Love: A Many-Splendored and a Many-Splintered Thing
In Loving Well, Dr. William P. Smith explores what biblical love is and helps his readers to grow in their ability to love others. The book examines fifteen aspects of love (many of them surprising and unexpected) with copious practical illustrations from everyday life. Smith writes humbly, as a fellow struggler, and includes helpful questions for personal application.
Smith’s goal is to show that biblical love is a many-splendored thing, and to show how that splendor works out in everyday situations. Yet, he also recognizes that love can be a many-splintered thing. As Christians, we know that love is the most important thing—God first loved us; we are to love Him and love like Him; if we don’t have love, we don’t have anything (1 John 4:19, Ephesians 5:2, 1 Corinthians 13:2). But as sinners, we aren’t naturally good at loving other people. In our self-centeredness, we regularly mess it all up and hurt people in the process.
Smith aims to help Christ-followers to grow as other-people-lovers. And he succeeds. If you read this book and do a fraction of what he teaches, you will grow in your ability to love others as Christ does.
Smith is very good at getting you to think about things you’ve never previously pondered. My favorite chapters were not so much about comforting love or communicating love (as important as those are), but welcoming love (greeting one another), celebrating love (rejoicing with each other), and hospitable love (showing kindness without grumbling). These are aspects of biblical love that have not always received the attention due them. In this, Smith builds on his previous book, Caught Off Guard, by showing how God’s love is frequently surprising and counterintuitive.
The greatest strength of the book is its thoughtful practicality. Smith helpfully illustrates nearly every point he teaches—not with grandiose chronicles of great acts of love—but with simple, mundane, workaday stories of regular people loving other regular people in everyday life.
Early in my discovery of biblical counseling, I had Dr. Smith for a class on the dynamics of spiritual life, and in my final paper I ended a case study by assuming that my counselee could work out her own applications of the truth. I said, “Once she sees where she needs to go and has done the necessary heart-work, she will probably be able to come up with these next steps with just a little encouragement and accountability.” But Dr. Smith told me that in his experience, seeing what love actually looks like in action in actual life situations is often the hardest part, where people need the most help. He was right, and he does it over and over again in this book.
Thankfully, Smith writes in humility as a fellow struggler. In his (often humorous) personal stories, he is more often the “bad guy” who has something to learn than the “good guy” who gets it right on the first try. At the same time, he offers hope for real people to really love others.
It’s not necessarily a weakness, but this is not a bite-sized book. Each meditation is fairly long, and Smith’s prose can grow ponderous at points. Sadly, because the illustrations are about the mundane, they can also be less-than-exciting. At times, I got bogged down in the chapters, yet each one was worth working through. It would be good to read it with others. Each chapter ends with questions for personal application or group discussion.
The title also seemed like a riddle to me at first. Was that “Loving well even if you haven’t been loved well by others?” No, it’s loving people well, even if you haven’t been loving people well up to this point. Once I got over that hurdle, the book was much more enjoyable.
A Splendid Book
Loving Well (Even If You Haven’t Been) will go on my “pastoral toolbox” bookshelf right next to Jonathan Edwards’ Charity and Its Fruits and Paul Miller’s Love Walked Among Us as a “go-to book” for people who desperately want to grow in their ability to show Christ’s love to other people (and shouldn’t that be all of us?). It’s a splendid book.