If you were about to die, what’s the last thing you would pray for?
Your family? Your friends? Your future destination? More time? A pain-free transition from this life?
While I wonder how we would answer that question when that moment comes, we don’t have to wonder about how Jesus answered that question. The last recorded time of extended prayer by Jesus before he went to the cross is found in John 17.
What did Jesus pray for?
He prayed that his followers (both in that moment and the future) would be one, just as he and the Father were one. Jesus prayed for our unity—our ability to love one another in ways that would bring union between us. Because when we are united as one, the Son would be lifted and easier to see.
In John 17:23, Jesus said, “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” His final prayer echoed words he’d spoken earlier that evening over a meal with his disciples, recorded in John 15. “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Jesus prayed for our unity, the product of our love for each other, because He knew just how difficult this would be for us.
Two thousand years later, we know that difficulty all too well. We’re watching people who sang the same worship song on Sunday morning tear each other apart in Facebook arguments over masks, politics, and protests. Churches are being torn apart by conflicting political allegiances and opinions on conspiracy theories.
In a moment like this, how do we love each other through it? We must be filled with Christ’s love for us because we cannot give away what we have not received.
Also, we need to consider loving others in intentional ways. I would encourage you to consider loving others based on three things.
1. Love others based on Jesus’ view.
No one offers us a better model for loving others than Jesus. His view is so much better than our own. Consider how the Apostle Paul described the shift from loving others from a human point of view versus Jesus’ view.
“So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
What if we chose to love people through Jesus’ view? We would refuse to see people through a worldly point of view. People are not purely their race, their politics, or their worst moment. If we loved people through Jesus’ view, we would see each person as someone made in God’s image, formed by God himself, someone for whom Jesus died, and someone who will one day live eternally somewhere. And that somewhere could be influenced by how I love you.
2. Love others based on compassion.
When we get tired, people become harder for us to love. When we’re exhausted, we tend to treat people with contempt, not compassion.
Yet, Jesus loved people even when he was exhausted. In Matthew 13 and 14, we see Jesus teach extensively. He lays out a number of his most famous parables, only to learn soon after that about his cousin, John the Baptist’s beheading. He tries to get away by boat, but the people follow him. Seeing the crowd surging towards him again, Mathew 14:14 records these words, “and he had compassion on them.”
It has been said that everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle that we know nothing about. I believe those words have never been truer than they are in 2020.
What if we saw other people, replied to them on Facebook, and loved them through that compassionate lens? What might change? How might they change? How might you change?
3. Love others based on eternal view.
We tend to love others based upon a very immediate view. We ask questions like, “what have you done for me lately?” or “what have you done to me lately?” We view our friends based upon their best moments and our enemies through their worst moments.
But what if we view others - and even loved them - based upon a moment that is far beyond this life? What if we loved them based upon a moment in eternity? This kind of view was suggested by C.S. Lewis in his famous book, The Weight of Glory.
Lewis wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
Every person you have ever met will one day be an everlasting splendor in the presence of God or an immortal horror separated from God’s presence. Yet, few of us see people through that kind of view. Fewer still love people in light of that potential future.
But if we did love people that way, how might Jesus leverage our love to shape their eternal future?
The Story We Never Hear
As a pastor, I’ve been privileged to hear many testimonies from people of a variety of ages and races and backgrounds. The stories of transformation remind me that Jesus works in so many ways to help people find their way to saving faith.
Yet, there is a story I’ve never heard. Scott Sauls sums it up well. He wrote, “No one ever came to Jesus because a Christian scolded them.” Every person’s testimony included someone who loved them enough to share their faith and show up in their life, loving them through their questions and hang-ups, all the way to an incredible homecoming with Jesus.
Someone loved you and me to Jesus, and we owe everyone we meet the same gift.