurred the night before his crucifixion. Jesus rose from supper, his last supper, laid aside his outer garments, and wrapped a towel around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and washed his disciples’ feet, wiping them with the towel. He went on to speak to his disciples about the importance of loving people through service.
After he finished washing his disciples’ feet, he put his outer garments back on and returned to his place at the table. And he said,
“Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, because I am. So if I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I’ve given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you.
“. . . If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
John 13:1-15, 17
My career as a firefighter was filled with rescuing, and attempts at rescuing, people from death, illness, injury, and other problems. And people call that vocation the fire service. As firefighters, when we rescued someone we served them. And anytime Jesus rescued someone from death, illness, injury, or any other problem, he communicated God’s love with an act of service.
While Jesus was traveling to Jairus’s house where Jairus’s 12-year-old daughter lay dying, a woman touched his garment. This woman who touched him had for years lived with a chronic discharge of blood. When she touched his garment, she was healed immediately.
And at the moment she was healed, Jesus said, “Who touched me?”
The way the large crowd was “pressing in on” him made the disciples question why he would ask such a question.
But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out of me.” (Luke 8:44-46)
I see this as an indication that every time Jesus healed someone, power went out from him. That’s how it is with an act of service. Power goes out from you and power goes out from me every time we perform an act of service. And usually, it’s power in the form of our physical or emotional energy.
Jesus spit on the ground and made mud, then he anointed the blind man’s eyes with the mud and the man could see. Jesus put his fingers into the deaf man’s ears and said to him, “Ephphatha,” (be opened) and his ears were opened. Jesus led another blind man by the hand, out of the village, he spit on his eyes and lay hands on him, twice, and the man could see. There are 31 individual healings of Jesus recorded in the bible, and additionally, there are 11 times when the bible records that Jesus healed many. And each required power to go out from Jesus. And each is an example of how Jesus loved through an act of service. (John 9:6-7, Mark 7:32-35, Mark 8:23-26)
Do This, And You’ll Be Blessed
“For I have given you an example,” Jesus said, “that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Craig Keener, one of my favorite bible commentators, says of this verse, “Disciples were to learn especially by imitating their teachers.” That’s the point of this book, to persuade you to do everything you can to imitate Jesus, and in so doing, to love like Jesus. (John 13:15)
When it comes to imitating Jesus through serving, it will take your energy and time. Power will go out of you, but it will be worth it. Because a few verses after his call for us to imitate his example, Jesus says to us, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
If we imitate Jesus’ behavior in this passage, if we “through love serve one another,” we’ll not only bless others, but we’ll be blessed. I know the most fulfilling times in my life have been those times when I served others. Serving myself has always left me feeling empty. (Galatians 5:13)
The Ultimate Act Of Service
Jesus washing his disciples’ feet not only gives us an example to follow on a practical level, but he provides a physical picture of what he did on a cosmic level too.
Jesus interrupts his supper to remove his outer garment even as Jesus interrupted his time at his Father’s throne in heaven to remove his glory. (Philippians 2:7-8)
Jesus wraps himself in a towel even as he wrapped himself in the flesh when he took the form of a human being here on earth.
Jesus humbled himself when he washed the disciples’ feet, even as he humbled himself when he came to earth to serve. Jesus himself said,
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Earlier in this chapter, I mentioned that Jesus served whenever he rescued someone from death. Jesus did that when he raised Lazarus, Jairus’s daughter, and the son of a widow from the dead, physically. But Jesus’ ultimate act of service, his ultimate rescue, came when he took the weight of the sins of the world upon himself, when he sacrificed himself in your place, and in my place, so we could be saved from our sins.
Jesus’ ultimate act of service came at the expense of his life.
When he laid it down for you and for me.
2. Words of Affirmation
Jesus said of John the Baptist that he is “more than a prophet” and “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater.” These are some of the most powerful words of affirmation recorded in the entire bible. They’re powerful because of the words themselves, and they’re also powerful because they’re indirect words of affirmation. Chapman writes that words spoken to others about a person are more powerful, because when the person who is the object of the words finds out indirectly, he or she knows the words weren’t meant for any other purpose than to affirm. (Matthew 11:9-11)
When Jesus heard that the Centurion believed Jesus could heal his servant with a word, right from where Jesus was geographically, without being physically present with the sick servant, Jesus commended him publicly. He said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (see Luke 7:1-10)
In Matthew 12:49 Jesus stretched out his hand toward his disciples and told the crowd that they are his family.
In the book of Mark, when the woman anointed Jesus with oil from her alabaster flask, Jesus told the crowd at the dinner party, “She has done a beautiful thing,” and “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:6-9)
Jesus affirms Peter when Peter identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-17)
(See also Mark 12:34, and Mark 12:43)
3. Quality Time
“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables . . .”
Jesus lived with his disciples for three years. For three years they were together. They worked together, shared quarters when they slept, and ate together. And they enjoyed quality time apart from the crowds. It was during such a time that Jesus, alone with his disciples, privately shared the meaning of the parable of the sower of the seed. These occasions of quality time alone with his disciples occurred regularly. “. . . Privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” (Mark 4:10-11, Mark 4:34)
One time, when Jesus and his disciples were passing through Galilee, Jesus “did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples” about his death and resurrection. So we see that Jesus carefully guarded his quality time with those closest to him. (Mark 9:30-31)
Another time, when he was about to experience the transfiguration, “Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” When Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop, that time was shared with only three of his disciples. (Matthew 17:1-9)
Not long before he would be taken away by the authorities and killed, Jesus gathered his disciples and they ate, talked, took the first communion, sung a hymn, and prayed. In the book of John, we see that Jesus also washed the feet of his disciples during this time. In fact, in the book of John, five chapters are devoted to the documentation of the quality time Jesus invested in his disciples before his crucifixion. (Matthew 26:20-39, John chapters 13-17)
But Jesus didn’t just spend time with his disciples. He also reclined at table with tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees complained about the quality time Jesus spent with such a crowd. (Luke 5:29-30)
(See also Matthew 15:12-20, Matthew 20:17, Mark 2:15)
4. Giving Gifts
The night of the last supper, Jesus said to Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Because Judas had the money bag, when Jesus said those words the disciples thought Jesus might have told him to “give something to the poor.” The disciples’ assumption makes it obvious that Jesus was in the habit of giving gifts. (John 13:27-29)
Jesus gave the 4,000 the gift of food to eat in Matthew chapter 15.
Jesus gave the 5,000 the gift of bread and fish in Luke chapter 9.
Before Jesus sent out his twelve disciples, he gave them the gift of power and authority to cure diseases and to cast out demons. (Luke 9:1)
“When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you,” Jesus said.
“When you give to the needy.”
Jesus said, “when,” not “if.” (Matthew 6:2)
Jesus was a giver of gifts.
(See also Mark 10:17-27)
5. Physical Touch
When the children came to Jesus, we see that “he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying hands on them.” (Mark 10:15-16)
In Matthew 17:7 we read, “Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”
In Matthew 18:14-15 we read, “He touched her hand and the fever left her.”
When Jesus saw Simon’s mother-in-law lying ill, he “took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her.” (Mark 1:31)
“Those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them.” (Luke 4:40, emphasis mine)
Jesus didn’t have to touch. As the centurion pointed out in Luke 7, Jesus is perfectly capable of healing with a word from a remote location. But he usually didn’t do it that way. He usually chose to be physically present.
And he made it a point to physically touch.
How To Love Like Jesus
Noticing what kind of love language different people are receptive to is essential to loving like Jesus. In the context of a marriage relationship, Chapman writes: “Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse may be as different as Chinese from English. No matter how hard you try to express love in English, if your spouse understands only Chinese, you will never understand how to love each other.”
The week I didn’t say “I love you” to Kathy was successful for two reasons. The first was because I imitated Jesus. The second was because I was speaking Kathy’s primary love language, “Acts of Service”.
The 5 Love Languages was first published in 1995. Every year since it has sold more than the year before. Walk into any brick and mortar bookstore and you’ll find it on the bestseller shelf. It’s been on that shelf for years. The reason it’s so successful, and the reason it works, is because Chapman captured five ways Jesus loved people.
Chapman writes that the communication of love isn’t without nuance. There are many “dialects” of love within the five. His five love languages are the five basic languages of love.
But the point is, if you’re trying to communicate the love of Jesus to someone in the wrong love language, you’re chances for success are diminished considerably. In the context of loving like Jesus:
Your emotional love language and the language of the person you’re trying to love like Jesus may be as different as Chinese from English. No matter how hard you try to express love in English, if the other person understands only Chinese, you will never understand how to love that person.
Jesus used all five love languages and undoubtedly he was a master at matching them with people appropriately. But even Jesus identified people’s love languages by listening. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked the blind man in Luke 18:41.
He also identified how to communicate love effectively, simply by identifying a serious problem. If someone is obviously destitute, “Receiving Gifts” will likely be an effective love language. If someone is sick or injured, you can anticipate that “Acts Of Service” that move that person toward healing will be an effective way to communicate love. The greater the person’s urgent need, the easier it is to identify the person’s love language. You’ve noticed by now who Jesus primarily chose to minister to: the blind, the lame, the lepers, the poor. He liked to love people with problems. And he communicated his love by solving those problems. An urgent need is a shortcut to understanding a person’s love language.
So to love like Jesus be mindful of the different ways different people receive love. Listen to the people around you to learn their love languages. And find people with problems whose love languages are easily identifiable, then help them.
Recognize that communicating Jesus’ love in the appropriate language is an important part of loving like Jesus.
Further study will be rewarded. I highly recommend the book The 5 Love Languages.
- Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, Northfield Publishing, 2014
- Image of The Ten Lepers painting used with permission from the artist Michelle Winter. You can enjoy more content from Michelle at her blog, Creator Spiritus.