One of the most-talked-about subjects of the Bible is love. In fact, Jesus said that we identify ourselves as His disciples through the way we love people. We don’t prove who we are by the greatness of our faith or the number of miracles we perform, but by the way we love others.
It’s easy to love those who are nice, humble, lovely, and kind. We spend much time loving these people because of the ease of it. As a result, we sometimes come to think that we’ve lived out the command to love our neighbours pretty well.
But recently, the realisation hit me that I was unconsciously avoiding the ones that I don’t understand, those who are different from me, and the ones who weirded me out. I definitely wasn’t rude to them, but I haven’t engaged them the way Jesus would.
What I realised is that, when I encounter people who are difficult, they make me afraid. This fear causes me to instantly erect barriers to protect myself. This is a natural response that’s common to man. Yet, I read that Jesus willingly sat at the same table and ate with the man who He knew would betray Him.
The Lord said that we’re not to resist an evil person, but to turn the left cheek to whoever slaps us on the right. He also told us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who use and persecute us.
Once a new believer said to me, “Why did Jesus teach us to be so foolish and allow people to walk all over us?” We’re in fact not taught to be foolish but that, when we encounter evil, we can respond out of the superior kingdom of love that’s within us and not respond as the world.
The Lord is telling us He has given us love, kindness, and the ability to forgive – qualities that we often leave untapped.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t draw boundaries in our lives to keep out people who are obviously toxic and unsafe. Yet often ‘drawing boundaries’ becomes an excuse to not love people the way Jesus did.
I pondered the relational conflicts I have in my life. What am I afraid of? Am I so insecure that I only hang around people who are like me and agree with me all the time? Am I just interested in expressing my opinions and have never accepted others’ opinions as valid?
I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle John, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.”
The depth of our love and our knowledge of God is manifested in the depth of love, grace, and kindness with which we treat our brothers and sisters in church, our colleagues, the people who serve our food in the restaurants, staff at the checkout counter, people who clean the estates we live in, etc.
God’s goal has always been the same – He wants to mould our hearts to become like His. He wants us to love the people we like and those we’ve kept far away. He wants to cultivate perfect love in our hearts so we can live without fear of those who are different from us. When we progress in Christlikeness, we see the beauty and the image of God in others – even when their behaviour puts us off.
God wants us to read His Word and agree with what He says about loving our enemies. But, more than just agreeing, He wants us to experience what He says and become like Him by literally setting out to love our enemies. I can’t think of any real enemy yet I do have many that I don’t understand, those that I disagree and can’t get along with.
We can pick any contentious issue of the day and find different opinions on every side. Sadly, clever arguments alone won’t transform lives. While we might impress people with our arguments, we’ll be remembered for our love. Only Jesus has the power to transform lives and we must be careful not to let our arguments become stumbling blocks to people encountering Him.
Jesus commanded us to love God, love our neighbours, love our enemies. Don’t just love those who are easy to love – love the unlovely, with extravagant mercy, kindness, and grace. When we cultivate this, we progress in our journey towards becoming more like Him.