We use the word love frequently, often without thought. We say we love pizza from a certain pizzeria. We say we love a certain television show and take time out of our schedule to make sure we don’t miss it. We often say we love a certain holiday, such as Christmas or Easter, but often care more about the celebration than the reason for celebrating. These are all situations where it is easy to love, mainly because the affection is directed toward an inanimate object or an abstract idea.
There are also situations where love is needed but not present. These situations are difficult because the person we should love might not seem to deserve it. And, even if we think that the receiver is deserving of love, the love might not be received. When we are called to love others, both Christians and non-Christians, the Bible does not give us loopholes to avoid loving those that we want to avoid.
One of the recurring themes in Jesus’ teaching is love. He doesn’t spend his time talking about loving things but, rather, about loving people.
Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other. (John 13:34-35, The Message)
It is important to know that Jesus was setting a precedent here: identifying a group by love. Jesus offered a new community of purpose, one built on reaching out to one another and taking others into consideration first as opposed to militant government or religious law. During this time there were other ways to be identified: by force (the Roman army) or by fear of breaking the law (religious leaders such as the Pharisees). These were the normal ways that groups imposed their ideas on others, and it was mostly against their own will. Jesus was offering something entirely new. He offered a community you could choose to be a part of, one that did not require taking, but conversely giving of yourself as an act of love.
The author of the books of John speaks often about how followers of Jesus should make love the highest priority. In fact, it is a matter of life and death. As John says, “The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn’t love is as good as dead” (I John 3:14, The Message). It becomes clear that, not only should Christians show love, it should be our defining characteristic.
It may be difficult at times to show love to our fellow Christians. Even with our shared devotion to Christ, we are the same fallible humans with the same tendency to inflict hurt, cause distrust, and show jealousy. It is only because of our devotion to God that we can rise above the worst parts of our nature. If our focus is on the love that God shares with us and that we share with each other, there is less time for the things that divide us. In many ways, it’s much easier to love God. There are so many reasons to be grateful to the Creator, the one who provides current and eternal life. When we are commanded to direct the love that we have been given to other people, things become more difficult. John recognized this dilemma nearly 2000 years ago, and it still holds very true today:
If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. (I John 4:20-21, The Message)
“If our focus is on the love that God shares with us and that we share with each other, there is less time for the things that divide us.”
It might be easier to love fellow Christians that we consider friends, but what about those who bring us trouble and pain? These are the people that are the hardest to love and often the ones that need it the most. Jesus knew that sharing love with these people could yield the most reward:
You’re familiar with the old written law, “Love your friend,” and its unwritten companion, “Hate your enemy.” I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. (Matthew 5:43-44, The Message)
While Jesus is sharing his love with us, he is calling on us to share it with others, thereby making others better when they know his love and us better when we share it.