Part 1 of 2
Much of society’s perception that Christians are not loving derives from how we interact with those who do not love us. Jesus foretells in John 15 that the “world” will always hate Christians because we do not belong to the world. However, He instructs Christians in the Sermon on the Mount to “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” Nothing is more countercultural than Jesus’ command to love those who hate you. That kind of love does not come naturally (in the flesh). It can only come through the Holy Spirit.
If your response to the first paragraph is that “no one hates me”, there may be a problem. Jesus promised that wordly people will hate Christians. A person with no enemies has to question whether they have become too worldly (i.e. “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.”) It may be time to live and love more radically for Christ. Although many will be won to Christ by an other-worldly love for haters, others will hate you for acting so out of step with accepted norms.
However, I’m not sure it is our radical love that is generating the animosity seen toward Christians today. Hollywood mocks Christians, cable news outlets vilify Christian values, and public school students declaring faith in Christ risk social ostracization – the modern equivalent of “coming out of the closet”. I contend that the campaign against Christianity in worldly circles emanates not from our overdose of love for those who hate us, but from our lack of demonstrable love for them.
Step 1 – Loving WHO We Don’t See
To understand whether our love extends to those who hate us, we need to look first at how our love reaches outside our immediate family and friends. Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” Family obligations and church activities leave many Christians spending nearly all our (non-working) time with those already going to heaven. Our greatest act of love for a non-believer is leading them to Christ, yet a very small percentage of Christians have shared their faith with someone in the past month. Jesus healed and fed non-believers wherever He went, yet few Christians have served at a local ministry since the Christmas season – and churches allocate less than 1% of their annual budgets to local missions. While Christians in America worship freely in the U.S., less than ½ of 1% of Christian giving goes toward our persecuted brothers and sisters overseas.
No, the vast majority of churchgoers do not model love for the Unseen – those they rarely encounter like the lost in our community, the poor in our city, and the persecuted far away. It’s human nature to love conditionally – those we see most often. However, it is our God-given mandate to love our “neighbor”, who Jesus depicted as a complete stranger. And not just a stranger but a messy, bleeding victim of a violent crime. The person Jesus portrayed as the definition of “neighborly” was not who we are accustomed to loving – our pastor and fellow church members – but a hated enemy (of the Jews at that time, a Samaritan). It’s roughly comparable to a pastor or a church elder walking past a disheveled, starving mother and child – only minutes later to see an atheist (or Selfist) stop to help.
If most Christians do not appear to love the destitute and hopeless, how could society believe that we love those who dislike us? Moreover, how can we convince the atheist that Jesus loves them if they watched so many of us ignore the plight of the desperate mother and her child? Loving those who hate us begins with demonstrating our love for those outside our homes and congregations. In other words, we must master the art of loving in ways that a non-believer would expect (of those in need of help and hope) before graduating to a radical love (of those who hate Christians) that would “shock and awe”.
Step 2 – Loving WHAT We Don’t See
Lacking evidence that Christians truly love those outside our family and like-minded friends, secular society presumes we hate those who hate us when we speak out against those with whom we disagree. When we give our Christ-centered views on social issues, are we giving them in a Christ-centered way? In other words, do we feel a genuine love for those who believe in gay marriage, abortion, and restricting our freedom to express religious convictions? Non-believers are not convinced love is the motivating factor behind our words. I’m not convinced either. Society hears evangelism without compassion, judgement without confession (which equates to hypocrisy), and opinions without earning the right to speak them (with love as a precursor). Non-Christians will not sense our love for them unless we truly love them. But how can we love those who hate us?
That answer begins again with loving what is Unseen – but in this case I’m referring to an aspect of our “enemies” that we do not see. When we watch a cable news program or read an article in publications that we know stand against all we stand for, what do we think about the speaker or author? Many watch the talking head on our TV screen or picture the writer of the words and their blood boils at their audacity to offend our Father and lead so many astray. Yet what we don’t see is what is most important – their souls. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
Their souls are eternal, darkened, lost and controlled by Satan. Only when we look past the appearance, words and actions of someone who hates us can we begin to love them. We must look deeper within, at their souls made in God’s image that longs for Him but is prevented from reconnecting with the Lord. Their souls are empty, devoid of hope. True love is not judging based on what we see, but bringing hope to what we cannot see – their souls. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15)
The question for each of us is – do we love their souls or judge their flesh? Their flesh is outward – the combination of their sin (in words and actions) and their appearance (physical). Their souls are inward – a battle for possession by either the Holy Spirit or demons. Satan attacks the soul attempting to wrestle away control through affecting the external – the individual’s circumstances. We will always find it difficult to love those who don’t love us if all we see is the external (flesh and blood), but the mandate to love our “neighbor” becomes much easier to obey when we see our kinship with others as eternal souls seeking reconciliation and redemption through Christ.
To the world, loving the Unseen – who and what we cannot see – is radical. It’s Jesus’ type of love – a love possible only through seeing individuals as Christ sees them. Jesus spoke dignity into people’s lives. The crowds wanted to follow Jesus because He treated the ostracized tax collector, impoverished fishermen, outcast prostitutes, and untouchable lepers with dignity. He saw their value as souls craving to be reunited with the Father, not as those who had value only in fleshly mind and body.
The Agape love Christ modeled is unconditional, unable to be affected by how well we know someone, how often we see them, what they believe, or anything they do or say. Agape love, for every person’s soul, allows us to demonstrate compassion to disheveled strangers, evangelism to the lost, generosity to the persecuted, and prayer for those who persecute us in much greater proportion than Christians do today. Likewise, it eliminates our anger toward those who hate us and rekindles our sense of responsibility and urgency to lead their souls back to Christ.
It’s Your Turn…
Do you love those you disagree with or those who hate Christians? Are you demonstrating that love to them in ways that they find shockingly countercultural?