the weblog of Alan Knox

Love is easily recognized as love

Posted by on May 16, 2013 in love | 28 comments

So, in a previous post, I began “Tackling the Love Problem.” Then I wrote about “The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think.” Next, I said that “We have everything we need to love others.”

What is the “love problem”? It’s quite simple actually. Jesus said all people would know us by our love. But, when you ask people what they think about Christians, love is far, far down the list… if it even makes the list. We have a love problem.

There are a couple of things that I always hear when I talk about love. 1) Love is a heart issue, and it’s not about what we do or don’t do. 2) We are loving people, but they just don’t understand or perceive or recognize our love.

To begin with, I agree completely that love is a heart issue, but I disagree that love is not about what we do or what we don’t do. I think it’s both – it is a heart issue and also a practical issue.

But, for the most part, I want to focus on the second response: “We are loving people, but they just don’t understand or perceive or recognize our love.” I think, as we consider this statement, you’ll see why I responded as I did above to the first statement (i.e., that love is both a heart issue and a practical issue).

In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and love your neighbor, someone immediately asked him, “Well who is my neighbor?” As an answer, Jesus provided the story that we now call “The Good Samaritan”:

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37 ESV)

If I can, I’d like to point out a few things from this story:

1) Although I’ve heard it brought out many times in sermons and read about it in articles and books, Jesus does not mention the heart or motivation for the priest and the Levite. He only talks about their actions (or lack of actions).

2) In the same way, Jesus does not tell us how the Samaritan feels about God or the beaten man. He only tells us about the Samaritan’s actions.

3) When Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor (i.e., loved the other person)?”, the lawyer did not ask about heart or motivation. He only responded based on the actions of the priest, Levite, and Samaritan.

4) The lawyer quickly and easily recognized that the Samaritan was the good neighbor by his actions.

Is heart and motivation important? YES! Absolutely. But when Jesus said, “They will know you by your love,” he was talking about our actions. When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor,” he was talking about our actions.

And, if this story is a good indication, then those actions will be easily recognized by others as actions motivated by love.


Series on the “Love Problem”

  1. Tackling the Love Problem
  2. The incredible primacy of love… It’s more important than we think
  3. We have everything we need to love others
  4. Love is easily recognized as love
  5. So, why does the church have a love problem?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-16-2013

    great point Allan, the Samaritan saw the need, took the time and resources to do what he could to help, and then moved on. with this theme what comes to mind is the passage in Matthew, and the response to ‘when did we do this Lord?’

    ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

  2. 5-16-2013

    We always love to separate things between ‘head’ issues and ‘heart’ issues. I’ve always said that we “DO what we really want to do”. What one ‘does’ is a reflection of their heart. Jesus also said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks”. We really can’t hide who we are even though we might think that we can do a good job of it.

    Abundant heart equals abundant actions. Loving heart, loving actions.

    With regard to this parable, though, I’ve often been troubled about a couple things. If I had been in ‘class’ that day with Jesus, I would have given a different answer. The question presented was, “Who is my neighbor?” not “How should I treat him?” The man at the side of the road was a neighbor to the three men who passed by. Only one man actually loved on his neighbor.

    The questioner said that he ‘supposed’ it was the one who helped the injured man. Jesus let him get away with that answer because the result was that not only did the questioner discover who should be considered a neighbor but he intuitively recognized that caring for one in need was the appropriate act. He knew that responding with compassion was the responsibility of each of us.

    It’s interesting to me that Jesus essentially let the questioner draw his own conclusion and never gave His own answer. Either answer was ‘right’ for His purposes.

  3. 5-16-2013

    * I agree love is both a heart & practical issue. Like heartspeak said… whatever is in the heart will overflow out in some form of service, gift, action, support. When we are full of love… we will naturally breathe out love wherever we go.

    * There are many different depths of love and relationships. I think that is a key point missing in these conversations on here so far. When I wrote yesterday about being quenched or quenching the Spirit….and how necessary that is to love…and some deep work the Lord has been doing in me…..that was all things I believe the Lord has been doing in my heart to get to the root of some issues I was having and really take me to the next level of being able to give sacrificial, intimate love to those close to me. I do believe that He is at work with me to make sure I am not a whitewashed tomb but He is changing me, from the inside-out.

    I do believe He needs to do a lot of heartwork in us before true pure genuine unselfish love is able to overflow out to those we are close with and where love takes the form of intimate conversation & encouragement, sacrificial service, sharing of the heart daily. It takes a lot of security, trust & vulnerability in our close relationships because of the damage and hurt that is often passed back and forth or at least possible…. so we do need a lot more security, quenching from the Lord for this love.

    This good neighbor mentioned above is a very different scenario. The good neighbor clearly did not and wasn’t planning on having a close relationship with the person he served. There really was not any heart risk involved in this type of love. There was just a loss of whatever time & tangible gift they offered. In fact, he left him at the inn from what we understand and that was the extent of their relationship.

    I see now that I have been speaking on intimate close love and I believe you’ve been thinking of love to the world around us…loving in the form of service & help to those in need. I’m sorry I didn’t pick that up in your first paragraph of each post here.

    I was all wrapped up in my own love problems ๐Ÿ™‚

    * God desires us to obey His commands to help those in need that He shows us we can. He desires us to be good neighbors and keep our eyes open for those we can help. Whether we agree with, understand, know or like them. He desires us to show Him love… by giving out love in tangible ways to others in need. We can see that command all throughout His Word – we can do this out of obedience to our Father. Again, not a lot of heart risk here so we have all we need to serve/love this way… because we have the commandment.

    * God also desires to clean us from the inside out and make us no longer whitewashed tombs. He will heal, change & purify our hearts with those we are in close relationship with so that we can love in ways that don’t even seem possible. That are only possible when we are fully nourished & satisfied in Him. He desires to create in us a heart full of true love….. because we are full of His love for us.

    * So basically, God wants us to see others as He would see them. He saw those in need and helped in tangible ways. And He saw those closest to Him and He gave them pure, close, intimate, real, healing, unconditional love. Both flowed out of the love connection between Him & His Father.

  4. 5-16-2013

    Interesting. From my reading of that parable it does speak to the heart of the good samaritan. There is loving and compassionate help and care of those in need and there is an unloving/impersonal way to go about it.

    Jesus was talking about both and I think we do disservice to his words to compartmentalize what he is saying. Otherwise we are back to the warning of 1 corinthians 13.
    ” If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
    He knew he had to take it further than just doing good deeds or charity. Case in point we have nations that justify all sorts of ills because of the supposed Aid and charity they give… that is not the kind of loving of neighbour jesus was talking about.

    “and when he saw him, he had compassion.”
    “He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.”
    “Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”
    And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, โ€˜Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.โ€™

  5. 5-16-2013


    Yes. I think we can find similar examples of love in Scripture as well.


    I’d say in this case we try to separate head/heart/action issues. In fact, they are all combined.


    Do you think God had already done all of that work in the life of the Samaritan? Why would Jesus think that a Samaritan could love, but we would think that someone indwelled by the Holy Spirit still needs God to do something before we can love?


    How do we know that the Samaritan had the right heart? By his actions.

    By the way, as you pointed out, I’m not saying that actions alone are love. I’m saying that actions demonstrate our love. Primarily, my point is this: If we truly love people in our heart, then they will know that by our actions.


  6. 5-16-2013

    the Truth is in the beautiful middle of it all isn’t it?…

    at the cross of all extremes.

    Everything is so beautifully grey and dependent on circumstance and a beautiful balance always…

    which comes back to why we need others… because what He is revealing to one (like me… at this moment, He is helping me focus on the heart & motive) will balance perfectly with what He is revealing to another at that moment right close to us (like He is revealing to my husband… the need to put ACTION and DO to demonstrate love).


  7. 5-16-2013


    I believe that whatever God has given us can be given out.

    The good samaritan had compassion & an ability to love a stranger who was in need. All God’s people have this ability to have compassion like this & the ability to give.

    The scenarios I spoke of on the previous post… and as I clarified above…. have very different depths of love. There are so many different levels of relationship & depths of love.

    I see now from all your posts, you were really focusing on a certain type of love…. loving the world/those in need around us.

    I have really been focusing on a different depth of love because of what God is up to in my life.

  8. 5-16-2013

    “All Godโ€™s people have this ability to have compassion like this & the ability to give.”

    but even if we have the ability…. doesn’t mean that we are exercising it… because of things grieving our relationship with the Lord & others.

  9. 5-16-2013

    “I believe that whatever God has given us can be given out.”

    I have now rephrased to:

    “whatever we are accepting from the Lord, can be given out”

  10. 5-16-2013


    I don’t think the “love” is different, only the opportunities to show it. The Samaritan had one short period of time to show love, and he did. Whether we have a short period of time or a long extended period of time, the love is the same. The depth of the relationship may be different, but not the love.

    You said, “Even if we have the ability [the ability to have compassion like this & the ability to give]… doesn’t mean we are exercising it.” Exactly.


  11. 5-16-2013

    hmmm I think I get you, but I haven’t quite grasped it yet. I will have to think more after the witching hour ๐Ÿ™‚

    soooo why is some love so much harder for some than others?? To me, personally, it doesn’t feel that all love is as possible as others, yet.
    It feels like it’s going to take a lot more of God’s work in me before some of it is possible… it isn’t an issue of God having to give more….but me having to accept more… and receive more, because I am abiding in Him more.

    I do believe that love is love. It is the SAME love, because HE is love…. but it is does seem very different in what it takes to have it and then give it.

    I know you’re headed somewhere with this…. but where? spell it out ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. 5-16-2013

    I wonder if it doesn’t matter which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    If I do loving actions, my heart will grow fond of the person. Loving actions preceding any heart attachment might be the way we respond to someone who wounds or offends us in some way. Alternatively, if my heart grows fond of the person, my actions will follow. Imagine in this case a friend or spouse.

    What is the same in both cases, is that I am focusing on the other person and not on myself.

  13. 5-16-2013

    I agree actions show love because actions and feelings are connected. Jesus was always getting at the heart because its easier to give an outward appearance of obeying the law and even being loving than it is to deal with the heart. Although sooner or later the lack of love in our hearts will manifest.

    Honestly I don’t know if love is easily recognized generally speaking. Yes mercy and compassion like the parable may be easily recognized but love is vast in its application and scope. Seems tens of thousands of denominations are trying to love as they know how even though the recipients may not be experiencing love.

  14. 5-16-2013

    Just to clarify I agree there are many cases the problem is how we love and think we are being loving, but there is also the reality of hostiliy in the world such that our actions are misinterpreted by some and embraced by others.
    Differentiating between the two is difficult I think.

  15. 5-16-2013

    Your questions were:

    “Do you think God had already done all of that work in the life of the Samaritan? Why would Jesus think that a Samaritan could love, but we would think that someone indwelled by the Holy Spirit still needs God to do something before we can love?”

    The Samaritan showed love to a stranger. He showed compassion & mercy by meeting a tangible visible need regardless of why/who it was suffering. But I have no clue what sort of a husband, father, brother or cousin that Samaritan was. I have no idea how well he loved deeply. The Samaritan was not Christ. He was not perfect. And I would believe he has major flaws and was very unloving in other ways. He was an example of what Christ would do in that situation. Isn’t Jesus simply showing us again how important it is to be aware of the needs around us and compassionate and willing to help those in need through this example??? This story isn’t telling us that we all are expected to love just as Jesus loved immediately after the indwelling of the Spirit. Paul’s battles back & forth with his flesh and the “working out of salvation” type passages in the NT would make me believe otherwise. It is a process, journey, growing in love. Are you saying otherwise??

    Again, God doesn’t need to give us MORE of the Holy Spirit…. we need to give God more control in our life through our surrender & connection to Him.

    But it is God’s work in our hearts that sanctifies us and makes us more like Him through every situation and every time we “practice” (and fail) at loving well. He is the Potter. We are the clay.

  16. 5-16-2013


    Honestly, I’m not headed anywhere. We either obey and love, or we don’t.


    Your question reminds me of the parable of the father who told the two sons to go work in the fields. The one who obeyed didn’t want to do it, and even said he wouldn’t do it, but then he did anyway.


    Can you give me an example of a loving action that is misinterpreted by others? I think, if we truly love people by our actions and our heart, then our actions will not be misinterpreted. Take the Jew and Samaritan in the story. They were far, far apart theologically – extreme different denominations of Judaism -they even considered each other heretics. Yet, the love was apparent.


  17. 5-16-2013


    I think the Samaritan (or anyone else) would show that he loves his wife, children, siblings, boss, etc. in the same way: “meeting a tangible visible need regardless of why/who it was suffering.”

    Yes, we are supposed to love like Jesus loved immediately when we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Of course, we don’t. As we mature and learn to yield our own desires to the way of God, we will demonstrate that love more and more. But, yes, the command and ability to love is there immediately.

    Note, this has nothing to do with salvation though, which is where many people go with this unfortunately.


  18. 5-16-2013

    Why do you think the Samaritan would show that he loves his wife, children, boss, siblings in the same way without knowing what those relationships are like and what he is like and knowing his relationship with the Lord? I don’t think I could make that assumption.

    Because as you said…. of course, we don’t love like Jesus did… because we have to mature.

    That’s my point I’ve been getting at. We can either yield (obey) be quenched…. or we can not. Our ability to love, is dependent on that.

    But nobody will do it perfectly, ever. And everybody grows, matures in different ways and different paces.

    And agreed – this is separate from salvation.

  19. 5-16-2013

    I think this whole discussion & series – for me – could be summed up in this:

    “We either obey and love, or we donโ€™t.”

    I felt a piece of the puzzle fall into place with that one. I see where you’re coming from now.

    From my personal perspective and what I’m processing & wrestling with…I was thinking really a lot differently.

    But yes, of course lack of love is disobedience, no matter what level it is.

    And YES God is so patient with us and some things WILL take longer than others…. but lack of love is disobedience.


  20. 5-16-2013

    I also do believe that certain areas of my “love life” have come easily & quick & I have had access immediately to love others in His love.

    But other areas of loving others is taking extremely long (holding my tongue when I’m weary or sick or extremely frustrated for example).

    Which is why I said I have no idea what the samaritan was like other than in that instance he was shown.

    We all have vulnerable/weak areas.

  21. 5-16-2013


    Eli / Alan re: is love easily recognized?

    Love can be so complex. When thinking of love that can be misinterpretted, I automatically think of my daily life as a mom. Parenting is one of the (or is it THE only?) roles where we are called to put up boundaries on another person – aka be the Holy Spirit for them…. so love is often misinterpreted there (in the short term…but in the long term or after emotions, they see it was love that put up the boundaries/disciplined).

    Tough conversations with anybody can so easily be misinterpretted. I have seen people communicate horribly cruel things to others… in a kind & patient way that looks like love, but it wasn’t love. And I have seen people communicate love so patiently & kindly and people didn’t like their opinion, so didn’t see the love behind the action at all.

    We have such broken communication with each other. It is so extremely difficult to communicate. I am amazed at how easily misunderstandings can happen actually.

    Every single day of my life I have to question, “how do I show love here?”…. “what does love look like right now, Lord?”… so that proves to me that love isn’t black & white. Especially when dealing with children & our children’s friends and all the dynamics of community life together of young families trying to figure all this out & spending so much time together. It’s so difficult to know when to correct & when to show grace by letting things go. And when to intervene and when to back off. Love isn’t black & white when there’s lots of tantrums and disobedience and selfishness… oh and all the kids’ issues, too.

    Because we are all broken… when one person shows grace & lets things go because they are trying to love….it can often be seen as unloving/enabling to the others…. or inconsiderate to others that are being affected by the one doing wrong. Or when people are confronting somebody for something they interpret as wrong…. that can be seen as unloving to those who think at that moment grace should have been shown.

    These show to me the different levels of love… different depths… how much heart is involved in the situation.

    When dealing with hearts issues…. vs. physical needs…. it’s so different.

    Love is not clear to me at all many times. I guess that just shows my immaturity.

    Whatever we do can be done WITH love… we can try our best to communicate in loving, kind, patient ways….. but there will definitely be misunderstandings.

    Since Babel I tell ya! we can’t communicate

    I was just telling a friend last month that one of the things I am most looking forward to about heaven is the communication. I mean, FOR REAL. I can’t wait for these words I have in my heart to come out clearly & for the person receiving to really HEAR me and understand in my language , our shared language of love – what I was trying to communicate!

    It’s so hard to communicate here!!!!!

  22. 5-16-2013

    And another thought on the Alan/Eli part of this thread:

    I often think about that post about Jesus being interruptible.

    I was thinking His love then was hard to recognize for some probably. We know He loved perfectly… but unless you saw what He saw, He might have come across unloving to some? I mean, if Jesus allowed himself to be interrupted – that means somebody else (whoever He was talking to or listening to or healing right then) had to be interrupted to. How did He make choices on who got His attention? WE all know He is perfect and did it all perfectly… but would we have recognized His Love for being perfect when we were right there?? I’m sure there were some who thought His interruptible-ness was not loving to who was being interrupted.

    Love isn’t easily recognizable because we look through false glasses of our own perspective. On paper, love is easy to recognize.

    IF we all saw God’s perspective, then we could always see His perfect love. But just like we don’t love perfectly – nobody can see love perfectly… so it’s not that easily recognizable….especially cuz we can’t see the heart.

    There were so many people who turned away from Love Himself, right? from Jesus here on earth & His teachings, not recognizing Love Himself.

    yes, I think, Love is often not known for what it truly was until a long time after it’s been done/gone.

    BUT YES! we can easily recognize & SEE *acts* of love/service (and we can only guesstimate if it came from a pure loving heart or a self motivated heart)….. but acts of service/outward help to others…that’s a very specific outward expression of love. and there’s so many different forms of LOVE. Service & acts are only one. Those are the ones easily seen and recognized – and what the samaritan story shows most of all.

    But maybe that samaritan easily showed acts of love and enjoyed doing that and knew how to do that – it came easy to him… but maybe he wasn’t good at giving quality time to anybody…. and this story could be an example of that. He was traveling around, not with family….maybe he had kids & wife that missed him terribly that he never gave attention to…. and then he also just left this guy at the inn and paid somebody else to watch out for him.

    He wasn’t perfect. This act was perfect though.

    Everybody has their “love language” that= they more easily speak than other ways to express love… right? ๐Ÿ™‚

    I AGREE though – that whenever we are not loving – we are disobeying ๐Ÿ™‚

    I believe the Bible (and Spirit) does give us so much direction on what love is and what it looks like.
    Die to self being the 1st one.
    I Cor 13 being the best descriptive of what LOVE looks like.

    If we made a list of what love is…… I think we could all easily pinpoint what love is and isn’t on paper…… but in daily life with all the different styles of communicating and heart issues & motives that we can’t see and long term reasons for things….. there’s so much grey.

  23. 5-17-2013

    “Can you give me an example of a loving action that is misinterpreted by others? I think, if we truly love people by our actions and our heart, then our actions will not be misinterpreted.”
    From the gospels… Jesus was regularly misunderstood and even punished for his actions.
    Another one is not judging. That can easily be misinterpreted as being overly permissive. Or challenging someone on certain behavior sometimes doesn’t go down well, even long term. Jesus loved and was rejected, we should not expect to be treated so much better than him.

    There is an uncomfortable and spiritual element to love such that we need eyes to see and ears to hear at times.

    Afterall we know god loves us even though based purely on circumstances it can be hard to see that.

    I agree the ability to love is there, its in our DNA… but we are not simply governed by that which is right or loving or best… we are influenced by inner drives and desires.
    This comes back to romans7.

    It is precisely because love is so important yet so hard that we should focus on it, even in an extreme way as I see it. Its just so much easier to major on other stuff.

  24. 5-17-2013

    I think that if we’re living a life of consistently loving others, then when we have to deal with difficult situation, the people still know that we love them.

    Considering the examples from Jesus: If you took a poll of people in Galilee and Jerusalem, do think that people would have generally thought that Jesus was loving or not loving? Oh, sure, there were religious leaders who disapproved of what Jesus did. But, what about the people in general?

    What about today? Do people in general think that Christians are loving or not loving?


  25. 5-17-2013

    “I think that if weโ€™re living a life of consistently loving others, then when we have to deal with difficult situation, the people still know that we love them.”

    that is a huge “if”…but yes, I think that love *should* be the most evident characteristic in Christians. There’s a lot of shoulds in our world. But yes, there should be at least progress in love year after year.

    As far as the 2nd questions… I do think that the people who were close to Jesus knew His love and it was unmistakable. Not everybody of course because some people are just crazy & cold. I do think that those who were NOT up close to Him…were those who could easily take a bit of the message they heard He was giving and judge Him as unloving because of it.

    And I think the same happens today. I believe that Christians as a group are seen as unloving. 1 – because there are a lot of unloving christians because there is a real lack of maturity in the Church in our culture right now…. which is what I’ve been trying to communicate.

    and 2 – very few people in our society are close to each other…. non christians & christians alike. So if people are not close to each other….. it’s easy to label, judge, stereotype….without ever really’s easy to take a bit of the message you might think they are sending or standing for… and box them in, without ever getting close enough to them to know their heart or motives. It’s so easy to hate from a distance and so hard to hate up close.

    so the love problem has a lot to do with our lack of relationship with each other…. but also lack of ‘up close’ interactions with those not yet christian. I am not even talking about intimate relationships…. I just mean friendly, interacting relationships….. it’s so easy to misunderstand & misinterpret when we are at a distance…. heck, like I said it’s so hard to interact up close… so imagine how much harder it is far away. the world is a colder place when people are further from each other.

  26. 5-17-2013

    So if we can’t reverse the industrial revolution & mobility of us as a people……how can we get back to that neighborhood/community norm????

    people now are so used to being so movable…. and everything is so disposable… marriages, friendships, homes, jobs, everything!…. there’s no stick to it tive ness ๐Ÿ™‚ or commitment…

    this makes me realize how important it is not to be recluses as christians…. this really gives me a greater vision on how important it is to be involved in whatever is going on in our greater community…. to simply get around others.

    ewwwwww I hope this doesn’t mean I have to join FB again. noooo

  27. 5-17-2013


    I think you’ve said some really great things. Think about this: We can’t love people from a distance (at least not the kind of love we see described and commanded in Scripture), but we’re not close to people (either other Christians or nonChristians). So, we should not be surprised when people do not see how much we “love” them…


  28. 5-17-2013

    ouch. understood.

    ๐Ÿ™‚ thank you