There has been a common thread throughout all of my quiet times, bible study, and reading this week. It is a lesson that is really cutting into me and causing me to re-examine my heart and motives. This week was a perfect storm of conviction for me. It began with a command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:39)
My first response is one of rationalization. I do my best to keep the 10 commandments. I’m not stealing or cheating or lying to my neighbor, so I am staying within the lines of this rule, right? I mean, there is not any mushy, gushy feeling in my heart towards, hypothetically, the guy down the street whose dogs bark incessantly. But I help shovel our sidewalks and I send money to international charities to “feed” some neighbors around the world, so I am good about loving others. Right? I mean, I am generally “good” to my neighbors solely based on the contrasting fact that I’m not bad to them…so that’s enough to check this command off the list…right?? I can attempt to convince myself that what I do is love, but according to the words and life of Jesus Christ, I am wrong.
First of all, this misconception is blaringly evident in me wanting to check it off the list. Love is not bound to a certain time or space. Yet, I have the nerve to check it off a list! When I became a Christian and received the Holy Spirit, I received the love of God in me. Now, with the Holy Spirit I can love with God’s love. Not a love I provide in my own capacity. His love. Unexplainable, unconditional, and unending. Do these words describe the kind of love I display? Perhaps to my husband and children, but does this extend to even my parents, my friends, my acquaintances, strangers?
So that brings the point of the sword that has really cut deepest in me this week. Love is not contained to a certain and select few. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” What is meant by “least”? Strong’s defines the Greek word for least referring to people as the smallest in rank and excellence and in estimation of men. I see the “least” by society’s standards, like the poor and downtrodden. I have sympathy for them, yes, but I am not tapping into all of the resources God has given me to love them more. I am going to work on that. But, it goes even further. How about the “least” by my own standards or estimation? People I have little respect or liking for. People with crazy world views, different political opinions, different moral values. People who are outspoken about beliefs that stand in direct contrast to God’s word and that offend me to my core. There is righteous indignation, yes. But, I should still love even when I am faced with that because I know that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:4) Doesn’t that make your heart ache for the lost? My problem is that often I react with self-righteousness when I am confronted with these opinions, and I do not extend much or any love in their direction. For me, there are people that are just too hard to love. The key word in the previous sentence is ME.
Finally, I read this yesterday in My Utmost for His Highest. Warning: it stings, “Beware of counterfeiting the love of God by working along the line of natural human sympathy, because that will end in blaspheming the love of God.” ouch. counterfeiting and blaspheming in one sentence. It hurts because it is a truth I need to hear. God’s love is not human. It is not bound by our limitations. It goes beyond nice feelings. Love feeds His sheep, the good-looking ones, the dirty ones, the nice and the mean ones. It invites everyone to the banquet: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. (see Luke 14:13) The emphasis on the blind is my own based on 2 Cor 4:4 above. It is impossible for me to love on my own the way God has commanded. The good news is that I don’t have to, “because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Rom 4:4)
I must confess that because of their popularity at weddings, I have become desensitized to the words of 1 Corinthians 13. This tough lesson helped to present them new and fresh this week, to paint the picture of what true love really looks like:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”