Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Love for Others

I have been struggling lately with one of my many character flaws.  I seem to place certain criteria in how I view and/or relate to people.  I expect people to earn my respect.  I sometimes shake my head and think people get what they deserve when they do stupid things.  If someone hurts me or is rude to me, I often want to return the same.

I know this way of thinking is flawed for many reasons.  God’s Word tells us, for example, that we are to love others.  In John 13:34, Jesus tells us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  That’s an amazingly high standard.  That doesn’t give any wiggle room to get my way and treat people the way I feel they deserve to be treated.

The question then is how does that look?  It doesn’t seem too manly, maybe even crazy and far-fetched, to go around saying, “I love you.”  But God’s love isn’t just some feel-good love.  It’s a matter of action and goes way beyond words.  1 Corinthians 13 gives us a good idea of what this looks like.

The Way of Love

 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Even with this definition, I sometimes find myself asking questions like, “How patient do I have to be?” Or, “Is it okay to be a little rude back?  Because they were certainly rude to me!”  I think I miss the point.  To be sure, God’s standards are far greater than mine.

But look at this from a different perspective.  Jesus also said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Then there’s a verse in Ephesians that talks about a man loving his wife.  The verse that follows gives clarity to this idea of loving others as yourself.  The verse says, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”

Doesn’t this put the standard of love on a pretty high level?  I think about how often, and how easily, I am able to forgive myself when I do something stupid.  I give myself a pass if I treat someone rude because I’ve had a bad day.  If I forget something, which my wife can say with utmost confidence that I’ve been known to do, I can shrug my shoulders and say I’ll try better next time.  I also make sure that eat.  I can’t remember a time in my life when I’ve been truly hungry.  And if I’m feeling bad, I have no qualms about letting others know about it and seeking sympathy.  As my pastor at church has said on occasion, “I sure do love myself!”  So, if put all this energy into treating others the same way I treat myself, I think I would be well on my way in loving others the way God intended.

Then there’s a higher level of love that Paul shows in Romans that I can’t quite understand.  Even though Paul doesn’t explicitly say that his reason for writing this particular passage was out of love, I think you would find a hard time arguing against it.  Let me show you what I mean:

Paul’s Anguish Over Israel

 1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

The way I read this, Paul had a tremendous amount of love for those of his own people.  He basically is saying that if it were possible, he would be willing to renounce his own salvation to see all of Israel saved.  This, of course, is not possible or part of God’s redemptive plan.  But think about what Paul is saying here.  Would you love and care for those of your own nation so much that you’d be willing to trade your salvation for theirs?  That’s something I cannot wrap my mind around.

The fact that Israel was under a curse must have been heartbreaking for Paul.  I’m sure for many believers, we all have family members we pray for and anguish over day after day hoping that God would break their hearts and bring them to a place of repentance.  It’s another thing, of course, to be willing to trade places with that loved one and be willing to be cast off from God’s presence for all eternity just so they may be saved.

It’s this kind of love that challenges me.  As I think about family, friends and people I know, I truly pray that they know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  I need to let go of my pride and all the obstacles that are keeping me from loving people the way Paul does here.  I’m challenged by the fact of how selfish and absorbed I am in self.  It’s going to be a process, but I truly want to be that person that can love others like myself.  And that includes caring enough for people locally and globally so that they can have a personal relationship with Jesus too.

How about you?  Does this idea of love make sense to you?  Do you place criteria on people in the way I’ve been guilty of?  If so, are you willing to see people the way God does, to love others unconditionally, to love them as yourself?

I’d be interested in hearing if anyone is on the same path I’m on.  Maybe together in this journey called life we can get to that place where God’s love is what consumes us and allows us to love others the way we should.  As the Apostle John said, “We love because he (God) first loved us.”