Which is Easier: Loving People or Following Rules?

We discussed earlier that, as believers, we are not asked to follow rules of ANY kind. Instead, we are to embrace two principles—love the Father and love others as ourselves. These are the standards of behavior. No rules are involved at all—no checklist of behaviors to follow.

If this is so, why do people focus on rules and lists of sins? I think I know the answer. Following rules—even difficult rules—often seems easier than loving others.

How Far Do We Extend Our Love?

How far should we go in loving our neighbor as we love ourselves? Sometimes, our neighbor is not very lovable. We know from Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan that our love goes beyond those we consider our friends, but where is the cut-off?

Jesus is rather pointed in Luke chapter 6:

Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Wow! Loving our neighbor includes loving our enemies as we love ourselves. Why? Because this is the way the Father loves them. But aren’t they wicked? What if they are ungrateful? Perhaps they are both, but the Father “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” And so must we be.

Years ago, it was common to say about ‘sinners’ or ‘evil’ people “Love them with the love of Jesus!” which often meant to not really love them at all. You could despise them; you could hate them; you could wish on them great pain and misfortune, but you could still love them with the love of Jesus. This is not real love but a pretense. It is an attempt to check off the Love Your Neighbor box on your list of rules and get credit for it.

The Father really loves them; he desires good for them and not pain and misfortune. Jesus says the Father is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. And aren’t we glad of that for our own sakes? We should genuinely love our enemies because loving them is being like our Father. There is no room for hate and viciousness. There is no room for revenge and retaliation. There is no room for desiring the misfortune of others.

What about the Oppressive and Cruel?

However, some people are not just unlovable—they are downright oppressive and cruel. Surely the Father cannot ask us to love that sort of person! Perhaps we find an answer in Luke chapter 23,

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

My first response is that they DID know what they were doing! The authorities and the soldiers knew they were executing these men in a very cruel way, but they didn’t know the full significance of it. They didn’t know Jesus, the person. They didn’t know his story, his family, and his talents. And they didn’t know the Father loved him with an intense love. It is the same with us…and with our enemies. We know what we are doing when we hurt others or hate them, but the Father forgives us anyway because he loves us.

So which is more important: to live by rules and checklists or to love others? Which is easier? Judging ourselves and others by how we keep rules is easier, but it does not represent the Father’s view.  Reflect on whom you despise or hate the most and see how you can begin to love them as you love yourself. Love them as the Father loves them.

Your observations and comments are welcome below.
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10 Responses to Which is Easier: Loving People or Following Rules?

  1. I agree. Jesus said that all the law and the prophets are summed up in loving God and loving our neighbors. If we do this then we will have fulfilled all the laws and checklists. If we focus on loving others then we need not worry about the law since we will have already kept it. Thanks, David

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  2. Thanks David, that is it exactly. You summed it up very well!

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  3. Brandi says:

    Following rules, and judging our “worth” by how well we follow rules is much simpler than to love everyone. It’s also much easier to “grade”. I get an “A” for never having broken any serious laws, and never having been arrested. I haven’t a clue what my “grade” would be for loving others. I mean… there was that one person I wasn’t very kind to… and this one. But, I showed love to these people. This is part of why following rules is easier for people…. it makes more sense. It’s more concrete for establishing and gauging order.

    And, as you said, there are some who just are very difficult to love. People who abuse children (my parents)… how do you love people like that? People who rape and murder women… how can any of us be expected to truly love these people? And yet, we’re supposed to do so. Not easy at all.

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    • You said it so well Brandi!

      In response to your question, “People who rape and murder women… how can any of us be expected to truly love these people?”; I agree that it is difficult, but when we begin to realize how much the Father loves us and also how much he loves them, we can find it easier to love them as he loves them.

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  4. Rosemary says:

    Yes, exactly! In my personal experience, anyway, I find that people get much too bound up by which particular set of rules they should be following, and in the end forget about the most core principle of loving one’s neighbour.
    There’s also the concept that if you think someone is “falling away from the faith”, or doesn’t have the EXACT same interpretation of Christian ideas that your do, then you possess some inalienable right to tell them where they’re going wrong – to “rebuke them”, if you will. Which I have found is often used just to demonstrate that person’s own moral superiority, and is not really said with that person’s best interests at heart at all.

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    • Yes, we believers often think it is our job to straighten people out on every little rule of behavior. I agree with you that often it is a demonstration of moral supriority instead of concern for the person. If these same people are rebuked, they usually do not take kindly to it! They are the judge of the rules; how can other people dare judge them?

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  5. Marc says:

    Thank you for this is a very thoughtful post Tim. Many Church Fathers teach that we must learn to see Jesus Christ in others. This is very hard when their behavior is cruel and wicked. I remember years ago seeing a shirt on a young child that said: “Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet.” We really have to learn to see the potential that everyone has to become a child of God. Heartfelt repentance can change the most cruel and wicked person into a saint. Consider Saul of Tarsus who became the Apostle Paul.

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  6. Pingback: A Delightful Insight into Behavior | Jesus Without Baggage

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