Do you have any friends that simply make your life more interesting?
I do. His name is Rob. We worked together for a decade. Rob would often come into my office and say the following words “So, I have this idea…” Rob’s ideas were often outside-the-box, expensive, and compelling. Sometimes, we pulled them off, and at other times, they morphed into something else entirely.
Rob and I served in a church. I’ll never forget the time one of his ideas was to have our friend, who was preaching on spiritual warfare, get tased as part of the sermon. I was surprised when our friend let us videotape him being tased, and when he walked on stage to begin that message, he had everyone’s attention in the room.
A few years later, Rob finally wore me down, and I gave in to one of his wild ideas. I wasn’t injured in the process, but I was certainly humbled. While preparing to teach a series of messages on courageous warriors in the Old Testament, Rob convinced me to go through ninja warrior training and have our team film the process.
At the time, American Ninja Warrior was one of the highest-rated shows on network television. My hour and a half with a ninja trainer both humbled me and increased my respect for the contestants on that show. Those obstacles demand real strength and incredible skill to scale. I never thought the TV contest was easy, but I had no comprehension of just how hard that was until I got a taste of it.
I have made a very similar change when it comes to the idea of loving people.
I Was Wrong About Love
There was a period in my life when I would read a devotional, hear a sermon, or encounter some teaching on loving others and feel like it was a soft message or something somewhat shallow.
I was wrong.
Love is not a shallow topic or soft skill. Loving others is the deepest thing we can talk about and the hardest thing we will ever do. To love someone else in the midst of their sin and your own brokenness is a sign of real strength.
The recently-deceased apologist, Ravi Zacharias, once said, “Love is hard work. It is the hardest work I know of, work from which you are never entitled to take a vacation.”
As overly familiar as we are with the “Great Commandment,” I think we should consider retitling it to “The Hard Commandment.” Loving God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving my neighbor as I love myself are the hardest things I’ve ever attempted.
If you have struggled at any point to love your neighbor this year (and if you haven't, we should nominate you for sainthood or strap you to a polygraph and check your truthfulness), then you're not alone.
We should not be surprised that loving others is tremendously difficult because we saw how hard it must have been for Jesus.
Consider how Jesus loved others:
Jesus loved those who had betrayed him. He loved Judas - who betrayed his trust in his final hours. Yet, he loved him so much that in John 13:1-10, we read that he washed their feet - an act of humble service.
Jesus loved those who rejected him. In Luke 19:41-44 here, Jesus speaks to Jerusalem about his desire to save them and their intent to reject him. But before he speaks, we read, “But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep.” He wept over those he knew would reject him.
Jesus loved those who abandoned him. In Luke 22:60-62, Peter abandoned Jesus at his time of greatest need. I cannot imagine the sense of pain Jesus felt when he literally watched Peter say he never knew him. Yet, after his resurrection, Jesus tenderly cared for and loved Peter back into the fold.
Jesus loved those who doubted him. In John 20:24-29, Thomas didn’t trust the word of his fellow apostles; he had to see Jesus in order to believe the news for himself. Jesus loved Thomas enough to invite him to touch the physical signs of his death, never condemning his for his doubts.
Jesus loved those who failed him. In his final hours of prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, recorded in Matthew 26, Jesus invited his three closest friends - James, John, and Peter - to pray with him because he was overwhelmed. They accepted the invitation but failed to honor his request by falling asleep three separate times. He didn’t throw them out - he restored Peter, and he entrusted his mother’s care to John.
Loving people wasn’t easy for Jesus, and it’s certainly not easy for us now. But Jesus told us that his example is our expectation. In John 15:12, he told the apostles, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.”
If we’re going to love each other within the body of Christ and those who do not share our faith, we’re going to have to change the way we look at love.
Expect love to cost you. Loving others is the costliest of actions. In John 15:13, Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Make love your standard of success. Because love is the standard! Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”
Trust that love can still transform people. Because after all, it transformed you. It was God’s kindness that led us to salvation. In Romans 2:4, the Apostle Paul testified to this, saying, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you?…Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”
The next time someone tells you that loving people is soft, remind them that we follow someone whose love included the cross. There’s nothing soft about the cross. There’s nothing soft about love.