As we begin to live by the principle of loving others, instead of following religious rules, we sometimes meet two significant barriers. The first is dealing with the enormity of human pain, distress, and need in the world.
The second is encountering those who try to dictate to us how we must go about loving others. Both experiences can result in a heavy burden of guilt and feelings of inadequacy and helplessness. So, in this last post of the series I suggest three considerations for balance in loving others.
Loving Those Who Touch Our Lives
I think we should begin with those who touch our lives through relationships or who personally come across our path.
Let’s consider our relationships with relatives, friends, co-workers, fellow church members, and others with whom we have regular interaction. Sometimes we have negative feelings and behavior even toward those we love the most. What can we change in ourselves to reduce or eliminate the pain we cause in our relationships?
I won’t suggest specifics, but I bet you already have a few thoughts just from reading the previous paragraph. We can’t fix everything about ourselves in a single step, because our negativity is very ingrained and has a long history, but by grasping the Father’s love for all of us, and trying to see others as he sees them, we can see tremendous change step-by-step.
We also need to love those we encounter but are not part of our relationships; the Father loves them as well. Whether it is responding kindly to insults and hostility, or whether it is helping a stranger in need, we can become better in interacting with them with love.
Loving Those We Never Know
There are also those we will never know who need our loving attention, including those who are hungry, oppressed, or otherwise in pain, along with those who cause hunger, oppression, and pain. The Father loves them all.
None of us can address all the need in the world, the nation, or even in our own community, but we can do something. And that something must be based on what our growing love for others prompts us to do.
But we should avoid legalism.
There are those who place love above following rules but also accuse believers of not doing it correctly. They judge by saying we should do more for this or that social cause, and they might point to Matthew 25 as their authority for telling us what we must do:
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.
This passage does, indeed, help us understand Jesus’ mind on loving others, but it is not a new list of religious rules for us to follow. Some people are drawn to dedicate their lives to a particular issue, while others support certain causes or help in some other way, but none of us can respond substantially to every cause. The pain in the world is great, and we must determine for ourselves how to show love to those outside our own circles.
What we do, based on love, trumps what anyone else thinks we should do. This is between us and the loving Father. I am very interested in your thoughts on loving others; I hope you will comment on them below.
Loving Those Who Don’t Love Others as We Do
There is one more group I want to consider as we love others as ourselves, and that is believers who do not love others as we do. It’s not they don’t try to love others, but they are so bound by harmful doctrines that their approach to love is severely compromised. As a result, they judge and condemn others whom they view as ‘sinners’ in some way.
They might even follow the maxim “Love the sinner; hate the sin”, but what the ‘sinner’ feels is hate and condemnation. These believers can claim it is important to identify and condemn sin in order to bring the ‘sinner’ to the Lord, but badgering unbelievers to follow Jesus is not the same as sharing Jesus with them, and identifying and condemning individual sin is not our job.
In fact, such activity is very damaging. It damages individuals; it damages relationships; and it damages the reputation of the community of believers. How should we respond to those who cause such damage? Do we despise them? Do we hate them? Do we take pleasure in their misfortune? Or do we love them as the Father loves them?
These questions lead to our new series on loving believers who hurt others by following and promoting harmful doctrines.
Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass via Compfight cc
The purpose of this blog is to support those re-evaluating traditional religious beliefs.