Around 2000 years ago, the Pharisees (a group of Jewish leaders who were fiercely protective of what we now refer to as Old Testament) were interviewing Jesus. In their attempt to “trip Him up,” so to speak, they asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus gave them two answers. The first, Jesus said, was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). The second greatest commandment is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
It’s the latter one we’re going to focus on and the one that most Christians struggle with. How do you love everyone? Really, Lord?? You mean EVERYONE?? What if you don’t LIKE someone, how are you supposed to LOVE them? Nonetheless, this is what we’re commanded to do. In fact, earlier in Matthew, Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
That’s a tough pill to swallow. Isn’t it enough to love our parents, our spouses, our children, our relatives, our friends? No. Because even non-believers love the people they are closest to.
We are called to love everyone, as it’s a reflection of the love God has for us. Including people we don’t like…even people who have hurt our feelings and wronged us…even our enemies.
As a Christian, I want to follow this instruction. As a human being, I find it virtually impossible. But God has no limitations, and if He commanded it, there is a way to do as we’re instructed.
But first, we have to agree there’s a difference between like and love. Most of us, as we grow older and mature, recognize this. But just so we’re all on the same page—like is to find something or someone pleasant and enjoyable. Love is a deep feeling of affection for another person; deep admiration; devotion. And the fourth definition, straight from Merriam-Webster, is the one we’ll focus on: Unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: such as the fatherly concern of God for humankind or brotherly concern for others.
That’s a hefty obligation, and none of us are capable of doing this under our own steam. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” God paved the way for showing us how to love when Jesus, God in human form, came to earth to live as one of us. He slept, He ate, He played games with His brothers and sisters and did chores for His mother. He was a child and He grew into a man. He experienced the full spectrum of humanity except for sin. Yet, His sole purpose behind coming to earth was to demonstrate the great lengths God was willing to go to reconcile mankind back to Him. Our sins had created the chasm that separated us from God, and Jesus came to bridge the gap by dying for us. To be the perfect, flawless sacrificial lamb that would accept the punishment of sins committed by everyone who lived before Him, during His lifetime, and for you and me, 2000 years later.
Now—imagine you had to die for someone. Most likely, you’d be willing to do so for someone you love and most likely, you’d do it without hesitation. There are countless stories of parents who have stepped in front of oncoming cars to save their child. Husbands have put themselves in harm’s way to protect their wives. On occasion, you hear of a stranger’s selfless act of heroism for a stranger, but more often than not, when people die for someone else, they die in the act of love.
That’s precisely what Jesus did. He died for us in the act of love.
And when we embrace that truth, how can we NOT love others? Even those we don’t like very much!
If God loves me enough to let His Son die for me, who am I to pick and choose which of my fellow human beings are worthy of being loved, too? Loving them means honoring that they are a soul whom Jesus died to save (whether they choose to accept that gift or not is a different matter). Loving them means understanding that their sinfulness, while different from mine, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want them for His kingdom. Loving them means knowing the truth of 2 Peter 3:9, which says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
When it comes to loving others the way I’m commanded to do, I am a failure. I am an imperfect person. However, I am perfectly loved by my Creator, God the Father…perfectly loved by my Redeemer, Jesus Christ… and perfectly loved by the Holy Spirit, who lives within me. While it’s impossible for ME to love everyone with the same kind of all-consuming, unconditional love that God has for us, Jesus made it possible. When I allow the Holy Spirit to sit in the driver’s seat of my life, I’m able to love the way Jesus commanded us to love.