Love is a dangerous and strange thing. Love will dismantle you in a moment and restore every part of you in that same moment.
Throughout history love has been attached to both epic tragedy and extravagant joy. In the name of love we are willing to do things that we never dreamed. For instance, I love my wife so much I willingly endure temperatures in our home that are on par with the outer boundaries of hell because she’s cold… even in the summer. What can I say, love does. Love is the great influencer. As dangerous and strange as love is, it is also the safest and most familiar place you can reside. We’re built for love, to give and receive it.
Being that God is love and He desires to have us as His beloved, it follows that we are created to receive that love and extend it to others. Thankfully many Christians know this to be their call (or at least they understand the basis of it). I’m beginning to hear people all over the church saying that we’re called to love others, and that’s a great thing. What I’m worried about is the fact that I hear a lot of other stuff attached to it.
One of the most common things that church people say is, “I hate the sin, but I love the sinner.” My response to that, after fighting back the urge to laugh and cry at the same time, is always, “No you don’t.” Please understand, I’m not laughing at the person; I know they’re well intentioned when they say it, because I was when I said it. I’m laughing at the notion that hate and love can exist in the same sentence. “Hate the sin, but love the sinner” is found NOWHERE in the bible. The idea for that saying isn’t even in the Bible. It wasn’t even part of Jesus’ teachings in any way. Jesus did say “Love God and love others” and He did also talk about dealing with “the speck” (or sin) in your brothers eye, but not for the purpose that we use them. When we use that scripture to call out someone else’s sin we disregards the fact that Jesus first said deal with the plank (in other words, huge board. I mean, the guy was a carpenter, so I’m sure He was pretty solid on what a plank of wood looked like) in your own eye. The point was, deal with the huge amounts of sin in your own life, before you ever deal with the small sin in your BROTHER’S life. The key to that whole passage of scripture is brother. Jesus was talking about dealing with the sin of other believers, not people outside of His followers. Yet, sadly, we use that type of scripture to justify calling out the sin of people that don’t even believe they should be following Jesus. Then we wonder why they won’t go to church. Near as I remember, I’ve never seen any one come to Jesus when a Christian said to them, “Jesus really hates your sin, but He loves you, so you should follow Him.”
Here’s the truth, you cannot truly love someone when you’re focused on what you hate about them and what they’re doing wrong. When it comes to God, hate never precedes love. It just cannot. Love stands alone and conquers hate. This is the way it has to be, love cannot have anything to do with hate, except to crush it.
With that said, if we as The Church, really want to love others as we are commanded to (Mark 12:31), here are the two things that we need to eliminate from our love in order to make it a real, Jesus-level love.
Our love isn’t reserved for a particular group of people. There is no “better than” group in the gospel. The truth is that EVERYONE is just as undeserving of your love as you are of God’s, yet God gives it anyway. As Jesus walked around during the three years of His ministry, He reserved His love for no one in particular, but gave it freely to anyone that would accept it. Did everyone accept it? No, not then and not now. Did He stop offering His love because people rejected it? Nope. He continued to offer love to everyone from the prostitute and tax collector, to the Samaritan woman (which by the way was a HUGE no-no, because Jews considered Samaritans to be lower than dogs), to the Roman officer, and to the Pharisee (remember Nicodemus and the Pharisee that buried Him). No one was excepted from the offer of love.
For us as His followers, our offer of love should not exclude anyone. We need to understand that love is not acceptance of behavior, but acceptance of the person. I know any good Christian will nod their head at this and say “Amen”. How could you possibly say you follow Jesus and disagree with any part of that idea? But, many will go about their day and still hold back their love, without consciously admitting it, never engaging that person who is living a life they disagree with and they’ll do it under the guise of, “If I’m part of their life then that shows I accept what they’re doing.” The problem with that way of thinking is that you completely miss the point of actually loving so
meone. We often get hung up on evangelizing AT people to convince them to change their life, but what if we invested time into a relationship with them and let Jesus build a genuine love for them inside our heart? What happens then? What happens is that we end up actually caring for the person and getting to tell them all about our Lord in the safety and familiarity of love.
This one is a little more complicated. It took a long time for me to accept this idea as true. It’s difficult to not expect people to “get saved” when we’re doing church. The going in on this is that we’re going to present the Gospel message in a clear way and the Holy Spirit will compel people to surrender to Jesus. In general there is nothing wrong with this idea. We should have an expectation that God will move. He tells us He will, so we should expect it. But, when we attach expectation to our love, that’s when things get hairy. As far as Sunday morning church goes, what if instead of expecting people to “get saved” we expected the Holy Spirit to show up for our celebration (already in progress) and equip us for the work in the week ahead? What if we then went out into the week and into our communities, ready to love people without an expectation for anything except people getting to experience the love of Christ through His followers? What would church look like then?
I know the argument might be that Jesus expected things from people, i.e. He told the prostitute to “Go and sin no more.” Yes He did direct her to stop sinning and no doubt He expected her to or else He wouldn’t had said it, but that expectation isn’t what I’m talking about. Again, the idea of “without expectation” does not excuse Jesus’ followers from adhering to the standard of living He sets for us. After we commit to following Him, He has an expectation for how we should live, but His love is still offered regardless of whether we live that way or not. His love is a free love, always without expectation. Don’t believe me? There are a lot of stories that could illustrate this point, but just consider the 10 lepers that Jesus healed. Jesus healed all 10 lepers and that was His practical act of love. After healing all of them, only one came back to thank Him. The other nine failing to return to show thanks, didn’t cause Jesus to remove the healing, again that was His free, practical act of love (it was offered without expectation), but the one that returned was healed and had his sins forgiven. Though that single leper benefited from His belief and experienced complete redemption, the other nine still benefited from Jesus’ grace and experienced love. They received an un-expectant love.
We’re not to expect when we love. That idea goes the way of a selfless love. It shouts Jesus’ command to “Love God and love others” and says, “I love you regardless of who you are and how you respond to it.” You don’t save someone by telling them how bad they are; you do it by telling them how good Jesus is. Really, you save someone by introducing them to the only one that can and loving them without exception and expectation does that.
What else can our love do without, or with more of?