The whole world loves Stars Wars except for me. I don’t hate it, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t love it like most other people do. Since so many people do enjoy it, however, it makes me feel like I should like it. But because I feel as though I’m supposed to love Star Wars, that doesn’t mean that I actually do love Star Wars - it just means I have an odd inner obligation to Star Wars that I can’t fulfill. As Christians, I think we have a similar obligatory feeling at times when it comes to loving everyone. If you read the life of Jesus and hear His teachings, you know that we should love everyone - but on a human level, this can seem impossible. The hardest times to love people, I believe, is usually with people who are different from us. Just think of the people you can’t agree with, you find yourself disgruntled at, and those you look down on - they’re probably different from you on some passionate levels. How do we maintain a loving perspective with those who are different from us and difficult to love?
Romans was a letter written by the apostle Paul to the church in Rome, including both Jewish and Gentile Christians. These two groups had massive differences to overcome, in order to find any possible genuine love. The Jewish perspective of the non-Jewish Gentiles was that they were heathens, pagans, and didn’t know the One True God - they considered them enemies and called them “dogs.” Ouch! Can you imagine being a Gentile needing to love a Jewish person, knowing they thought of your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents as dogs? Or imagine being Jewish person, raised to believe the Gentiles were your sworn enemies, and now worshipping alongside them. These are painful differences they needed to overcome. With Jew/Gentile differences in mind, read Paul’s unifying words in Romans 15:5-6:
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul encouraging everyone to get along, have the same unified voice in order to bring glory to God. The idea of endurance makes me think of a long, difficult race - but one that is achievable. For these two groups to accept each other despite their differences would prove to be a challenge, but with Jesus, would be something they could actually accomplish. If the Jews loved the Gentiles as Jesus loved the Gentiles, and if Gentiles could love the Jews as Jesus loved the Jews - total acceptance would inevitably result. Paul packages this idea in a nice one liner here in verse 7:
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Neither the Jews nor the Gentiles had to do anything for Christ to accept them. Jesus laid down His life for all of them, despite their sin and difference from God’s holiness. It’s as if Paul is saying, “you were accepted when you were unacceptable, so what differences could possibly hold you back from accepting others?” Paul says in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were unacceptable to God, Jesus laid down His life for us and accepted us - so we should accept others with this in mind.
How do we maintain a loving perspective with those who are different from us and difficult to love? Remember you were accepted when you were unacceptable. Think about the differences you have with the people you don’t get along with: political, generational, race/nationality, vegan/carnivore, theological differences even, etc. Think about the people who get your blood boiling and the differences you have with them, and now consider: Christ accepted you when you were unacceptable, are these differences worthy to hold you back from loving the people you’re different from? This perspective gives us some gravity to our own situation, and provides so much needed grace we need to love others.
We get another loving perspective from the Gospel of John, which chronicles Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. Let’s read some of Jesus’ final teachings, right after He washed the disciple’s feet and just before He was arrested (ultimately to die). Jesus says in John 13:34-35:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus gives a new command that doesn’t seem so new, right? Love one another - don’t we get that from the Old Testament? What is new about this love is the level of commitment it requires. When Jesus says to love as He loves us, that raises the bar! The love He has for people is totally unmatchable, but one that we should attempt our best to imitate. If we do imitate His unconditional, sacrificial, perfect, caring, responsive, forgiving type of love - then guess what? We’ll stand out. Non-Christians do good things and love people all the time, but this type of love is a stand out, light in the dark, above and beyond type of love for others. Loving others the way Jesus loves, He says, will ultimately show His love to other people.
Another loving perspective to have with those who are different from us and difficult to love: remember loving others shows them the love of Jesus. This is fairly basic to the Christian faith, but is so important and sadly often under our radar. Think for a moment about the people in your life that helped lead you to a relationship with Jesus. Likely it wasn’t people harshly judging or rebuking your sin and pointing fingers at you. I know for me, I fell in love with Jesus when I experienced unconditional love from people who loved Jesus. This concept of loving others like how Jesus loves in order to show others the love of Jesus: this has eternal implications for the people you interact with on a daily basis. People that need Jesus can experience the love He has for them through YOU!
Reflect on how you are loving others, especially those who are different from you and difficult to love. Are you showing them the love of Jesus? If not, let’s start anew in efforts to intentionally love people because we were accepted when unacceptable, and we will show others the love Jesus has for them.