Key Scriptures: Genesis 25-47, John 3:16, 1 John 4:16-19, Romans 5:5-8, 1 John 3:1, Romans 8:37-39, Ephesians 3:17-19, Romans 12:11, 1 John 3:16, Proverbs 27:17, 1 Peter 4:8-10, Hebrews 10:24-25, Proverbs 17:17, John 15:13, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Proverbs 27:5-9, Proverbs 17:9, Proverbs 31:28, Luke 11:11-13, Proverbs 3:12, Proverbs 15:17, Matthew 10:37, Titus 2:4, Psalm 103:13, Proverbs 17:6, Isaiah 49:15, Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:35, Genesis 29:20, 1 John 4:7-8, John 13:34-35, Proverbs 10:12, Mark 12:29-31, Ephesians 4:2, Romans 13:8, Luke 6:31-35, 1 John 3:18, John 15:12, 1 John 4:20
Introductory Activity: Ask students if they are familiar with the story of Cinderella. Explain that the earliest known version of the story was told in Greece about the time of Jesus. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of versions of the story from cultures all around the world. We tend to think it is a story about a badly treated girl being rewarded – and let’s be honest – getting revenge on those who had treated her poorly…even if in most versions she is kind about it. The truth is that this story is so appealing because most of us feel unloved and unappreciated at some point in our lives. We love the idea that we, like Cinderella, will be loved for who we truly are. Actually, all of the characters in the story – with the possible exception of the fairy godmother – are seeking love. Some are just doing it in not so great ways. Have students break down the main characters in the story of Cinderella. Which ones are seeking love? Whose love are they primarily seeking? What are the ways they try to get that love? It may be necessary to remind students that although Cinderella’s mother had died, something bad had obviously happened to the father of the wicked step sisters to make it necessary for their mother to remarry. Since there are so many versions, it’s okay if you use examples from more than one version of the story to create the class list. Ask students if they can think of other inappropriate ways people seeking love might use and add those to the list.
Lesson: (Questions to students are in bold italics.) Since the last few lessons have covered the stories of Jacob and Esau and Joseph and his brothers, students should be able to answer these first questions. If not, they can quickly refer back to the stories in Genesis 25-47. Many of the problems in the stories surrounding Jacob, Esau, Joseph and his brothers could be attributed to the search for love. Obviously, the parents of Jacob and Esau each had a clear favorite. This meant both sons could easily have felt unloved by the other parent. Jacob didn’t break the cycle with his own children and clearly favored Joseph and Benjamin over his other children. This created an unhealthy family dynamic which created other problems for everyone involved. What were some of the ways Jacob, Esau, Joseph and his brothers were perhaps seeking love? One could argue that the wives of Jacob were having the same issues. What did they do to compete for Jacob’s love? How did their choices cause problems?
We never talk about it, but Satan loves to tell us lies about love. Oh, we can’t actually hear his voice, but he makes sure someone else tells us those things or we have thoughts about them. Lies like, “Each person only has a set amount of love to give, so if they love that person, they will have less love to give me” or “God couldn’t possibly love me because…” “Or I need to compete with ———— for the love of ————“ Satan knows if we feel unloved and unlovable, we are more vulnerable to his temptations to sin. In fact, he may even be able to convince us to reject God entirely if he can convince us God doesn’t really love us.
The good news is that Satan’s lies are just that…lies. Unfortunately, because we live in a fallen world, those lies can appear true. They seem true because when people sin, they often don’t act like they love anybody but themselves. Satan’s lies can seem true because people aren’t loving others the way God commands us to do. They can also seem true because we believe others’ lies about God, his character and his motivations.
To understand how to break this negative cycle of feeling unloved, we first need to understand what the word love really means. We are hampered in English and other languages because we have only one word for love. So it seems like we are equating our love for pizza with the love we have for the person we want to marry with our love for God. It’s confusing, so we get confused.
The New Testament uses four different Greek words that translate to the word “love” in English. The first is “eros” or romantic love. The second is “storge” or love for family. The third is “philia” or brotherly love, love for others (It’s the word from which the city of Philadelphia was named.) The fourth word is “agape” which is equated with God’s divine love, although people can express agape love as what we sometimes call unconditional or perfect love.
While we seek all four types of love in our lives, the truth is the first three types of love are better if they also have an element of agape love in them. The first three types of love are often based on feelings or emotions and those can change from minute to minute. Agape love is a decision. We love others just because not because we think they are cute or they gave us a great birthday present or we like the same things. Agape love loves regardless or even in spite of how we feel.
So now that we know we really want a lot of agape love in our lives, what does that actually look like when people love us that way? Each type of relationship has special dynamics to that love, but 1 Corinthians 13 gives us a complete description of someone who loves. If someone says they love you, but consistently act out the exact opposite of 1 Corinthians 13, they are only saying words that are meaningless. No one is perfect, but those who love us should act this way towards us most of the time. Read 1 Corinthians 13. What are the characteristics of love?
As we mentioned, each type of relationship has some unique aspects of its love. First let’s look at God’s perfect love for each one of us. Read each scripture. What do we learn about God’s love for us?
- John 3:16
- 1 John 4:16-19
- Romans 5:5-8
- 1 John 3:1
- Romans 8:37-39
- Ephesians 3:17-19
If we ever feel like God doesn’t or can’t love us, we are believing one of Satan’s lies. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t expect us to obey Him or that He won’t give us consequences for disobeying Him. It just means that as long as you have breath, if you are willing to repent of your sins, He has provided a way for them to be forgiven. What’s the worst sin you think you could ever commit? God loves you so much that even if you do that, there is a path to forgiveness and redemption. God must know that it’s hard sometimes to believe He loves us. When we are baptized, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now there are a lot of great things the Holy Spirit does for us, but this tells us one of his functions is to remind us God loves us. How amazing is that?! When you feel like God doesn’t love you, ask God to let the Holy Spirit remind you of His love.
What about the love of our families? Let’s be honest. The people who are supposed to love us more than anyone in the world, can sometimes act as if they don’t love us at all. In fact some family members may even make us feel despised or hated. It’s important to remember that it is not God’s plan for your family now or the family you may eventually have in the future. You can’t control how the members of your family behave towards one another. You can control whether or not you act with love towards them. You can also break negative cycles when you have your own family.
So what are some things God expects loving families to do to show that love?
- Proverbs 31:28
- Luke 11:11-13
- Proverbs 3:12
- Proverbs 15:17
- Matthew 10:37
- Titus 2:4
- Psalm 103:13
- Proverbs 17:6
- Isaiah 49:15
Were you surprised to learn that one of the ways parents show you their love is to correct you? It doesn’t always feel like love in the moment, but allowing you to disobey and be ungodly without correction is not being very loving because it’s not in your best interest. You might also be a bit confused when Jesus said we aren’t to love our parents or our future kids more than him. What Jesus meant was we can’t let them encourage us to reject him because we want to make them happy.
One of the groups of people we often don’t consider as those who can give us the love we need is people in our church family. Once again, it may be because they are not obeying the commands God gives them about how to treat Christian brothers and sisters. If they aren’t acting in loving ways towards you, it isn’t because something is wrong with God or the church. It just means those particular people may not be doing everything God has asked them to do perfectly. They need your grace and forgiveness as much as you will need theirs from time to time. So how should fellow Christians show their love to one another?
- Romans 12:10
- 1 John 3:16
- Proverbs 27:17
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
- Proverbs 27:5-9
- Hebrews 10:24-25
Notice, love from fellow Christians isn’t just about hugs. Sometimes, other Christians will try to encourage you to serve other people and share your faith. Sometimes, they will be like iron sharpening iron…they may hold you accountable when you are disobeying God. The Bible teaches us that even though this might feel like fussing or nagging, it is how Christians show love to each other…by encouraging each other to be who God has called His people to be.
At this point in your life, you may be more concerned about the love of friends than anyone else. Popularity is tricky. Your friend group can make you feel like the most popular person in the world one day and make you feel like a societal reject the next. Part of this dynamic is once again because we live in a fallen world. No friend is going to be perfectly loving all of the time.
Sometimes though, we choose friends based on the wrong set of criteria. We choose friends for the wrong reasons. We choose friends who don’t really love us, but may use seemingly loving actions in an effort to manipulate us. Choosing godly friends – even if they aren’t Christians yet – makes it more likely they will treat us in loving ways more consistently. So what are some characteristics of potential friends who will treat us with real love?
- Proverbs 17:17
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
- Proverbs 27:5-9
- John 15:13
- Proverbs 17:9
The people who will love us as friends will also be supportive and encouraging most of the time. They will support us in good times and bad. If your friends consistently act in unloving ways, it may be time to find friends who are truly friends.
Some of you might be seeking romantic love. In some ways, it’s the trickiest of all of the love we seek from people. We tend to base it on feelings rather than agape love. Often we confuse lust or sexual attraction for love. We have at times unrealistically high expectations of gifts and flowery words based on those perfect romantic partners in novels and movies. You may have heard married couples say you should marry your best friend. They don’t mean you shouldn’t be physically attracted to the person you marry. What they mean is that marriage is meant to be for your entire life. You and your partner will get old. You may get ill. You will face lots of challenges and problems. A marriage based only on physical attraction and romantic love will struggle to survive. A marriage build on friendship and agape love, however, is likely to be a marriage for a lifetime.
So what does the Bible say about husbands and wives who show real agape love to one another?
- Ephesians 5:25 and 33
- Genesis 29:20
The last one isn’t a command per se, but it speaks volumes. Jacob worked for seven long years…hard, dirty, smelly labor in order to be given permission to marry Rachel. Yet, he loved her so much, those seven years only felt like a few days to him! Now that’s the best romantic love of all! He would do what it took – no matter how hard – to spend his life with her! If a potential romantic partner doesn’t have that kind of commitment to your relationship, he or she may not be the best choice.
The final thing to remember about finding love in godly ways, is that God expects us to treat everyone with the same love He would regardless of how they treat us in return. We aren’t allowed to be unloving while we are looking for love. In fact, if you treat people poorly, they may not always act very loving to you in return. What parameters does God place on how we are to love others?
- 1 John 4:7-8
- John 13:34-35
- Proverbs 10:12
- Mark 12:29-31
- Ephesians 4:2
- Romans 13:8
- Luke 6:31-35
- 1 John 3:18
- John 15:12
- 1 John 4:20
When you aren’t feeling very loved or loveable, sometimes the best medicine is focusing on loving others. You may just find you are reminded that you are indeed loved and loveable.
Skills Activity: This lesson had more scriptures than normal. It can be helpful to encourage students to sum up each category based on the scriptures read for it as part of the review. Spend a little time discussing the areas in which they struggle.
Explain that even though the lesson was about looking for love in godly ways, as was mentioned at the end of the lesson, it can be better to spend more time and effort focused on being that loving person for others.
Students can work alone or in groups of two or three. Encourage them to plan and execute a project that is active and helps the recipients of the project feel loved. They may choose to complete a service project of some sort or be creative in some other way. This project may extend to another class period or can be completed outside of class time in a special session or at home. Plan a time of reflection when everyone shares their projects, how recipients reacted and how they felt before, during and after the project. Most of all, what did the project teach them about love?
Application Challenge: Reflect on the scriptures from the lesson. In what ways do you struggle with feeling loved? What can you do to regularly remind yourself you are loved and loveable?