Loving people is hard, and it’s a struggle to do it well. If you haven’t found it difficult to love, at one point in time or another, you’re probably doing it wrong. Because loving people, especially when they’re behaving sinfully, is hard.
People by virtue are sinful, and sinful people make for difficult objects of love. Even regenerate sinners, God bless them, are difficult. (Maybe a little easier than non-believers? But hard to love nonetheless!)
The challenge of love is compounded when the people you’re trying to love are apathetic or even hateful towards you. The typical response given by society, and an extremely appealing solution, is to only love those who love you in return and to cut everyone else away. It is easy to be drawn by this idea, yet it is sinful to the core—for it stands against God’s second greatest command: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I like the way Paul Tripp put it when he said, “If we only love our neighbor when he or she loves us in return, we’re not loving our neighbors, just ourselves.”
Most of us find it difficult to love unconditionally because love is treated like a bank account. People have to deposit into our banks, love, kindness, and charity, if they hope to receive the same kind of treatment in turn. The people with whom we’re frustrated and have a hard time loving are those people who haven’t deposited anything into our account. Their funds have run dry. Yet God would say to you and me, “love them anyway and put it on my account.”
Unconditional love is possible as we recognize what God has done for us. It is that realization that empowers us to love others unconditionally. God’s bank account from which we draw is infinite. He never withholds His grace or forgiveness, and “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Paying the ultimate price. God’s love was not contingent upon our behavior, if it were then we would never receive it.
When we love the undeserving, it’s a picture of Christ’s love. It’s a love that doesn’t make sense to the world. It’s a love that is unmerited. Because for Christians, their love should come from God, freely given as it is freely received.
There is a growing number of Christians who feel that refusing to accept a homosexual’s lifestyle is an act of hatred. Those who consider homosexual behavior as immoral aren’t “loving their neighbor.” After all, if we claim to love someone, shouldn’t we just accept the decisions that they make?
On the surface, it seems that to “love” means to accept the lifestyle choice of same-sex individuals. Yet, when God’s Word shines its light on this issue, our acceptance of homosexuality proves to be hatred and an absolute disregard for life.
Imagine visiting a doctor. He tells you that you’re healthy but the truth is that you are dying of a disease. He doesn’t tell you that you’re dying because he is trying to spare your feelings. How egregious is his malpractice? A person is dying and the doctor cares more about feelings than actually dealing with the issue at hand.
When Christians tell anyone that their sinful lifestyle, which is explicitly condemned in the Bible, is acceptable to God, they in actuality are showing hatred by approving of what ultimately leads to judgment. Isn’t that similar to how Satan tempted Eve in the garden saying, “You shall not surely die . . .” It’s a error of biblical proportions that people can break God’s Law without suffering the penalty that is due.
For example, the biblical warnings in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Do we not take them seriously?
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Paul contrasts what the believers used to practice as a normal part of their life. But their conversion and regeneration in the Spirit meant that these are no longer normal practices. It’s not to say they were sinless or never struggled with their old life. But they never accepted it as a part of normal Christian living!
In Romans 1:32, after Paul had outlined the progression of depravity that defined mankind, including homosexuality (v. 26-27), he makes this stark judgment:
32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Paul condemns with equal force those who practice this evil and those who approve of it.
By giving approval to sin, we are saying that sin is “okay” with God, He’ll tolerate it. They are both lies. Sin is heinous to God, so much so that He had to pay the ultimate price—dying for it on the cross.
We show love to people not by approving of their sin, which leads to judgment, but by showing them the Savior of the Bible, Who died for the sins of world, so that men and women in bondage to sin could be free and live in newness of life.
As we go through life, we will experience all sorts of scrapes and bruises, heartbreaks and dashed hopes. The question is not, “Will suffering happen?” but rather “When?” and “How will we respond to it?” When we are thrown into challenging situations, our view is often narrow-minded. All we see is the problem that is ahead of us. This is why we feel discontentment and at times even anger about our circumstances. Moreover, when there is no meaning or purpose for our suffering, the heartache and pain is compounded. It is only those that have an anchor in Christ that can find lasting joy amidst ongoing suffering.
Our perspective determines how we respond to the difficult situations of life. For those who are in Christ, there is a perspective that enables one to look at life with joy, despite all the scrapes and bruises. It comes by viewing life in light of eternity and seeing God’s purpose and plan for His people.
God Works for Good
When we are in Christ, we know that God works all things together for good, for those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). It is not that all things are good, but that in them God is at work for good. Calvin said it well: “Whatever poisons this world might create; God uses it as medicine for His elect.” No matter what situations we are in, as Christians we take comfort in saying, “God will use this for my good and His glory”:
“When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”
The Enemy’s Goal
I enjoyed the perspective of Amy Carmichael when she said:
Everywhere the perpetual endeavor of the enemy of souls is discouragement. If he can get the soul “under the weather,” he wins. It is not really what we go through that matters, it is what we go under that breaks us. We can bear anything if only we are kept inwardly victorious. … If God can make His birds to whistle in drenched and stormy darkness, if He can make His butterflies able to bear up under rain, what can He not do for the heart that trusts Him?
The Future is Secure
The Lord loves His children and their future is secure in His hands. It may seem like an obvious statement but it is worth mentioning: God knows the future… He knows what will be and He is in control of it. In any given situation, we do not know how things will turn out in ten to fifteen years. But God knows, and He has a plan that will bring Him glory and His children joy. The ultimate goal in the Christian life is not success as the world defines it; rather it is becoming more like Christ. At the end of the day, what matters is not all the money, power and sex, but rather looking more like Christ. He called us before the foundations of the world that we would be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4).
We Don’t Know Why
It is true that the question “Why is this happening to me?” is never fully known. We can paint the general picture but we don’t know the “Why” of a particular situation, and the truth is that we may never pinpoint exactly why we suffer and why things fall apart. It is interesting that history can tell us what happened, science can tell us how it happens (sometimes), but no one can tell us why it happens (Haddon Robinson). God doesn’t promise answers… What He does though is give us Himself. The Christian life is impossible without the Spirit of God. Do you not know that you are a temple and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
An Unforeseen Opportunity
There was a humorous story not too long ago about an 80-year-old woman, Margaret Geary that made headline news. Her sisters had gone out to a Bible conference for four days and she had to stay behind to watch the home. After they left, she went to the kitchen to get a snack, a jar of water with celery sticks, and went upstairs using an elevator. As she was going up, the power went out trapping her inside. She quickly reached for her cell phone, but there was no cell reception… Then she tried to pry the door open, but it wouldn’t budge. Stuck with nowhere to go she said, “Either I can pray or panic. And it seems that I’m going to have a four-day prayer retreat, and I didn’t have to reserve the space.” So she prayed, ate celery, prayed, ate celery, for four days! When her sisters finally came back, they asked her what it was like. She responded, “Well, I finally realized that God provided me an opportunity to draw near to Him.”
It is possible that you may feel trapped in an elevator, you are banging on the doors screaming at the top of your lungs, and your cell phone doesn’t have reception. All you want is an immediate rescue… However, if you would view your situation in light of God’s Word, you will see that this hard and difficult situation is an opportunity to draw near to Him.
When You Have Christ
When we have Christ, we are able to trust what we can’t trace, step where we do not see, and undergo that which we may never understand (Haddon Robinson). Despite what the world may say, God does not owe us anything. If you are in Christ you are more blessed than you can ever imagine.
“So near, so very near to God, I cannot nearer be. For in the person of His Son, I am as near as He. So dear, so very dear to God, I cannot dearer be. The love with which He loves His son – such is His love for me [and for you]”
You have been adopted into God’s family and are loved infinitely by Him. He is working out everything for your good and His glory. The sufferings of this life, as hard as they might be, are nicks and bumps in light of eternity.
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16