As she began to walk out the door I asked, “What do you think about loving those who are hard to love?” And she replied, “Like my dad? I hate it.”
My friend is as passionate about following the way of Jesus as anyone I know. In fact, she has given up everything to go around the world as a missionary to love, serve, and share the hope of Jesus Christ to the poorest people on the planet in the most remote parts of the world.
And while she is a great example to all of us who know her as displaying great love, selflessness, and sacrifice in her life for the benefit of those pushed away and discarded by the rest of the world, she may be a greater example in her demonstration of how difficult it is for a person who follows Jesus to love someone who is difficult to love or who does not deserve to be loved.
I am confident that when someone is teaching us about love, most of us just kind of tune out. I do. I have been there and done that…and I know all the verses about love. It is almost like, “Yeah, yeah I have this love thing figured out. You just love people. It is just that simple.”
The truth is that it is not that simple at all.
It is true that it is simple to love those who are lovable, but it is quite a different thing to love those who are unlovable, to love those who don’t deserve to be loved, or to love those who are our enemies. If we, as Christians, only love those who are lovable then our love is quite conditional and far from the kind of love that God has for each and every person in the world and then subsequently the kind of love that God wants demonstrated through us.
A great crowd of disciples were following Jesus when he stopped and began to teach them about the kind of love that they ought to exemplify in the world. He said that those who follow him would “love [their] enemies,” and would, “do good to those who hate [them].” He then went on to say, and this point is critical, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.”
Here is the thing…every human being was created to have an unconditional love for each other and God. Each and every one of us was created in the image of God and has the Divine capability to express unconditional love. But we have been so wounded by the effects of sin (or our separation from God) that our ability to love unconditionally has deteriorated. So instead of being able to love everyone unconditionally, we are only able to unconditionally love those who we trust and those who haven’t hurt us. For everyone else, we believe that it is good and appropriate to stay at arms length in fractured and broken relationship, harboring anger, resentment, and grudges so as to not be hurt or wounded again.
This conditional love is not what God intends for those who have invited God to come into their hearts, minds, and souls. In fact, God is working to repair and restore that which has been broken and separated, the individual first and then the relationship between the person and others. God draws us in and envelops us in perfect love so that we may go out into the world and express this perfect, unconditional love to both the lovable and the unlovable, the friend and the enemy, the victim and the oppressor.
It is easy to love those who are lovable. Even those who do not know God can do that. But it is only through the power of God when we are enveloped in perfect love and given the power of the Holy Spirit that we can even begin to see people the way God sees people and then begin to love them the way that God does. That is the only way a person can love the father that has physically and emotional abused him or her. That is the only way that a person can love the drunk driver that takes the life of his or her child. That is the only way that we can love the murderer or terrorist who has taken innocent life. And that is the only way that we can continue to love and forgive those who continue to hurt and wound us daily.
It is absolutely impossible to love our friends and enemies in our own power. It is only possible in the power given to us by God.