By Tyler Edwards
Some people are just harder to love than others. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. We all have that gregarious friend who we liked the moment we met, but love is not easy, even when you love a lovable person. Love does not mean you are filled with warm fuzzy feelings, butterflies, and rainbows. It is not a big purple dinosaur dispensing free hugs and sing-along songs. True love is more like an arduous adventure than an emotional vacation. True love goes against our very nature.
Love is both a wonderful bliss and a promise of pain. It carries with it the risk of loss and an almost unbearable threat: it requires us to risk our wants, desires, and priorities for the sake of someone else. One of the primary demands of love is that it requires us to place the one we love before ourselves. The real challenge of love is that we must be selfless; and we are all, by nature, selfish. Love, then, is a defiance of our own instinct.
When the person we take these risks for is easy to love and loves us in return, the notion seems reasonable. But what about everyone else? Are we really expected to set aside what we want and desire for some person we don’t even know? Is that what love means? Is that what love does? If so, it’s not an easy pill to swallow.
Lack of Love
In the church we talk about loving our enemies. Truth be told, our enemies are not the hardest people to love. It’s not those who antagonize us, but the pariahs, the socially awkward, the people with boundary issues, the guy with the wildly inappropriate jokes, or the girl who talks like she’s paid by the word count who pose the real challenge. Some people are just unlikable. Try as you might, you cannot muster the desire to spend time with them. You don’t want to talk to them and when given the opportunity you will go out of your way to avoid the awkward, culturally expected niceties.
We tell ourselves we love them; we just don’t want to spend time with them or be seen in public with them. One trick we are taught to master from a young age is the ability to justify. We rationalize not liking certain people because they aren’t likable. Why should we choose to spend time with people we don’t like?
Yet Jesus had the audacity to tell us to love other people. Not just that, he said it’s the second most important commandment in all of the law. The only thing more important than loving other people is loving God himself. But Jesus doesn’t understand what he has asked of us. He doesn’t have to smell the close talker at work who has yet to discover the purpose for soap. Nor has he had to have a lengthy conversation with the woman who shares intimate details about the lives of her cats. No, Jesus doesn’t realize how hard it is. It’s not like the people he came to love nailed him to a cross.
Love Is Not a Feeling
Our problem isn’t that we don’t know how to love but that we mistake love for an emotion. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul described it in two ways: what love is and what loves does. What love does is a direct result of what love is. Nowhere in his description does he talk about feelings. Love is not a feeling; it is an act of valuing others more than we value ourselves.
One of the best ways to gauge how you value someone else is to pay attention to how you speak to them and how you speak about them. I’ve heard a lot of men fall into this trap with their spouses. They claim to love their wives, but when the ladies aren’t around they proceed to make jokes at the women’s expense. This lack of honor is indicative of a deficiency in love. That’s not to say they don’t love their spouses, but in their speech they are betraying that love by using their wives as the target of their jokes.
When people are little more than a punch line, it’s hard to honestly claim you love them. The Bible doesn’t define love as how you feel about a person. It defines love by what love does. How does Jesus demonstrate his love for us? He valued us enough to die on the cross for us.
God Is Love
The ancient Greeks were much more specific with their words for love. They had not one, but four separate words to describe what we call love. One of the most common, phileo, essentially means a love of that which is lovable. This is the world’s standard of love. You love what makes you feel good; you hate what does not. Too often our love looks like the love of everyone around us. Jesus said that we will be known by our love. That means our love should stand out. If we only love people who are lovable and fun, how are we any different from anyone else?
If we had only one word to describe God, that word would be love. If only one idea could express the core of who he is, that idea would be love. God is love. This is without a doubt the most defining characteristic of his nature. It is only through the power and the grace of God that we can truly and consistently love others. It is our love that transforms us into the image of Jesus, for we never look more like him than we do when we love. When we love each other with the love of God, our lives become testimonies to the power and the person of God. And when others see this, many of them will be drawn to him.
How to Love
Jesus said that the entire law is summed up in loving God and loving others. This is not an issue that we can afford to treat flippantly. Jesus also qualified how we are to love others—“as you love yourself.” This distinction is vital in understanding how to love.
Most of us don’t have to be told to love ourselves—we do that naturally. We take care of ourselves. We sleep when we are tired. We eat when we are hungry. We are practically slaves to our own whims and desires. We do what we like and avoid what we don’t, all the while telling ourselves it’s OK to obey whatever we feel like we want.
Why do we do this? We love ourselves—a lot! We value our wants. We value our interests. We value our feelings. The way the Bible teaches us to love is basically to treat the wants and thoughts of others with the same value and priority we place on our own.
Called to Love
We are not just called to love. We are called to love those whom no one else loves. We are called to love unlikable and unlovely people. Unlovely people are unlovely for a reason. It is not because they are unlovable but because they are unloved. It is easy to write off people because loving them does not come naturally. Love rarely does. Real love is never easy.
Loving an unlikable person does not mean you have to make him your new “bestie.” Loving someone means valuing him, treating him with respect, and not thinking you are superior to him. None of us were likable, yet God did not write us off the way we write off others. He reached out. He did something we did not ask for. He gave us something we did not deserve. God gave us love, expressed not in a feeling but in an action. He sent his son to die in our place so that through him we might be adopted into the family of God.
If God could do that for us, what stops us from loving others? Love is not about the one you love, it is about the one doing the loving. God loved us because God is love. We love others not because it is easy but because God loves us.
Tyler Edwards is a freelance writer in Ponte Vedra, Florida.
How Are Your Motives?
1. Which motives provoke you to act lovingly toward others?
__ false righteousness
__ wanting to please God
__ desiring attention
__ repaying good done to you
2. When your motives are less than Christlike, what do you do?
__ ignore the thought
3. How do you react when you see ungodly motives in others?
__ keep quiet
__ point it out to others
__ reflect on your own motives