“I think loving God more is key to us being able to love others. We should focus less on the relational difficulties we face in life, and focus on taking up our cross and following Jesus and loving Him because He first loved us.”
The Commandment To Love Can Be The Hardest To Follow
Esther Williams examines the difficulty Christians experience in obeying God’s command to love everybody, and how drawing closer to God will help us fulfil this key mandate
Love is fascinating. It’s an amazing, tough, complex emotion. Yet God chose it to be the first and greatest commandment. This means that, if you’re a Christian, there are no loop holes, get out clauses or caveats, we’ve just got to figure out how to love God with all our heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37). On top of that, we have to love everyone else: the good, the bad and the ugly.
It’s easy to love the lovely, our friends and the people we do life with on a day-to-day basis. But what about those who, as hard as you may try, you can’t see how it could be God’s plan for you and them to be part of each other’s lives? Candidates for this category may be in your workplace; they could be in your church, or – harder still – this could be a family member. The rub is that it doesn’t matter which nook or cranny of your life they reside in, there is power available to you to be able to love them.
On a very practical level, what works for me is thinking about my own humanity. I’m very keen to ensure I have lots of credit in my mercy account. I do this because it is very likely that when I wake up on Monday morning, with the praises of God on my lips, I will be at one with the angels – so extraordinarily holy. But, by the time I get to 3pm on Friday afternoon, it’s quite possible that God and I may have fallen out. The reason why? His sovereign right to place people in my world, whose sole purpose is to smooth off my rough edges, leaves me exhausted by the end of the week. Sometimes I pass the ‘be gracious’ test and sometimes I fail miserably. I’ve got to the stage in my life where I am not overly concerned about failing the test – as long as it’s not the same test over and over. But I do want to ensure that I am always in God’s ‘inner circle’, and that I’m one of the ones He constantly wants to share His secrets with.
I think we can all hold our hands up and say we have been guilty in the past of having a distant ‘crowd-type’ love relationship with God. During Jesus’ life and early ministry, there were crowds of people who would travel miles to hear Him speak. Mark 8:1 recalls that some didn’t even bother to eat, as they were captivated by His gift and applauded His miracles, but were nowhere to be found when Jesus asked them to take up their cross and follow Him; meaning, love as He loved, serve as He served, and lay down their life for the cause of Christ. None of this is easy or natural – it’s supernatural.
But there were 12 who were part of the inner circle who experienced a close relationship with Jesus, and there were three who had a special relationship with Jesus: Peter, James and John. They were privy to His secrets; were there at the transfiguration; were present when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. They saw things others didn’t see; shared moments with Jesus when He was at His most vulnerable, and experienced levels of His power that others did not, not because they were His favourites, but because of the love in their hearts towards Him. They loved Him more than the crowds, and more than the other disciples. Jesus was comfortable around them because they were like Him.
I think loving God more is key to us being able to love others. We should focus less on the relational difficulties we face in life, and focus on taking up our cross and following Jesus and loving Him because He first loved us. The closer we get to His heart, the more we become like Him – making it difficult for us not to place value on people who are made in the image of Christ.
Time spent building our relationship with God will lead us to finding ourselves moving from a place of doing what is natural and normal (being kind to our friends and the people we like), to doing what is supernatural and only possible through God’s power and grace (demonstrating love to those who have hurt or opposed us). This is a lifelong challenge, and we will not always get it right, but it is vital to remember that loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves are not nice ideas – they are biblical commandments. We will never be able to grow in this area if we try to love in our own strength. Mark 10:27 says, “With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” John 15:5 says, “…for without Me you can do nothing.”
Remember, the people in our daily lives who don’t go to church expect Christians to be caring individuals; if we don’t demonstrate this, we lose our ability to minister to them. We have to be the change in our work environments, in our homes and in church, if we are going to be able to reach out to people and share the love of Christ with them. Ensuring we are part of God’s ‘inner circle’ will enable us to achieve this.