“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” I John 4:7-12
I want to be a better lover of people. I want to be someone who can love everyone. Whether I like them or not. Whether or not they choose to believe what I believe or not. Whether they love Jesus or not. I want to be that way because God is that way. There are many people in the world who spurn, speak against, and even loathe God. But He loves them anyway. He believes in them anyway. He gives them choice and the free will to hate Him. Even though He is love and loves everyone, He allows people to choose what they believe and how they will live.
I don’t know exactly what that looks like or how to do it, but I want to be better at loving people.
I want to be better at loving people because the human race is starving for real love. We look for love everywhere. We search at school, work, bars and even online. We stay in horrible relationships because some “love” is better than none. We accept these cheap imitations because we are afraid we’ll never have the real thing. We choose to withhold love like a bargaining chip in a battle for control.
Love is not a bargaining chip. Love is not a feeling. Love is not lust. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy. Love does not boast. Love is not proud. Love is not rude. Love is not self-seeking. Love is not easily angered. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil. Love rejoices with the truth. Love always protects. Love always trusts. Love always hopes. Love always perseveres. Love never fails. Love doesn’t coddle. Love doesn’t control. Love doesn’t demand. Love respects. Love encourages. Love covers.
God is love. He is the origin of love. He cannot help but love. It is who He is. Everything He does comes from a love motivation. That is why we have free will and the right to choose. Simply because He loves us enough not to control us.
I will admit that I have been somewhat terrified to love people right where they are because I don’t want to condone sin. If that isn’t being a religious Pharisee I don’t know what is. But hey it’s the truth. I was afraid. I always wanted to be on the right side of the line so I didn’t go down with the ship. I don’t want to be lumped in with all the people who chose to spurn God.
But slowly I came to the understanding that I am useless to people if I don’t love them right where they are. That’s what I Corinthians 13 means. I can do everything right but if I don’t choose to love people then I am nothing more than a crashing cymbal, making a whole lot of useless racket. I want to be better at loving people. I want to love people like Jesus did.
How did Jesus love people? Radically! He spent most of his time with people who could never give Him anything in return. Lepers. The poor. Samaritans. Prostitutes. Tax collectors. Drunks. You get the point. Jesus went to the Temple and did his part there. But most of his time was outside the walls of the temple. He was killed because He loved people radically. His love was confrontational to those who were religious and those with agendas. But Jesus loved anyway.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were unwilling to receive Jesus’s love and offer of relationship. They clung to the black and white laws because it was safe. You knew exactly what you could and could not do. I can totally relate to this. It seems easier to put yourself in a box. It mitigates risk of contamination from the sinners. I did it for a time. Got exhausted. Gave up and went 100% in the opposite direction. Did I know it was wrong. Yes. Did I care? Not really no.
I’ve asked myself why I just quit, even though I knew the truth. And after a really long time, I realize there were several answers to that question. One is that I was miserable and everyone else seemed to be having way more fun than me. Another is that it is very stressful to try to be perfect and stay in that box every second of every day. But the underlying reason is I didn’t believe I was worthy of love, especially not from God, because I believed I had to earn it. But guess what? I am not flawless nor can I be flawless every second of every day. So I decided to just do whatever I felt like doing, because it was way too hard to be perfect.
When I came back to God, I did so with a whole lot of condemnation. Not from the people at church, but from myself. I prayed that I could work off all the wrong that I did. My whole mindset was about working and earning and fixing. So I did everything I thought I was supposed to. I went to church every time the doors were open. I took classes. I got baptized. I got Spirit filled. I prayed in tongues. But I had no peace, no joy, and I felt worthless. I kept tripping and making messes. I hurt people.
I went to church on and off from the time I was about 5 or maybe 6 years old. I received Jesus as my savior when I was 16 years old. I walked away at 17. I came back at 25. In all that time I memorized verses about love. I knew “Jesus loved me.” But there’s a difference between “knowing something” and really understanding what it means. When I was 36 and a half years old, I finally understood that Jesus loved me. Not just the little kid’s song kinda love. But unconditionally loved me. It wrecked me. I was a pile of mush when I really saw that He was there loving me and believing in me when I was drinking myself numb and sleeping around. He was loving and believing in me every day for my whole life.
I have grown and changed more in the last 3 years than I did in the previous 36. Why? Love. Love changes everything, even broken angry women with a fierce attitude who don’t need anyone’s help.
Love changes everything. And that is why I want to be a better lover of people. We all know what’s wrong with us and how screwed up we are. Let’s love ourselves and each other anyway.
“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.” I John 4:18-19