Although I am currently taking a social media break, I popped onto Instagram about a month ago, for food inspiration or boredom or some other forgotten reason, and it just so happened that it was World Day Against Trafficking In Persons. Two stories in and I’m wrecked, heart broken over the things that happen to children, and in utter horror at what humans are capable of.
I prayed for the victims, prayed for my own children, and the thought came to mind that I should pray for the perpetrators. My response to that was a vehement NO. At first. They deserve whatever judgment is coming to them, on this earth and the next. I balked, even though it was clear God was doing the asking. I just didn’t want to pray for them.
And with that, it has become increasingly clear that I don’t love like God loves. In fact, the gap is much wider for this experience, as it always has been, but I can see it now, where before I had some notion of being a loving person, being kind to my children and husband, serving others, giving $5 to the homeless person with the sign and feeling pity for a whole two minutes before moving on.
And in that, I’m not much different than the world, who loves those who love them, who appreciate them, who say “thank you very much.” And the world smiles smug, getting something in return for its love always, feeling proud of the giving all the same. But God calls us to love differently, because his love is different, and it is the real thing.
Matthew 5:43-48 is a reflection of that love. It reads, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
He actually means for us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and abuse us, to give to them, to bless them. It is required. There’s a reason the parable about demonstrating love to our neighbor was a good Samaritan and not a Jew. Jesus was serious about showing compassion to the people you might traditionally have a problem with. And this is the mark of a Christian, someone whose love is otherworldly and almost alien in its refusal to except those who don’t deserve it. And neither do we, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Our savior shows us the way.
In his book Absolute Surrender, Andrew Murray says a startling thing, “You can deceive yourself with beautiful thoughts about loving God. You must prove your love to God by your love to your (unlovable) brother; that is the one standard by which God will judge your love to him.” I do not excel in this type of love, even today rolling my eyes and sighing dramatically at a woman who pulled out in front of me at a roundabout. I am presently (and painfully) aware of how unloving and uncharitable towards others I can be.
I am also hopeful. Revealed sin in the life of a Christian leads to repentance which leads to real change at the heart level. As believers, we have been given the Holy Spirit and the “fruit of the spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22). He will help us where we lack love, and we have only to ask and to believe.
There’s a man I know who is actively pursuing relationship with a neighbor who doesn’t like black people. This man is black, but he’s first and foremost a Christ-follower. He asked God for opportunity to show love to this man who didn’t like him (initially), and little by little he’s built relationship. When he talks about this neighbor, there’s real affection in his voice. He’s sensitive about how the man turned out that way, and he was mature enough to point out that’s not all of who he is.
The church desperately needs this, men and women who are willing to look the unlovable in the face and see the image of God, to bless and to preach the good news, that just like us (Ninevites to the core), they can experience the love of God, a God we cannot see but for the people he places around us.