To you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you~ Luke 6:27-28 NIV
Pretty much every Christian I know (myself included) likes to pontificate endlessly on the topic of love.
Why on earth wouldn’t we?
In a world increasingly more hostile towards Christians and their faith, love is one of the few doctrines left that everyone really digs. Sin, judgment, obedience and hell are sensitive, uncomfortable, sticky-wicket kinds of issues that are all-but certain to offend pretty much everyone and create all kinds of arguments, misunderstandings and relational chaos.
No one can quarrel with the whole notion of loving people.
That said, even a hasty analysis of the comments section of any news article or blog post clues us in to the fact that although most people love the idea of love, and we adore quoting scriptures concerning the importance of loving people.
We struggle mightily with the implementation of loving people.
The Christian standard of love is outrageously high and almost impossible to achieve (1st Corinthians 13, Matthew 5:44, John 13:34, 1st Peter 3:8, 1st John 2:10). Mostly, because some people are jerks and God calls us to love them anyway. Scripture commands we love people who do not love us back and even those who openly despise us. We are also instructed to love people who make fun of what we believe, insult our intelligence and tell lies about us (Romans 12:9-21).
This is quite obviously easier said than done.
There is no question that loving people (even nice people) is a concept that is far less painful to achieve in theory than in practice. That said, it’s easier to love a person when there is relationship in place or an emotional bond that has already been established.
Showing love to a wayward child or a spouse with a less than pleasant disposition is somehow much easier than trying to muster up some emotional warmth or caring for a heartless, egomaniacal boss or an intellectually pretentious brother-in-law/college professor/auntie/co-worker. The one who cannot seem to stop themselves from insinuating that the only possible motivations anyone could possibly have for voting for a particular political party would be racism, homophobia or a criminal level of stupidity. It’s even harder to muster grace (let alone love) for the media personality who is constantly undermining decency and openly supporting actions and attitudes wholeheartedly contrary to God’s way of doing things.
Thankfully, authentic Christian love is more about making a choice than manufacturing a feeling. We can choose to behave in a loving way towards people we don’t particularly like. In the process we might actually change hearts and minds in a way that hateful and nasty rhetoric or sidelong glances never will.
Loving jerks needs to begin with some honest self-examination. Sometimes we are the innocent victims of jerks and other times we are the ones acting like a jerk (2nd Corinthians 13:5, Colossians 3:5-11). Even genuine Christians, are capable of less than Christian behavior from time-to-time, especially when someone is intentionally pushing our buttons. Any time we feel offended or hurt, it’s a good time to prayerfully evaluate our own actions and attitudes to see if we are doing anything that is contributing to the problem.
Nothing about honest self-examination is pleasant or easy, however it is necessary if we want to grow and mature spiritually (Romans 12:2, Colossians 3, Galatians 5:13-26).
If after some soul-searching we discover we are indeed part of the problem, then we need to repent. Repentance is all about changing how we think about the person who has hurt us. Instead of focusing on the things we don’t like about the other person we need to look for positive qualities. We also need to cease any hurtful actions on our part such as gossip, ugly or passive-aggressive comments, and writing rude things about the person on the Internet etc.. Genuine repentance always includes praying for the person who wronged us (Luke 6:28.
Praying for the person who offended or wronged us really does make any repenting on our part that needs to be done easier and less painful, and prayer actually has the capacity to change the heart of the other person.
Then God calls us to the truly hard thing, blessing those who curse us and actually doing good to those who have wronged us. Doing good is about more than an absence of malice. It’s about thinking through to what Jesus would do to the person and then doing it.
Love is an action.