I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about “love.”
Not in the gooey, mushy sense. But in the “how do I interact with, and LOVE, those around me.” You know, the ones whom I DON’T love in the gooey, mushy sense. Not just those around me, that I personally interact with, but those beyond my limited scope of actually “knowing…” i.e., the rest of the world and what not. (But I’ll talk about that in a different post).
As I’ve been thinking about these things, my mind keeps coming back to the words of Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” -Matthew 5:43,44
A friend of mine commented that this sentiment, to ‘love your enemies,’ has become trite and/or cliche in a way, over-exposed to the point of probably being largely ignored. Or even worse, just assumed.
“I’m a Christian, so of course I love my enemies.”
Jesus said it again, albeit in a slightly different way, as recorded by Luke:
“But I tell you who hear me, 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
One of the things I fear is that we have chosen to sort of re-define “love” in this context. Rather than asking, “what did Jesus HIMSELF mean, or expect, when he commands us to ‘love?”‘ we subconsciously apply our own definition or outworking of this ‘love.’ Jesus tells those who would follow him to love (agape, in the Greek) their neighbors as themselves. And lest they get confused about who their neighbor is (i.e. people they like; people who agree with them; people who meet certain expectations or perform certain behaviors) he tells the famous story of the Good Samaritan to demonstrate that the extent of who our “neighbor” is knows no bounds.
Not only does it know no bounds, but often our “neighbor” is the one person we would LEAST likely think it to be. The one who DOESN’T like us, the one who DOESN’T agree with us, the one who DOESN’T behave like we would like them to.
Love (agape) is not based on condition. You could call it unconditional love, but that too, I worry, is so overused it’s forgotten or assumed.
“You’ve heard it said… But I say…” Jesus came to offer a better way. No, not just ‘offer,’ but demand a better way for those who call themselves his followers. We HAVE to love. We HAVE to love our enemies. We HAVE to love those we least want to. And we HAVE to do it as HE HIMSELF would do it.
Let me share a story.
There’s a guy I knew who had made some terrible decisions over several years of his life. Choices that have permanently hurt those closest to him, his family. This guy was previously well liked by many people who call themselves “followers of Jesus.” I’m sure that in the past most of his friends “loved” him very much, and showed it often. Once this guy’s choices became public he moved from “friend” to “enemy” in these people’s minds. And probably rightly so. And it astounded me (and greatly discouraged me) to see his “friends” redefine the command to “love their enemy.” At best it looked like ignoring him completely. Not calling. Not meeting with. Cold shoulders in public. Complete separation. At worst it looked like judgment. Harsh words. Biting words. A general “hating” of the enemy.
This guy had no doubt “enemied” himself to many people. And yet Jesus still demands that these people love him without condition. Not, “if you repent of everything, then I’ll love you.” Not, “if you stop making those choices, then I’ll love you.” Not, “if you go back to the way things were before, then I’ll love you.” This is not agape love. This is not love without condition. This is not “loving your enemies,” and not the love I believe Jesus would show.
For whatever reason, I chose to love this guy, and be his friend. He knew I disagreed with his choices. He knew I believed he hurt people. He knew. But he also knew that I loved him, without condition. I still met with him, had coffee or lunch with him. Asked about his life. Talked about ministry and God. I challenged him at times and encouraged him at times. I’m wasn’t there to judge or condemn, for I think Jesus has something to say about that too. And I’ll be honest, I’ve come under fire for it. People didn’’t understand why I still met with him. Why I’m still his friend. Basically, why I still love him (although I’m sure they wouldn’t put it that way).
But this guy told me that, were it not for my love, he might have lost faith in God, and certainly the church.
And I believe him.
Because I know another guy who made almost the exact same decisions, and went through very similar experiences. And he didn’t have anyone who loved him without judgment. Who came alongside and offered friendship and love without condition. And he DID lose faith in God and the church.
So with my friend, I’ve tried to love him as I believe Jesus meant, not as I believe the world (or even the ‘church’) would have me love him. That love often says, “I will pray for you, and hope you change, but if you don’t, don’t expect to hear from me anytime soon.”
If I sound harsh, that’s probably because I can’t think of any other way to say it. I’ll bet people thought Jesus sounded harsh, too.
Oh, and lest you think I think this is all easy, it most certainly isn’t. The way of Jesus never is.
Remember when he was telling people not to judge others, and to treat people as you would have them treat you… he ends that by saying,
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” -Matthew 7: 13,14
Let’s stop with this thinking that he’s talking about eternal salvation. He’s talking about living out the Kingdom of God. He’s talking about living in the Way of the Christ. That’s hard… really hard. Few find it. Most go through the broad gate, which leads to destruction.
That’s the easy path, and many find that.
It’s easy to NOT love our enemies. It’s easy to think of a million reasons why that person deserves our cold shoulder, deserves our judgment. It’s easy to put that person out of our mind, and just let others show them love. It’s easy to tell that person how awful they are, and what they need to do to fix everything.
It’s hard to live in the way of Jesus.
Because it’s hard, confusing, counter-intuitive, unpopular.
It’s hard to love them… to love them in the way Jesus would have us love them.
(As a side note: If you still get caught up on the word “love,” and wonder what that actually looks like in the context of our enemies, then check out the Luke passage again. There Jesus says, “Do good to those who hate you.” Doing “good” is a little easier to understand, maybe, than “love.” It’s harder to redefine, don’t you think?)
I feel compelled to also say that the working out of this “love” is not black and white. It is different in every circumstance, with every person. It takes creativity and hard work. The principles of “loving” an “enemy” who is a friend are much different, for example, than “loving” an “enemy” who is family or with whom you are in an abusive relationship. It’s often easier, for me, to ask: What does NOT loving my enemy look, and start from there.
And so I ask you, who is just ONE ‘enemy’ right now that you should be loving, but aren’t?
If no name comes to mind (which would surprise me), then think of it this way: who is one person who, if you called tomorrow and met for lunch, and people found out, they would say “why are you hanging out with so-and-so, don’t you know what they’ve done?”
It’s easy to ignore.
It’s easy to judge.
It’s hard to love.
Choose love anyways.
(p.s. I need to come back and say that I, by NO MEANS, have this figured out. The example I cited above is simply that, an example. And it is, unfortunately, probably more the exception for me than the norm. I too often choose ignoring or condemning. But I’m working on it, and I pray you will too).