It’s difficult to reconcile our call to love people and the reality that most people are simply unlovable. I know, I know, if you’re reading this in public you’re looking over your shoulder to make sure someone saw you sigh in disgust. I get it.
I get that we’re supposed to love others as Jesus commanded us. I understand that to suggest that people aren’t worthy of our love is blasphemy in our church culture. But I also get that most (almost all, really) pastors are burned out on the people they deal with. Secretly most people loath the idea of having to love others, especially the ones that have burned them. And if you’ve truly given yourself to living closely and engaged with others, that list gets pretty long.
I’ve met few pastors who won’t lie through their teeth about how they love people and see the best in people. I’ve met a lot more non-pastors who can honestly say they love people. It’s equally not true, but at least they believe it and aren’t outright lying. Pastors bear the brunt of a much larger group of people than your average individual. Being a pastor is like putting a sign on your back that says “please, please tell me what you think is wrong with me.” But everyone tastes that bitter pill once in a while.
I’ve always been a fan of calling a spade a spade. If I find myself struggling to love others, I’d rather admit to it so I can figure out what’s wrong with me. I can’t deny Jesus’ command that we love one another (John 15:12), but when I’m honest with myself I find it one of the hardest commands Jesus ever gave.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12)
That’s because I’ve met people.
People are mean. They’re spiteful. They’re angry. Don’t believe me? Turn on Jerry Springer and watch. Think it’s disgusting? It’s not. It’s real. It’s what people are when the filters get turned off. The difference is that most of us have been taught to rigorously keep the filters turned on. Don’t let the bad stuff out. Keep it in, bottled up so it seems like we’re the perfect little darling Jesus expects us to be.
I can’t think of anything that’s more of a slap-in-the-face to Jesus that Christians do on a regular basis. It’s fake, and it doesn’t fool God. And if you’re honest with yourself, it’s not fooling you either. I’m guessing most of your friends don’t buy it either, but we all play the game so everything looks good.
Until the pressure comes. That’s when people can’t keep the filters on anymore. The bitterness and anger buried within their hearts comes out and they bite.
My four-year-old son was recently bitten on the playground. It left a mouth-imprint bruise on his arm for a week and a half. I wasn’t there, but I’m sure it hurt a lot. But that bruise is gone now. He’s four, so he’s back to playing castle or superhero with the other boy now. But our bruises don’t go away so easily. When people bite it does something to us. Something dangerous.
Go ahead and think about the number of people you know who started out with youthful zeal to serve Jesus and love others. Think about your friends when they were in their teens and 20’s were “on fire” for God. If you’re like me pushing your mid-thirties or 40’s, where are they now? I know, it’s a sad thing to think about.
What happened to them? Where did they go?
Those little white lies they told themselves got the best of them. They thought they could love people. Unlovable people. The problem is by the time they realized the people were unlovable it was too late. The damage had been done. The bite marks had buried themselves deep within their hearts never to be relinquished.
They couldn’t hang on anymore when they realized they were phony. They knew they no more loved people than they loved their neighbor’s midnight-barking dog. And when the dark thoughts of poisoning that stupid mutt started to sound like the thoughts they had about the people they were supposed to love; well, it was all over then. If they couldn’t love others they must not truly love God.
My guess is that any of you reading this are thinking now one of two things. 1) That’s not me, or 2) That’s exactly where I am. What do I do?
If you’re in the first camp; sorry, I can’t help you. You’re lying to yourself and you probably just don’t know it yet. Or maybe you’ve realized the truth of what I’m about to say and it’s truly not you anymore. If you’re in the second camp, I have some good news and some bad news.
The bad news first: you’ll never be able to love unlovable people. And every person you’ve ever met is unlovable. Sorry for the bad news.
Now for the good news. There is one man who is lovable. And He’s lovable because of what He did for us. When I think of the sacrifice Jesus made for me, I’m brought to tears almost every time I consider it. I know just how bad I am. I’m familiar with only a small fraction of my sin and I think it’s gross. I’d probably give up my will to live if God showed me all my sin at once. That’s who I truly am and He loved me anyway. He forgave me. He offered me eternal life and partnership.
I can love Him for that. In fact, nothing else in life seems reasonable to me but to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength when I think about who I am and what He’s done for me. It’s the second part of the great commandment that troubles me.
Jesus loved me enough that while I was still in sin He died for me to redeem me to God. And then He tells me to “Love others as I have loved you.” That causes me deep, deep sadness when I read that. How could I possibly do that? How could I possibly love others in the same way Jesus loved me. It was my sin that drove those nails into His hands. It was my dark heart that pierced His side. It was my nature that broke His heart. And He loved me anyway. How can I love others like that? I’m undone!
How could I love others that way when I know I have anger in my heart for the person who steals a parking spot from me? The smallest things cause me to be offended at others. Sure, I keep it in so I can play the “socially acceptable” game, but I know. I know and it troubles me. Why did Jesus ask the impossible of me?
And that’s our problem. We don’t look at Jesus’ command in John 15:12 as impossible. We look at it like we’re just supposed to do it. That command wasn’t intended to motivate us to love others. It was intended to crush us. To constantly remind us of what was done for us. Because we are incapable of that kind of love. Of the kind Jesus showed for us. We are wholly and utterly incapable.
But He’s not.
There Is One Who Is Worthy
Jesus isn’t incapable of that kind of love. It’s only through Jesus can we begin to love others. But only after we’ve been crushed under the weight of that command. Only after we’ve been honest enough to ourselves to admit that the people we are supposed to love look unlovable to us.
When I think of what Jesus did for me and how He loved me and how incapable I am of loving others that way, it sends me straight to my knees in pain. I cry out to God, I can’t love them! I don’t know how. What am I to do?
Then I hear His words. “With man, it is impossible. But with God, nothing is impossible.”
With God, it’s possible to love the unlovable. It’s possible to truly forgive those who’ve bitten me. It’s possible to truly love others. But only after I’ve been honest with myself and realized that by myself I’m incapable of that kind of love.
Have you believed that lie? Do you believe you can truly love people? Or have you surrendered yourself to Jesus in honesty and told Him you are completely incapable and undone by His command?
If you haven’t fallen before Jesus and confessed just how incapable you are of loving others like He does then you’re heading down a dangerous and painful path. Everyone who has ever tried to love others with their own strength has burned out . But everyone who seeks to love others through the power of Jesus has hope.
People are worthy of our love because Jesus is worthy of our love first. If you get that out of order, people’s bites will wound you beyond repair. But there is a way. There is a way to live this life free of hatred and bitterness. There’s a way to live without letting people destroy you. It starts with telling the One worthy of our love the truth:
“I can’t do it without You.”