“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:43-44)
How different would the world be if the church did this well? We know that in ourselves we are not morally superior to the world around us. But because ofour relationship with Jesus, there is a sense in which we should be. If God really takes up residence in the believer and if God really is working in us, it seems as though we should see progress in becoming more loving. That difference should be observable to the watching world.
Unfortunately, a quick scan of the internet will produce plenty of examples of Christians that are hating their neighbors rather than loving them. James tells us that this type of behavior comes from selfishness and self-focus (see James 4:1). We are poor representatives of Christ when we act out of self interest.
Instead, not are we only to be tolerant of our critics, we must love them. We are not loving the critics when we are speaking hatefully or condescendingly about them. Somehow, Jesus was able to let people know when their behavior was wrong or was in need of change while loving them. The sinners hung around Jesus and did not feel condemned. We should be able to have this same ability to interact with the culture around us. Yet often we do not.
From a Christian perspective, this is doubly tragic. Paul tells us that apart from the work of Christ in our lives, we are born in our sins. We are born in darkness and must be shown how to approach the light and must be given the power to approach the light. There is nothing in us that is superior in any way that should cause us to look down on another. The double tragedy is that our inability or unwillingness to love damages those around us and it damages us.
Jesus tells us that the two great commands are to love God and love our neighbor. We cannot be doing the first well if we are not doing the second. Neither can we do the second well unless we are doing the first. They are tied together.
The challenge to each of us who identify ourselves as beleivers in Jesus Christ is to check and see how well we are loving the people around us. I know that I have much room to grow in this area. I can be petulant, self absorbed and insensitive to the needs of the people around me. On any given day I can find many examples of my lack of love. Yet, I can also see that I have made progress as I have grown in my relationship with Jesus.
I am reminded that John tells us that “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We need to approprite and appreciate God’s love for us before we can do an adequate job of loving others. There is a gap between how we are loved and how we perceive how we are loved. Spiritual growth closes that gap and puts us in a position to better love others.
It seems to me that this answers the question of why we don’t do better at loving others. I fail to love others when I fail to appreciate how much I am loved by God.