““You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Mt. 5:43-45
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Mt. 16:24
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”” Mt. 22:37-40
Some people who know me might say I’ve always been a loving person, but the truth is I haven’t been. Oh, sure, I’ve always been enormously passionate, and I’ve talked about loving people for as long as I can remember, and most assuredly I have loved – sometimes to incredible extremes. But here’s my confession. I’ve loved those I wanted to love, those easy to love, those comfortable to love, those who loved me in return, those I was obsessed with loving, those from whom I wanted something in return, those I was supposed to love, etc. I loved, I loved, and I loved, but in retrospect, I had no idea how exceedingly much I needed to learn something I really didn’t know how to do at all. I needed to learn how to love.
And so do you. So do we all. For when it comes right down to it, when it comes to obeying the Lord’s greatest commands to love Him with all our hearts and to love others as ourselves, we all need to learn how to love. Yes, learn. For loving others, if we’re honest with ourselves, doesn’t come naturally. Here’s what I mean.
The love for others to which the Lord calls us is NOT about self. It’s about the Lord, it’s about His love, His love in us, through faith in Him, His love through us, poured through us by His Spirit who lives inside His followers, and it’s a love that models His love, a love that is not contingent on self and our lusts, nor on others and what we can get from them in return, but a love that is contingent on Him, a love that does not run out when we don’t like our circumstances, aren’t in the mood for loving, feel hurt, don’t like the person we’re supposed to love, etc. It’s a godly love. A Christ-centered love. A Christ-borne love. A love that goes on and on – and on. Not based on what happens or doesn’t happen, not based on our dreams, our successes, our failures, our flops, our shortfalls or shortcomings or anyone else’s. A love that is Christ’s love. Does this come naturally to us?
No! Human love is based on our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, our circumstances. We don’t want to love the person who hates us, our enemy, the person who fires us, who hurts us, who verbally abuses us, etc. So we don’t. Our love fails. But God’s love never fails. So how do we learn to love? To learn to love like God calls us to love, to love our enemies, to bless and pray for them, to do good to those who hate us, to turn our other cheek, to forgive and have mercy instead of have vengeance?
This is how I have learned to love, and am learning to love, the way God commands His children to love. By God putting in my life wonderful, loving, sweet, tender, gentle, humble, kind, giving, compassionate, generous people who go to exceeding lengths to love and bless me all the time, right? WRONG! By God blessing me with loved ones who never hurt me, never reject me, never abuse me, never abandon me, right? WRONG! By God giving me Christian friends who love just like He does all the time, right? WRONG! By God bestowing upon me a circle of people who are there for me no matter what, who never criticize or judge me, who make up for all the wrong others have done because they are always good to me, right? WRONG! By God giving me sisters in the Lord who never lie to me and are never dishonest with me, right? WRONG!
I am learning to love with a Christ-like love not because God has placed perfect people in my life, as though there were such a thing, nor by God giving me relatively easy people who for the most part are kind and loving with some exceptions. I am learning to love most of all by God’s Spirit, through God’s Word, through time spent with Him regularly, through an incredibly ever-growing personal and deeply intimate relationship with Him AND THROUGH CONTINUALLY COMING FACE TO FACE WITH OR OVER THE PHONE WITH OR BY E-MAIL WITH OR THROUGH ONGOING RELATIONSHIPS WITH OR THROUGH SEASONS IN MY LIFE WITH PARTICULAR PEOPLE WHO HURT ME, WHO REJECT ME, WHO ABANDON ME, WHO JUDGE ME, WHO CRITICIZE ME, WHO LET ME DOWN, WHO LIE TO ME, WHO BETRAY ME, WHO DO NOT SHOW UP FOR ME, WHO DO NOT SEEK MY FORGIVENESS BUT BLAME ME FOR THEIR WRONGDOING, WHO DON’T TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR SIN AGAINST GOD AND AGAINST ME, ETC.
How so? Every single time the Lord affords me with an opportunity with someone like I have just described, He gives me an opportunity to LEARN TO LOVE. Like He does. He gives me an opportunity to learn how to die to myself, to my feelings, to my hurts, to my wounds, to self, to my dreams and desires as far as others are concerned, and to live for Him, to live in Him and Him in me, to be filled with His Spirit, to continually purge from myself my sins of pride, anger, bitterness, judgment, condemnation, bad-mouthing, criticism, the refusal to forgive, etc.. so that I can be more and more filled with His Spirit, so I can learn day by day, hour by hour, experience by experience, person by person, difficult and hurtful person by difficult and hurtful person, and by people who simply let me down, who disappoint me, who discourage me, etc, TO LOVE THAT PERSON not with my own human flesh which fails to love what to me seems to be the unlovable person, or the person my flesh says doesn’t deserve my love, BUT TO LOVE THAT PERSON WITH CHRIST’S LOVE HE POURS INTO ME!
Jesus calls His followers to die to self, to deny ourselves, to TAKE UP OUR CROSSES, and to FOLLOW HIM. This includes to BE LIKE HIM. And this includes to LOVE LIKE HE DOES. God almighty, Jesus Christ, DOES NOT LOVE PEOPLE BASED ON THEIR DESERVING HIS LOVE. None of us deserve His love because we all sin and He is perfect and holy. HE LOVES US BECAUSE HE IS LOVE. And His command to LOVE OTHERS is not to be contingent on them, but ON HIM!
I am learning to love, day by day, as He uses hard experiences in my life, big challenges, tough people, tough to love people, trials, tribulations, and endless opportunities to refine me, to conform me to Himself, to grow me in HIS IMAGE, according to HIS WAYS, which all begins with and is founded upon CHRIST’S LOVE. Christ who died on the cross loving and forgiving a world that did not nor does not nor ever will deserve His amazing everlasting love. He died for us and was raised from the dead anyway, in His unfathomable and infinite love, and now He calls His followers to LEARN TO LOVE.
Those hard experiences, and difficult people, those times we want to lash out in vengeance, or run away with horrifying anger and rage and disgust, we need to see these as opportunities.
To learn TO LOVE. In Christ’s name, in His love, with His mercy, for God’s glorious forevermore glory!
Please take this message with you. Not just for today. But for always. For God’s greatest commands are to love Him with all our hearts & our neighbors as ourselves. Let’s together, you and I, work on seeing our tough experiences with people as opportunities to grow in Christ’s love. For Christ’s sake.
Hallelujah, glory be to the Lord God most high forever and ever, amen!