2020 has been quite the year and we are only half-way through it. We are certainly in chaotic times right now. For believers, the turmoil that surrounds us should lead us to more fully understand that we live in a fallen world. Sin has corrupted every single thing in this world. We can see that in full display right now through diseases, murder, hatred, violence, and fighting. However, in the midst of the chaos while tensions run high, Christians are called to love. As we seek to display the love of our Heavenly Father in this broken world, it’s important to recognize exactly who God commands us to love.
Love Those in Christ
For most of us, we easily recognize that we should love other believers. There are plenty of verses in scripture that tell us we are to be unified in Christ. In order for the body of Christ to truly be unified, we must have love for one another. In John 13:35, Christ said to his disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This verse has always jumped out at me. Our love for each other not only brings unity within the church. It also displays to those outside of the church that we belong to Christ.
Even though it’s easy for us to know we should love the body of Christ in our heads, I often wonder if we really believe it in our hearts. Any basic knowledge of church history will reveal many divisions have taken place among believers. Now, with the advancement of technology, division and quarrels between believers is right out in the open. This should burden us greatly. Of course, we are not going to agree on every single topic of discussion. Even theologically, there is not perfect agreement in the church.
However, we are still called to love one another even when we disagree. Too often, the way we speak about other believers does not display our love for them. Even in my own life I have had to check my heart in the ways I speak to or about other believers who do not agree with me. Am I really showing those outside the church that I have deep love for those inside of it? Christ told us our love for his bride is what marks us as his followers. Are we living in a way that shows unbelievers who we belong to?
Love Our Neighbors
One of the biblical commands most used by people is to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:39). It is even used by many outside of the church. Whenever there is dissension, it does not take long for someone to say “love your neighbor!” Whenever we see or say this, it is important for us to think about who our neighbors really are.
Our neighbors certainly include other believers. However, it also includes those who are not in the church. It may be a proximity thing. Those who are living in our actual neighborhood. It may be a work thing. Those we come into contact with at our various jobs. It may be a school thing. Those we see everyday in our classes. It may also be a characteristic thing. Those in which we have a lot of things in common. What’s clear is that when we are commanded to love our neighbors, God is talking about a wide variety of people. We are to live our lives in a way that displays the love of Christ to those around us, believers and unbelievers alike.
I think it’s important for us to stop here and take a look at the verses preceding the command to love our neighbors. In Matthew 22:37, Christ commands, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” When we are looking at the different groups of people we are commanded to love, it is of utmost importance to first love our Heavenly Father. In fact, it is our deep love for the Lord that allows us to love others. If we are not displaying Christ’s love to those around us, it may just mean that we are not loving the Lord as we should. It is only through our love of him that we are then able to love people.
Love the Sojourner
The first two groups of people we find pretty easy to love or least recognize that we should love even if we aren’t always displaying it. However, our love is to extend beyond Christ followers and neighbors. In , Deuteronomy 10:19, God commands Israel to “love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Loving believers and those close to us, whether in proximity or commonalities, often comes naturally. However, what about those who are not like us- those who are come from different cultures and backgrounds? Yes, we are even commanded to love them.
I think this command is especially prevalent for those of us in the Houston area. We live in one of the most diverse cities in our nation. We have an amazing opportunity to shower Christ’s love on those who are sojourners. Unfortunately, fear of the unfamiliar can often keep us from doing this. However, of all people, Christians should be the first to love those from all countries, nationalities, and ethnicities. We ourselves are sojourners on in this world. We do not belong here. It is simply our temporary residence until we make it to heaven. I think we too often forget that this world is not our home. The sooner we start to realize that and really take it to heart, the sooner we will be able to truly love the sojourner.
Love Your Enemies
Out of all the groups we are commanded to love, this next one may just be the hardest. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is a pretty stunning command. It is really easy for us to love those who seem to be on our side. But, our enemies? It takes great strength to love those we feel are working against us. In our current cultural climate, this just may be the most important command.
Right now, we may feel that our enemies include those from each of the three groups above. When we view people as our friends, it is not hard for us to love them. As soon as we view someone as our enemy, our love shrivels up and falls to the wayside. However, when God commanded us to love, he did not stop with those we those we have fuzzy feelings towards. He did not say “love those who like you and show kindness to you, but hate anyone who don’t.” What is so scandalous about God’s love is that it transcends all of our preconceived notions.
Take, for instance, the gospel. In the cross, we see this all encompassing love on full display. Christ was not sent to sacrificially die for those who are friendly with God. He sacrificed himself for enemies of God. That was the whole point. Because of our sin, we are first and foremost enemies of God. Christ’s death and resurrection was needed in order for us to be reconciled to God. May Christ’s love for us displayed in the cross motivate us love every single person around us, even our enemies.
I think it is important for us to take a minute and recognize that loving all people does not mean we are to agree perfectly with all people. As Christ followers, we know we cannot agree with all people. Differences of opinions will always exist, even within the church. That is ok. Having discussions over our differences can be healthy and beautiful. However, in those discussions we must always display the love of Christ.
Our world is greatly hurting right now. It might be easy for us to step back and stay within our own comforts. We may feel the need to stay away from the chaos around us in the interest of self-preservation. However, if we are truly followers of Christ, it is vital that we do not. We are surrounded by people who are in desperate need of God’s love. As his church, we are the only ones who can show them that love. Right now, we should be spending time on our knees seeking the Lord through his word and prayer and asking him how we can better love those around us. Let’s show the world who we belong to by the way we show great love.
Katie Van Dyke
Women’s Ministry Coordinator | Receptionist