I was asked this question not long ago and felt it was a good question to be able to answer because in my life I want to be able to recognize God in me, loving others.
In recent months I have begun to realize that loving as Jesus calls us to love is not only painful but can be sacrificial. This is especially true when you love others and they do not love you back.
Jesus experienced this when He drew near to Jerusalem. In Luke 19:41 we see He wept for the city and the people within knowing fully they were going to accuse, reject, and crucify Him. He was foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and was weeping for the city and its inhabitants. Despite what they were going to do to Him, He was grieving over their suffering and blindness to His truth and salvation He was offering them.
Then again on the cross in Luke 23:34 as they were gambling for his clothes He asked His Father to forgive them because they did not understand what they were doing.
Hal Seed and Dan Grider authored The God Questions, they wrote, “In the New Testament, there is a passage called the Shema. It is designed to prompt us to adjust our attitude toward Christ and others. It instructs us to ‘Love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.'”1 They go on to say, “God is most interested in developing our character and relationships because, in doing so, His purpose is fulfilled. As a result, there will be evidence of His work in our life. We call this evidence the fruit of the Spirit. These are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”2 When we apply these to our relationships we are expressing God’s character and His atoning love for us.
Children certainly have a hard time understanding this kind of sacrificial love, even many adults can’t grasp this because they have not been deeply hurt or wounded by someone they love.
I read a short story once that demonstrated a child’s lack of understanding concerning love. A five-year-old girl who played with her dolls daily once said to her mother, “Mommie I hug them, squeeze them, dress them, and love them every day, but they never love me back!” How true this is for so many of us, even Christians who are loved by God, but we never love Him back. Or we never love others as He asks us to.
In John 21:17 Jesus kept asking Peter if he loves Him. Each time He said for Peter to ‘Feed my sheep.’ Peter had failed, but in this exchange, Christ was restoring Peter and giving him a responsibility, an important obligation, a task was laid before him. Jesus was not finished with Peter, he was given an important assignment, to feed His sheep. Jesus was asking Peter to care for those he loved.
A few verses later Peter inquired about John and Jesus made it quite clear John was not of Peter’s concern. Peter had only to love Jesus, and love those that were His sheep. John 21:22-23 How Peter was loved back was not a contingency Jesus was concerned with. Luke 10:27 makes it crystal clear what Jesus calls us to do.
How many of you have heard of the U.S.S. Pueblo? It was an American intelligence ship captured by the North Koreans in 1968. The sailors were beaten and tortured for 11 months before their release.
One incident reported after their release took place with 13 of the 83 captives. The 13 were forced to sit in a rigid position for hours around a table. Suddenly the North Koren guards rushed in and beat the man in the first chair with their rifles. The next day the same 13 were to sit at the table in their assigned seats. Again after several hours the guards rushed in again and beat the man in the first chair who still had not recovered from his first terrible beating. The thrashing was repeated on the third day. On the fourth day, one of the men took the place of the man in the first chair who would not survive another beating. Sure enough, after a few hours the guards rushed in and beat the man in chair number one who sacrificed himself for his friend. This went on for weeks with each of the 13 men choosing to sit in chair number one to receive a beating.
These men were sacrificing each other for the well-being of their brothers, their friends. The bond became unbreakable as their love for each other became unshakable. Finally, the North Koreans gave up because they could not break this group.
Climb every mountain
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
Til you find your dream.
Those words familiar to you? Maria sang them in the Sound of Music.3
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
How about those? Elsa in the Disney movie Frozen sang those words.4
You can’t do much for those around you if you consider yourself unworthy, weak, pathetic, and unloved. The world, in so many words, points to a supposed healthy narcissism that encourages us to seek our own dreams, there is no right or wrong and we are free to express ourselves as we see fit. Self-expression is the unalienable right and it supersedes the Christ like expression we are commanded to obey. 1 Corinthians 11:1.
What are these characters expressing that is the heart beat of our modern society? To be free, to be happy, to be content and satisfied with our lives, we need to reach inside and find what makes us happy within ourselves. I wonder how many men of the 13 sailors on the U.S.S. Pueblo would have traded seats with that kind of self-centered mind set?
Tim Keller wrote in his book Making Sense of God, “Rather than connecting with ‘some source outside us’ with family and people, with God or some other cosmic Good…now the source we have to connect with is deep within us… We come to think of ourselves as beings with inner depths. I find myself not by self-giving to something outside but through self-expression of something inside.”5
With that kind of thinking Jesus would have asked Peter three times if he loved himself, and care for himself before others.
It is important to realize we are all made in God’s image and because of that, we all have an inherent value and worth that Jesus was willing to sacrifice Himself for.
Finally Keller wrote, “In the end, we can’t say to ourselves, ‘I don’t care that literally everyone else in the world thinks I’m a monster. I love myself and that is all that matters.’ That would not convince us of our worth unless we are mentally unsound. We need someone from outside to say we are of great worth, and the greater the worth of that someone…, the more power they have to instill a sense of self and worth. [within us]”6
A blogger I know wrote concerning a family friction, “As I was mulling this conflict over the other day, I was thinking that people do hurtful things because they don’t understand the love of God. And God spoke to my heart in that moment, telling me not to add to their ignorance by failing to show his love to them.
So, that’s what I’m going to do when someone I love devastates me. I am going to use everything I have learned and experienced about my self and my God to love them without condition and without restraint.”7
Anthony Flew was an atheist most of his life, but in his final years, he came to believe in God. In his book, There Is A God he talked about how the first century Jews viewed the Old Testament and the five ways their culture viewed Him in their ancient texts.
They talked about the Word of God, the Wisdom of God, the Glory of God (the Temple), the Laws of God and finally the Spirit of God. All of these can be found throughout the Old Testament, Psalm’s, Proverbs, Judges, Genesis, etc. Then comes the Gospels. Flew wrote, “Now when we come to the Gospels, with those five ways of speaking in our heads, we discover Jesus behaving-not just talking, but behaving-as if somehow those five ways are coming true in a new manner in what he is doing.”8
What the first century Jews found most egregious was Christ acting as if He was the Temple. Flew wrote, “Jesus behaves as if he is the Temple in person. When He says, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ that is a real shock, because forgiveness of sins is normally declared when you go to the Temple and offer sacrifice.”9 Here is Jesus offering it on the street, in homes, and over meals. He was behaving as if He was God.
Some of us love to paint or make birthday cards; others would rather climb a mountain or go fishing. These hobbies or behaviors express God’s outward external design gifted to us. Not for the purpose of our self-expression or gratification, though satisfaction is a natural outcome when we express our gifted designs by God. Neither is it for our own edification to be free to chase our dreams, but rather to share with those we are in a relationship with, to love them as He has called us to. Ephesians 5:1-2
I am a long way from having this all figured out, but having hurt those I love the most it has become evident to me what I am called to do. Obedience to what He calls us to do. I want to love as Jesus loved.
…you do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but have lost love because you never attempted obedience. C.S. Lewis
1. Seed, Hal. Grider, Dan. “What Does Loving God and Loving People Look Like?” The God Questions Outreach Inc. 2009, pp. 225-227
3. Keller, Timothy. “The Problem of Self.” Making Sense of God Viking, 2016, pp. 120-121
4. Keller, Timothy. “The Problem of Self.” Making Sense of God Viking, 2016, pp. 125
7. Havlick, Heath. “Loving People Who Devastate You.” The Uncovery Discovery Blog, 10 Aug. 2017, www.uncoverydiscovery.com/2017/08/10/loving-people-who-devastate-you/
8. Flew, Anthony. “Appendix B.” There is A God Harper One, 2007, pp. 188-191
What does it mean to love as God does? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.