As we grow up we often hear phrases such as “don’t be a bully” or “think of others.” We are taught to be polite and respectful. We are taught that we are to love God and our neighbor above our own selves. We are taught that to love someone is to seek their ultimate good more than we seek to please ourselves. Implied in living a life of such love is loving a person in a way that is greater than the faults that they possess.
We are given the ultimate manifestation of love and patience in the work of our salvation, through which God gives us hope and comfort in His own love for us. We are by nature stubborn, self-centered, and depraved. All that we do on our own displeases God. Even so, He loved us so incredibly much that about 2,000 years ago He sent His only begotten Son to suffer on the cross for our sake that we might not be lost in our sins. However, we as Christians, though we have been redeemed and made new, still sin. We are still horribly imperfect here on this earth. We still carry that old man around with us. Despite all that God has done for us and promised us, we are still drawn to our own needs, desires, and opinions. We still run after the things of this life and we are still horribly self-centered in how we think, act, speak, and prioritize. Yet, we have a God who is forgiving and patient with us. He as the Good Shepherd gently leads His sheep. He never lets one of His own be lost (John 10). When we stray, He draws us near to Him again (Luke 15:3-5). We do so much to rebel and to go our own way, but yet His mercy and His promises never fail us.
We have no reason to think that we are above anyone else. We are nothing without Christ. The only reason that we have any good within us whatsoever is because God took those who have done nothing worthy of any love whatsoever–those who would be the hardest to love–and has loved us. We are of ourselves no more talented, no more successful, no more wise, no more good than any of those around us, and we of ourselves are no more worthy to be saved than those around us. We are completely at God’s mercy (Ephesians 2:8-10, Matthew 25). Yet, if you’re anything like me it’s so easy to be self-focused. To be absorbed in your own needs and desires; to be absorbed in your own life. It’s so easy to lose patience on another, or to make bitter remarks. It is easy to see the negatives in people who are awkward, different than us, may have wronged us, or don’t catch on quite as quickly as you do. It is easy to hold grudges or to identify people as the things that they have done or the faults that they possess. Politeness may not be the first thing on your mind when someone has annoyed, angered, hurt, or appalled you, and it may be harder still to try actually to seek their goodness.
But yet, we all mess up, we all have faults, and we all have things about us that others would find weird. Just think about this: because of God’s great love and compassion He was willing to die for a people who had only ever hated and rejected Him. Who of us could say that? And not only did He die for us, but He died a death of unfathomable shame and pain, bearing all of the guilt and humiliation of the sins that He did not commit, and suffering all of the judgment and agonies of hell that He did not deserve. Our God has such patience with us; should we not show patience and compassion upon one another? Especially considering that we all mess up, we all have faults, and we all have things about us that others would find weird? We are to love one another. To be sensitive to the needs and cares of one another: as Atticus tells Jem in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” We are to work to understand each other and grow together as a body of Christ. We are to care for people despite their imperfections.
All of this does not in any way mean sins are acceptable. It does not mean that we tolerate sin. We build each other up in the faith, we correct one another, and we hate sin (Ecclesiastes 4:9,10). Sin is displeasing to God and harmful to our own spiritual life. Hating the sin does not mean hating the sinner. It means loving them enough that you care about their spiritual life, and it means honoring and loving God and His commands for us His people. We are to fight sin, and it should be displeasing to us, just as it is to our Father, but yet in doing so we still love the ones who commit it, no matter who they are.
Loving our neighbor is not limited to the sphere of the church either. Just because someone is our coworker doesn’t mean that we can show to them any less love than the person we sit next to in church. Just look at the example of the good Samaritan. And indeed, we know not whom God has chosen to save. Surely the young church did not think Saul to be a brother in Christ when he was persecuting the Church, but God had chosen Him. We must remember this in our day-to-day lives. And also, not one of the people around us deserves salvation or grace any less than we do. What have we done to do deserve it? So may we like Paul care about our brethren here on this earth to have the attitude that he has in Romans 9:2-6, where he writes, “That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.”
How can we better love? We may see the depth of God’s own love for us. We put ourselves in the shoes of those around us and share in their joys, pains, and trials as our very own. We draw closer to the One who is good and loving, and we work to reflect Him. We pray that God may give us the grace to love as He has loved us.
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? –Micah 6:8