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.