Just Like Jesus
We aren’t very good at loving. That’s sad for a race that was created for the sole purpose of living in a love relationship with a God whose primary character trait, after holiness, is love. In fact, ours is a God whose character defines love. John writes: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” 1 John 4:7-8 (NLT).
We like to think we are good at love. We write love poetry and love stories and we give love gifts and “share the love.” But in reality, we value it largely because examples of fully functional love are so very rare. We cherish the heroism of the late US Army corporal, Desmond Doss, because he showed selfless love for his military confederates in spite of self interest, safety considerations, and what anyone might define as common sense.
But true, selfless love is very rare. More typical are people who claim to love their significant other, but demonstrate dysfunctions and love pathologies. We have seen the lover who consistently disrespects the object of love in front of others. Common is the one who cannot keep commitments made to his or her chosen life partner, as well as the faithful but disdainful or dismissive spouse. The levels of contempt common in dysfunctional love reach to levels of abuse and even murder.
Even the most fundamental relationship, the parent-child bond, is routinely replete with dysfunction. Even the best parents can honestly look back at many love-starved instances in their parenting. Human love appears rare and corrupt.
Worse, even many highly functioning lovers are averse to love beyond the fundamental relationships family, spouse, and friendship. We tend to define all outside these three fundamental relational sets as the “other.” We then justify ignoring—or worse, disdaining— everyone outside our group.
If we have chosen to be followers of Jesus, this will not do.
We see Jesus demonstrate filial love with His parents and siblings. This demonstration is not without some puzzling occurrences. First, He responds strangely to His parents. In Luke 2, we read, “His parents didn’t know what to think. ‘Son,’ His mother said to Him, ‘why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.’
‘But why did you need to search?’ He asked. ‘Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they didn’t understand what He meant.
Then He returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And His mother stored all these things in her heart.”
In His relationships with His disciples, Jesus modeled love in a challenging, tough way. He prayed for them consistently, taught and trained and rebuked and tested and led them to places they never expected to go. As we read through the gospel accounts, the love shines through.
Perhaps our love for those we hold close should be informed by thoughtful study and meditation on Jesus’ relationships with His closest companions. In this we see a love with consistent focus on mission and the very best and highest experiences His loved ones could have to.
Then we read of His relationship with the Jewish people and their leaders. It is easy to focus on His denouncements of the behavior of the Pharisees and infer something other than love. But then we read Matthew 23: 37-39: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Can you hear the sorrow from the loss of His beloved? It is not a lack of love we hear, but a loving anguish fueled by their rejection of Him and their impending doom.
Jesus modeled an active, almost aggressive, love for His family, His disciples, His nation and His adversaries. He then demonstrated love for the weak and for the “other.”
Again and again He revealed a beautiful love for common, weak, and suffering ones. Luke 13:10-13 relates: “One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, He saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said, ‘Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!’ Then He touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God!”
He went out of His way to actively convey love in acts easy to understand. He did not only engage with the sick and suffering, but also the more distant other. The Samaritan woman and the tax collectors and woman of poor reputation were the subjects of His loving deeds.
Ellen White offers this context in her book Gospel Workers: “Let the teacher of truth make known to the sinner what God really is—a Father waiting with yearning love to receive the returning prodigal, not hurling at him accusations of wrath, but preparing a feast to welcome His return. O that we might all learn the way of the Lord in winning souls!”
To these examples we add the teaching of the story of the Good Samaritan. In it Jesus moves from example to command. He instructs us to love our neighbor! Then He demonstrates with the parable that by “neighbor,” He means the one we are least likely to love in your own nature.
Then rises the problem; my problem and possibly your problem, as well. Ask yourself, who is difficult to love in your own nature? Do you butt heads with a particular family member, coworker, or even church member? How aggravated do you become at those whose political or religious views counter your own? Could you fathom truly loving them, or even someone who wants you dead?
I can’t love terrorists! The command on which my salvation hangs is a command I cannot obey. Like the rich and the eye of the needle, I am stuck. Only by a strong and miraculous dose of grace can my nature be changed to love the wicked one who hates me and wants me dead. Likewise,the angry, repulsive boss, the internet troll, and each of the luminaries of the entertainment world who scoff at my faith and my God.
I begin by praying for each of these, God’s precious children. I can mourn their present paths, but God has taken from me the option of holding hate, or anything else but love for these beloved of my Father. So I pray, and God’s Spirit improves my nature. I learn from Him the love of my enemy. And today I pray for you, that God’s Spirit would help you to love the terrorist, the rapist, and the destroyer of morality… Just. Like. Jesus.
James Winegardner is the Senior Pastor of the Keene Seventh-day Adventist Church. He lives in Keene with his wife, Mary Ellen. They have three daughters, Megan, Emma, and Lily.