Can You Love The Unlovely?
[Jesus said,] “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
It makes perfect sense to love people who love us and hate those who hate us. That’s just the way the world works!
But that’s not the way the Kingdom works. Jesus acknowledged the law of human nature, but he calls us to be different, radical, and countercultural. He wants us to go completely against our basic human natures and love people who annoy or antagonize us, do kind things for people who actively try to hurt us, and ask God’s blessing for those who curse us and do everything in their power to cause us pain.
It doesn’t make sense- until we realize that’s exactly the way God has treated us. We had nothing to offer Him except our arrogance, rebellion, and apathy. For years, many of us looked at the Cross and said, “Who cares?” God gave the most He could give when Christ stepped out of eternity into time to die a horrible death for us, but for a long time, we looked the other way. We were so preoccupied with our own selfish desires that we didn’t think much about other people or God. But through it all, God kept loving us, doing good for us, and giving us a wealth of gifts when we deserved only punishment.
In any relationship, and especially any strained relationship, we have a choice to be like God or to be like ok other selfish people on the planet. If we choose selfishness, we’re on our own, but if we make the hard decision to pursue God and make our lives a display case of HIs grace, He has promised to lead us, fill up, and use us to change lives.
The best way for our faith to grow and expand is by expressing that faith to others.
Loving the lovely is an easy test to pass. Loving the unlovely requires much patience and wisdom.
The life Christ has called us to live is often so radically different than the commonly accepted lifestyle that is embraced by society that we have to pause and decide intentionally to choose the Christ-life. This is certainly no different than it was in Jesus’ day. The Jews were encouraged to love their neighbors but they had a narrow view of who their neighbors were. Only fellow Jews were considered as neighbors and even some of them were questionable neighbors. Samaritans were despised, Gentiles were subhuman(dogs), and common people were considered a blight by the wealthy religious leaders. Into this social norm came Christ with a different way and a different interpretation of “neighbor.” One day a question is asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer is simple, “Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” And then the important question is asked, “Who then is my neighbor?” And Jesus tells a story about a man who was beaten and robbed and left beside the road. Without help he would surely die. A priest passes by on his way to the Temple. However, since he has already went through the purification so that he could serve in the Temple, by law he was forbidden to touch the wounded man, so he passed by on the other side. Not long afterwards a Levite happens along, but he, too, is forbidden by the law to touch the wounded stranger. Finally, a Samaritan comes by and sees the wounded man and has compassion for him. Binding his wounds, he places him on his donkey and takes him to a nearby inn where he rents a room and pays for his care. After Jesus tells the story, He asks a question: “Which of these do you suppose acted like a neighbor? And reluctantly came the reply, “He who showed mercy.”
Some of us have a difficult time loving our families, friends and fellow church members, much less some stranger; especially some stranger in need. Yet Jesus tells us not only that we are to love our family and friends but we also are to love our enemies. Now that’s a tall order but Christ gives us what that means, for He goes on to say that the practical application is to “bless those who curse you.” Most is us want to retaliate when people speak ugly to us. We want to revert to the “eye for and eye” retribution for we feel that they deserve it. So how do we bless those who curse us? We can do so by asking God to bless them and to be serious about the asking. Oh, you will probably feel like a hypocrite when you first begin to pray blessing on those who speak I’ll of you. Just remember that you are in a great conflict between living as Christ has called you to live and living in your old ways. We begin with discipline. In other words we discipline ourselves to pray blessings while the other part of our minds wants to wish for them bad things. But as you begin to pray for that person who is treating you badly, you will discover that your hatred and anger and hurt begin to melt away.
The second thing that Christ taught us is to “do good to those who hate us.” Again He is asking us to make a deliberate decision to respond to hate with good deeds. I think that most of us might probably begin doing good things for those who hate us grumbling under our breath especially when they show little to no appreciation for our efforts. But if we will just keep doing good things, even if that person doesn’t appreciate it, God will and we will deliver our souls. Quite often when we act as Christ calls us to act, it benefits us more than it does those whom we are doing good to.
And finally Christ tells us to “pray for those who despitefully use us.” Sometimes we encounter those who try to take the advantage of us, use us for their selfish ends, and when we do it’s easy to leave them out of our prayers. I dare say most of us rare if ever pray for those who we feel are using us or if we pray it’s usually about them rather than for them. We might ask God to change them so they will cease their conduct and give us peace. Or we might ask God to give us patience to endure them. But what if we become radical and begin to pray blessings over their lives?
We have read that Christ interacted in a very different way as He was here on earth. Rather than shunning a woman of ill repute, He offered her living water. Instead of distancing Himself from the lepers, He healed them. Instead of ignoring the hungry, He fed them. To the mob gathered around the cross and the Roman soldiers who had crucified Him, He forgave them. Although He set the standard high, He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us live this radical life.
What our world needs is a revolution. Not the kind the world knows that only changes who’s in power but a true change of hearts. That could begin with us. The songwriter said, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” What if today, we decide to become radical in every relationship we are in? What if we begin by deciding to give God our whole hearts instead of just a portion? We would find ourselves joyfully serving, worshiping and witnessing about Him. What if we made the choice to intentionally love our neighbor as Christ taught? Oh, to be sure, it would mean forgiving those who have wronged or hurt us. It would mean doing good toward those who may still act ugly toward us. It would mean looking for ways to bless mean, unkind, inconsiderate people. But all this would also mean a possibility of a changed world. I think it’s worth the effort. I hope you do as well.
Dr. John Thompson