Generous and Undeserved Love

“This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:38-40
 
Have you ever noticed how strange your voice sounds when you hear it on a recording? It makes me cringe. I’ll hear it and think, “Is that really how I sound?”. In those moments I realize that maybe I’m not as self-aware as I thought I was. In those moments I’m challenged to think that the way I perceive myself may be different than how others perceive me. Something similar happens when I think about Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

“nothing about us except our neediness is, in this life, permanent.” – C.S. Lewis
 
When Jesus tells us to love our neighbor, our response is usually to frame his words into two categories. The first category is made up of the ‘difficult’ people that we disagree with and the second category is us. We subconsciously see ourselves as very fine people having to love not-so fine people. The dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them’ has been set. As long as we see it this way, loving our neighbor will always seem tedious and trying. But when we see ourselves in a different light, like when you hear your voice for the first time in a recording, we will almost instantly have a greater level of understanding for the neighbor we’re trying to love. Like C.S. Lewis points out in the above quote, a biproduct of our humanity is that we are needy, messy, sinful people. While we think we’re probably much easier to love than our neighbors, the truth is likely different. 
 
“Don’t let your theology end at the cross.” – Blake Wiggins
 
While we are all needy and broken people, that doesn’t mean that we should constantly condemn ourselves as scum of the earth. Like Blake mentions above, if our theology ends at the cross on Friday, we’re missing the Resurrection that comes on Sunday. Similarly, I’m not saying that we should view ourselves as some kind of perfect super-Christians. It is, after all, for our sin that Jesus goes to the cross. What we really need is a right view of ourselves and others. Paul exemplifies this self-awareness when he says that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15) and “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul understood that if you are in relationship with Jesus you are a new creation, but you still sin. You’re not perfect. You may in fact still be one of those other ‘difficult’ people. 
 
“We love because he first loved us.” - 1 John 4:19
 
Once we realize that we might not be as easy to love as we first thought, loving our neighbor becomes significantly more authentic. This frees us to receive love, love from God that we now realize we don’t deserve. It also frees us to love others generously. To share the love we have generously and undeservedly received with others. As John says above, the only reason we are able to love at all is because of the love that God has shown us. Genuine love towards our neighbor is not something we can just muster up on our own. Real and authentic agapē-love is something that comes directly from God. It’s something we must receive from Him before we can ever give it to someone else. If we have received that love and understand that our neighbor, just like us, is a flawed and messy person in need of God’s love, how arrogant of us is it to think that we are above loving our neighbor? If God, perfect in every way, isn’t too good to love that flawed person, why do we think we are? That thought, like the gospel itself, is both humbling and liberating. 
 
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move the mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”1 Corinthians 13:2
 
Unfortunately, and I’m just as guilty of this as anyone, thinking that we’re above loving our neighbor is as common as it is arrogant. Practically, there are a few points that can help us return to that mindset of freely giving away love that has freely been given to us. The first and most important is to simply ask God to give you His heart and His thoughts for the person that seems hard to love. God’s heart and thoughts for that person are always going to be loving. Often times when there’s someone in my life who I’m having a hard time loving, I’ll ask God to give me His heart for that person. Unsurprisingly, once God does that, once He reminds me of His great love for that person, a love just as strong as the love He has for me, it’s significantly harder to resist loving that person. 
 
A second practical point is that we live and love through the context of relationship. When a casual friend says they ‘love’ me, that doesn’t hit the same as when one of my oldest friends or a family member says it. The casual friend may have the best intentions, but they don’t know me like the OG’s do. There’s more power in the older friend’s words because our relationship is deeper. It’s been through more. Relationship gives weight to love. It also gives us understanding. To put that sentiment bluntly, it’s hard to hate someone you know. If I know you, if I know the good and the bad about you, if I know all your hurts and all your history, you become real to me. You become someone in need of repair and love just like me. 
 
Lastly, it’s critical to remember that love is a choice. It’s something we actively choose to do. Love, as a characteristic of God, just is in the same way that God just is. It’s not dependent. It doesn’t wait for someone to reciprocate. There don’t need to be strings attached. In the same way that God loved me long before I ever came close to loving Him, we have the choice to love others before they return the favor. We have the choice to love others even if they never return the favor. That’s scary, but that’s worth it. That’s the way of Jesus. 
 
Author | Jake Stephens
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