Choosing to love has always been one of the most important challenges for God’s people.
Throughout my teen years, I served in many different ways and grew in faith at the little church where I had been saved. It was located in Humboldt Park, the gang-infested neighborhood in Chicago where I lived. Despite the efforts of the church to make a difference in that area, Humboldt Park remained crime-ridden, and the church often experienced break-ins and vandalism. Thieves stole music equipment, and gang members threw rocks through windows. The church replaced the broken glass a few times, but eventually the elders decided to brick in the windows. The church already had a fence but erected a strong gate to keep people out and prevent theft. Looking back, I’d have to say that the gate was motivated by fear and self-protection, not love.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the Pharisees, had a similar motive for shutting out Jesus. They failed to experience his love because they were afraid of losing their high position and the power that came with it. Can you identify? You may not fear risking the same things, but do you withhold your love for other reasons?
Am I more like Jesus, who never withheld his love from anyone; or more like the Pharisees, who chose to protect themselves and their status rather than loving—Jesus and others—with abandon?
Do people who are far from God feel loved and comfortable in my presence?
Do I go to places where I know lost people are so I can share God’s love with them, or do I avoid those places and those people because I consider them unacceptable?
Do people know that even if I don’t agree with them politically or affirm their lifestyle that I love them anyway?
Maybe I should clarify what I mean by “love.” We can define and describe love in many different ways. For our purposes, I want to focus on two types of love: “because of” love and “in spite of” love.
The vast majority of the love we offer to others is conditional. We love someone because. Perhaps the person has some admirable traits, makes us feel good, or enhances our reputation in some way. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a popular song about love that didn’t focus on this kind of affection.
The other kind of love is the exact opposite. We love someone in spite of. We are not put off by his or her flaws or by how that person makes us feel. We love even when our relationship with that person causes others to question our sanity and even tarnish our reputation. That’s the kind of genuine love Jesus had (and has) both for those who are blatant sinners and for the better-than-you, nose-in-the-air church people.
Because-of love produces comparison, worry and fear because this type of love can easily be lost. But in-spite-of love isn’t shaken by disagreements, flaws and struggles. This is the sacrificial love that puts a lump in your throat when you hear about soldiers who suffer and die for each other. This is the it’s-about-you-and-not-about-me kind of love you display when you take time to listen to people who hold convictions and practice lifestyles that are different from yours.
This kind of love is stunning because it’s seldom seen these days, but when it’s real, it’s contagious. In-spite-of love breaks through defenses and destroys walls that divide us. It’s costly. It requires time and humility. At least for a while, it’s very uncomfortable, but it’s worth it. Genuine love pulls you toward people you used to avoid, and it pushes you beyond your previous boundaries. Love like this asks more from you than you’ve ever given. It’s inconvenient, and it’s not safe.
In-spite-of love is beautiful, and it changes lives—yours and others’. All of us have individuals and classes of people we may tolerate but we don’t truly love. And if we’re honest, we have to admit we genuinely despise certain people. Love is the answer, but only if we admit our resistance, fill the holes in our hearts with God’s in-spite-of love, and choose to love them anyway.
Choosing to love has always been one of the most important challenges for God’s people. It’s easy to see the world through the lens of what will give you the most pleasure, prestige or power, but Jesus asks you to see people and situations through his lens of faith, hope and love.
When you do that, your passions will be redirected, your purpose will be refined, and you’ll see God use you in ways you never imagined. Isn’t that what you really want?
This article originally appeared on Thinke.org and is reposted here by permission.