Ok, Phill. You have a problem. A pretty big problem actually. You and I both know what it is, don’t we? Stop shaking your head; you know what I’m talking about. Fine. Pretend all you want. It won’t change the truth of the matter: You do not love others like you should. You know it and I know it. Look, I know you want to argue the point. I get it. I really do. You are wonderful at loving the people closest to you, and that’s commendable. The problem is, that circle of love doesn’t extend very far, does it? The circle is small and it desperately needs to grow. So, here’s my proposition: Let’s sit down like adults and talk about it. We’ll figure out where you’ve gone wrong and then we will come up with an action plan. Sound good? Ok. Let’s get started.
If you are wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into by reading this article, the preceding paragraph is an often-repeated, partially fictionalized internal dialogue that takes place in my head. The simple truth is, I’m not doing a good job of loving others. I wrestle with this all the time. In fact, it’s one of the things I struggle with most in my life. Every day, I am faced with the opportunity to love others and I fail more often than not. I’m not proud of this, for what it’s worth. It shames me. Yet, that shame rarely translates to any real and significant adjustment in how I respond to other people. That has to change and I hope this will serve as a good start.
Identifying the problem
Do people get on your nerves? Do you find it difficult to look past those annoyances and see God’s precious creation? I do. Do you react strongly, and often times angrily, towards people you see on social media, on TV, or in the news? Do you make those “others” the villains of the story while you are the righteously angry hero? I do. I realize how this probably makes me look, though, my guess is that I’m not alone in this struggle. Yet, even if I am, talking through the issue should prove helpful. I hope it will help others as well.
First and foremost, not loving others is wrong. Flat out, no getting around it. 1 John 2:9-11 states it in no uncertain terms. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” Now, I will conceded there might be a little wiggle room for me in there. I honestly don’t believe I go so far as to hate those around me. So, maybe I’m off the hook with John. Maybe not.
Later in that letter, John doesn’t differentiate between loving and hating. He speaks directly and singularly about loving others. In chapter 4, he says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (Emphasis added.) Again, pretty straightforward and frankly, even more difficult to get around than the first verses I mentioned.
But, this is just John, right? He was obsessed with all things love, so maybe we should not be so quick to go with what he says until we verify how it lines up with the rest of Scripture. (I realize for some of you that previous sentence might feel uncomfortably close to heresy. Go with me on this one for just a little more. I’m trying to make a point.)
All Scripture is in agreement
Well, Peter and Paul say very similar things, though in slightly different terms. (1 Peter 4:8, Romans 12:20, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 1 Corinthians 16:14, Romans 13:8, 1 Peter 1:22 to name a few.) The Old Testament is not silent on this issue either. Leviticus 19:18 states emphatically, “But you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I AM the LORD.” The Proverbs chime in as well on more than one occasion. (Proverbs 3:3-4 and 17:17 come to mind.)
And if you are still wanting to argue the point, just know that Jesus had a lot to say on this issue as well. In John 15 He states, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Right before that, He gave his disciples a commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” But, Jesus doesn’t stop there. Not only are we to love our friends and loved ones, but we are to also love our enemies. There is no getting around His words in Matthew 5, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
When the Old Testament, the New Testament, Peter, Paul, John, and Jesus are all in agreement, we do ourselves no good by ignoring them. Loving others is not optional. It’s not a suggestion. Loving others is paramount to our faith and without that component, our faith is little more than words.
What’s the solution?
So, where does this leave us? I’m confident most of you already know all of this. You’ve read those verses and heard them preached and explained. You have no logical disagreement with any of this. But, if you are like me, you find it much harder to put those verses into practice than understand them. Head knowledge does not always make its way to my heart.
The flip side is that I desperately need to be reminded of the head knowledge I already possess. I know I am commanded to love others. It is a truth I have believed my entire life. Even so, I need to be reminded of it daily. Going back over those verses has become habitual for me. I need to read them and re-read them. I need to meditate on them. They need to saturate my life in every way that matters most. When I “forget” about those verses and the profound truths they express, I “forget” how essential loving others is to my daily walk with Christ. I forget just how foundational loving others is to my faith. Without love, my faith is all noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.
Seeing like Jesus
Beyond remembering the command to love, I need to see people how Jesus sees them. That part of the process is not going to happen through my own power. I need help. If I do nothing else each day, I need to fervently ask God to help me see the world the way He does. If I do that one thing, I fully believe everything else will fall into place.
Instead of seeing that angry and bitter person on social media, I pray that God will help me see a soul in need of a Savior. I pray that I will see Jesus, when I see the least of these, the widows, the orphans, the pagans, the lost, the sinners, the saints, the vulgar, the corrupt, the annoying, the vain, and everyone in between. When I see broken humanity, disfigured and deformed by their sin, I pray that Jesus will help me see the beautiful person who was fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving Creator.
I do not love like I should. That comes into greater focus in times like this, when we are so divided and polarized as a country. My lack of love is wrong. It is a sin. I repent of it daily and seek God’s help to love better. As soon as I put away my fleshly reactions to the people around me, and I see them as God sees them, my perspective and attitude change. Instead of being annoyed and angry, I have compassion and concern. Instead of responding in frustration, I respond with grace and mercy. Those things take the focus off of me and put the focus on Christ.
By all means necessary, I must decrease and He must increase and one tangible and practical way to do that is to love others as He has loved me. On this day and every day that follows I pray that my first thought will be love.1
- The title of this article was inspired by an old Whiteheart song, “Let Your First Thought Be Love.” ↩