Many of us know the truths of the Bible well – we can even recite the Ten Commandments and other key principles for Christian living. We’re committed to our relationship with Jesus, and keep our spiritual disciplines. But the issue is that our commitment to Jesus often excludes relating to people in an emotionally mature way.
We believe wholeheartedly that loving others well is one of the goals of Christian life. We may even desire relating to those around us the way Jesus did, but the problem is we don’t know how! Instead, we misapply biblical truth and in reality practise the relational skills picked up from our families while growing up.
We make unhealthy assumptions about our bosses, we’re disrespectful and dishonouring to our subordinates and, while we may be successful in ministry and career, our relationships hang by a thread.
Our successes may be insulating us from the truth of how those in our closest working circles feel about us relationally. Unless we acknowledge we’re deficient and need help in this area, we’ll most likely repeat the same unhealthy pattern over and over.
The Bible is clear that we’re to grow to know how to practically and effectively apply the truths about loving and valuing people. The end result of an inability to walk out these truths is that our relationships are qualitatively not much different from the world around us.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were diligent, zealous, and absolutely committed to keeping the Law of God at the centre of their lives. They memorised the entire books of the Old Testament and prayed long prayers multiple times a day.
They made their phylacteries broad, tithed religiously, and tried to win over converts. But they never delighted in people nor made the link between observing God’s Laws and the need for mercy and love.
For this reason, they criticised Jesus repeatedly for being a ‘glutton and winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ They were furious with Him for valuing folks who were diseased over their Sabbath traditions – Jesus loved and valued people too much for their liking.
I’ve heard many inspiring sermons about God’s heart for us to love others. I’ve even spoken a few about each person being infinitely precious in God’s sight. I’ve quoted giants of self-sacrificial love like Mother Teresa and Heidi Baker. Yet what made the difference for me was when I grew emotionally.
As I matured as a disciple of Christ, I did not solely develop ascetically but emotionally as well. I gained not just spiritual revelations, as wonderful as they may be, but grew in the prosperity of my soul.
I learned to be responsible for my emotions and to communicate them. I incorporated healthy relational skills into my spiritual formation. I learned to communicate with others in a way that made them feel loved and honoured. I was terribly awkward relationally in my younger days, and intentionally put in extra effort to work on this so as to love those in my life well.
Growing older physically is effortless, but maturing into an emotional healthy adult is quite different. I can be 41-yrs-old this year physically and yet remain an emotional adolescent and spiritual narcissist.
Loving others is a direct result of growing in our love for God. 1 John 4:7-8 says, ‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.’
As emotionally healthy Christian adults, we recognise that loving well is the essence of true spirituality. This requires us to be connected with God, with others, and ourselves.
God invites us to recognise His image through placing worth and value in those around us. Although it involves hard work and heartaches, they’re worth the hassle – even those who cause tension and difficulty.
Jesus’ ability to listen to, value, and honour people was at the very heart of His mission. It moved Him to compassion on many occasions. He refused to separate loving God from loving and valuing others.
In fact, He summarised it this way, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it – “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’
Beloved, may we love… and love well!