“But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I was up early this morning composing today’s entry in my head before my fingers could hit the screen. I had a good intro and several profound points to make. It was going to be really good too. We were going to talk about one of my favorite things Jesus said on loving one another. I’d been planning on this day all week long. Then I got up and opened the Scriptures to read a bit before I wrote and the Spirit messed all of that up. Here’s what He wanted me to talk about instead.
Jesus said a number of challenging things. He said some things that took the ways people had always thought about living out a right relationship with God and turned them over on their heads. Over and over again He took the standard script for how we were to get along with the people around us and ran it through an industrial shredder. There weren’t many times, though, that He did it quite as thoroughly as He did here.
Jesus said that the real test of our love is how well we direct it toward those people we like the least. Loving people who we like is easy. We are naturally inclined to see them become the best version of themselves. Now, we might have a love that is fundamentally selfish and is geared toward making them what we believe to be the best version of themselves (which, as a matter of definitions, means we are not actually loving them in a biblical sense), but the sentiment is the same. And it’s easy.
It’s even easy to love people who are simply like us. Not quite as easy, no, but close. They are like us and so our good lies in the same basic direction. We are already going that way ourselves, so taking them along with us does not add much to our burden.
But when it comes to people who are not like us or who we do not even really like, love is usually the furthest thing from our minds. It has always been much more natural for us to hate them. This entirely natural tendency that has always been a part of how human societies have operated is exactly the thing Jesus had in mind when He called His followers to do precisely the opposite.
Jesus said we are to love those who are least like us. We are to actively seek the good of those we like the least. We are to be all in for the advancement toward God’s kingdom of our enemies. We are to do this expecting nothing in return—and this makes sense too; after all, what are our enemies going to do for us in response to our kind efforts toward them? As far as they are concerned, we are their enemies.
This thing goes against all we would normally do, given the choice, but it is nonetheless at the heart of Jesus’ command to love like He does. Why? It’s just as I said: this is how Jesus loves us.
Imagine for a minute that God was harsh and unkind in response to those who didn’t love Him. Would any of us survive such a thing? Have you loved God perfectly every day of your life? Have there ever been times when you’ve not been one of His biggest fans? Have you ever outright hated Him by your behavior or even your attitude? What if He responded in kind? Thanks be to…well…Him that He doesn’t.
Actually, it’s better than that. He didn’t just refuse to respond in kind. Instead, when we were His enemies, He sent His Son to give us life. This is why Christmas is a celebration of God’s love more than anything else. It is a reminder that His love for us was—and is—bigger than we could possibly imagine.
The best way to prepare for Him, then, is to pay His love forward to the enemies in our own life. Who are the people you are most primed to hate? Who are the ones you count as your enemies? Where do you struggle to love? These are precisely the things and situations where love is most required of you and me. How can you take some intentional steps to see those people in those circumstances moved in the direction of Jesus. That’s what God did for you in Christ. That’s what Christmas is all about.