Two anonymous questions:
– How do you love people who are difficult to love? Some people will accept your love and help with open arms, but some people hurt you the more you try to love them and reach out to them. I know it is God who works through us, and God who gives us His perfect, unconditional love, but sometimes it is discouraging in ministry when members place unrealistic expectations on us, and simultaneously expect us to care more …
– What is the Biblical way to love a self-righteous person when I am asking God and trying really hard not to be self-righteous, myself? To what extent is it okay that self-righteousness bothers me? What are indications that it’s bothering me too much? Ahh Holy Spirit, please guide the way…
This is a broadly complicated issue where I can only hope to encourage you for one more day. Love is such a messy organic creature that I couldn’t possibly cover all its nuances.
So please allow me the grace to offer some simple thoughts to consider. Each thought is meant to balance each other out for a rounded view on Christ-like biblical love. Please feel free to skip around.
1) Love doesn’t really count the response. I know it’s tough when people reject you or imprison you with expectations, but the more you can be free of other peoples’ responses, the more you can love them. If you love on someone and they honor you: then praise God for the opportunity. If you love on someone and they reject you: then praise God for the opportunity.
2) True love only loves the truly unlovable. It’s easy to love people whom you like. It’s easy to love people when they’re doing what you want. The test of your love is how you treat someone who is messing it up and can’t do anything for you. As Jesus said in Luke 6, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” In Matthew 25, Jesus calls us to love the “least of these.” And Paul basically says in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 13 that without love, nothing we do matters anyway.
3) Please do not set an impossibly high standard for yourself. Loving others doesn’t always mean “emotional affection” or “unceasing prayer” or “my front door is always open.” Sometimes it’s the steady endurance of cleaning up someone else’s mess, not judging when others totally mess it up, or not flinching when someone confesses a horrible wrong. Show yourself some grace when you fail at loving others. You will grow in this over a lifetime.
4) You might be doing better than you think. I once got an email saying, “I don’t really love this person — all I’ve done is listen to her problems and visit her house each week and pray for her and let her cry with me.” I could only reply, Dude, that’s actually a lot. If you’re praying for this person, not cussing them out, and keeping a mostly cool head about it: you’re doing okay. Our natural disposition is to totally hate on others, and it’s not something you can just pray away overnight.
5) Friendship is different than loving on people. This is where many of us get messed up. There’s a heck of a difference between loving close friends and loving a stranger on the street or even a fellow church member. Only your close beloved get complete access, get to see you vulnerable, and get to know the ugly side of you. You get to choose who they are. Be wise and discerning. Even Jesus had an inner circle. We don’t exclude anyone, but we simply can’t let everyone totally inside. Please do not force yourself into a sugary-soft New Age we-are-one type of “love” to open up to others equally.
6) However bad this person is, you are probably just as bad, if not worse. You might think this unlovable person is giving you a headache, but you also give the exact same kind of headache to others. I’m not trying to be a jerk here, but let’s keep this on a level playing field. Maybe they’re self-righteous or petty or smug, but we’re just as capable of selfishness, envy, and bitterness. They might be a lot to put up with, but so are you. So am I. So don’t ever think someone’s issues are particularly annoying: because we are ALL annoying. Don’t ever think the Sunday sermon is for that other guy: because it’s for you too.
7) No one is really unlovable. For a moment, get inside Jesus’ head. Jesus saw into the heart of Nathaniel, a racist, and found great faith. Jesus looked into the heart of the greedy rich young ruler and offered eternal life. Jesus saw into the hearts of Zacchaeus and Matthew Levi, two hard-partying tax collectors, and invited them into the Trinity. Somehow, Jesus scoured the inner-landscape of some very awful people and still found something to love. And even if Jesus had found nothing: I bet he would’ve loved them anyway. He went to the cross for that very reason.
8) Love is balanced with truth. We can’t just pamper others. Love does not enable or spoil or let others off the hook. Jesus came with both grace AND truth. John MacArthur once said, “Truth without love is brutality; love without truth is hypocrisy.” We are called to be tough and tender. Without truth we will abandon others to destruction; without grace we will crush them with our truth.
9) There can be no love without forgiveness. I know this is hard. Every time I preach, “Love people,” everyone has a story of why that can’t happen. I’m so tempted to agree with them: some of these stories of hurt and betrayal are downright maddening. Yet — without the forgiving power of love, we are locked into a cycle of retaliation and inner-rotting that will only perpetuate the exact reason you were hurt in the first place. Forgiveness cuts through sin by absorbing the pain and piercing through our human nature. It’s what Jesus did for us and also calls us to do. Forgive, even if it means you must do it a hundred times a day. It won’t be a little easy prayer. Forgiveness will often be a way of life: and it is so much better than the alternative.
10) Love is defined as the self-sacrificial effort of pouring out your life for another. I’ve always defined love this way. Sure, it can be emotional: but it’s not based in emotionalism. It takes work, sweat, tears, blood, and your whole life. It requires the overabundance of God’s love flowing so freely through you that others are catching the overflow. If you can peer into the heart of Jesus on the cross, you’ll know just a glimpse of what it means to truly pour out your life: and this is your true life. It’s tough, but there’s nothing greater than pursuing this.
“Love says: I’ve seen the ugly parts of you, and I’m staying.”
— Matt Chandler
“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”
― C.S. Lewis
“I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God. I will stop expecting your love, demanding your love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love. I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again. God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.”
— Donald Miller
This post is also in my book here.