God calls Christians to love one another. Half of Jesus’ summary of the law was to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22.39). While we know this truth like the back of our hand we also know the difficulty of doing it.
Why is it so hard? It is hard because sin complicates things. My sin makes me unloving and unlovely and others’ sin makes them unloving and unlovely.
So what do we do?
One thing we could do is not just run past familiar verses that tell us to love. Instead we should walk slowly through this garden of revelation and smell the flowers of grace, even amid the commands to do.
Take for example 1 John 4.11
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
John is talking about a particular way in which God has expressed his love (quality vs quantity here). What is the quality of this divine love? Head back a verse to 1 John 4.10:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
In other words the model and motivation for our love to others is love of God in the gospel. Some might say, “I know, love like I’ve been loved. I know that.” Do you? Do you know that? Do you really know that?
Let me give you three questions to ask when it is difficult to love others:
- Who am I? When it is difficult to love, ask yourself who you are. The answer is, according to Romans 5.6-11, God set his love on a helpless, weak, sinning, enemy. Apart from the regenerating love of God you are a soldier in the infantry of Satan marching according to his commands and doing his bidding (Eph. 2.1-3). But you are not that guy. If you are in Christ then you are loved. So answer the question. Who am I? I am a sinner who has been loved in spite of my sin and brokenness. I am loved by God. I have been shown grace.
- Who are they? Look at them. You are supposed to love them but they are difficult. Well, if you have just answered question 1 from the posture of the gospel suddenly they look a lot like you. If they are a Christian they have the same family tree. Descendent of wrath (Eph. 2.3) who has been adopted in grace to be a child of God (Col. 1.13-14; Gal. 4.4-6; 1 John 3.1-3). They are just like you. Can’t you love one like you with the grace that has been shown you? If they are a non-Christian, what do you expect? Do you think an unregenerate person is going to reflect the loveliness of Jesus? Of course not. Love them out of the grace that you received. When you answer question one right then you can love even the unlovely.
- What does the gospel bid me to do? The summary is 1 John 4.19 “We love because he first loved us.” That is it. The gospel of love bids Christians to love. Remember that this is different than liking them. Loving gets to the core of the person and is intellectual rather than just natural. The gospel bids us to love because we have been loved.
Loving is hard. The gospel does not make it easy but it makes it possible. Therefore, work down through your gospel progressions answering these questions in order to find the model and motivation for love.