What Our Struggle to Love Someone Else Reveals About Us
This article originally appeared on Gospel-Centered Discipleship.
I once heard a speaker call a fellow Christian an “EGR,” i.e. “Extra Grace Required.” In my immaturity, I followed suit in using the acronym when confronted with my own “EGR’s” in daily life. How unloving; How hurtful.
Surely, in the Christian life, we’ll face those who frustrate us whether it be by action on their part or due to the wickedness in our own heart. We aren’t going to naturally love everyone. But in the Bible, that’s exactly what we’re called to do.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14 ESV)
Commands to love others aren’t hard to find in scripture but this passage stuck out to me like an accent wall. Did you notice there are no exclusions here? It doesn’t simply apply to the believers you naturally gravitate toward, nor to those who seem to have their lives together. It doesn’t grant permission to ignore people whose personalities rub us the wrong way or those who’ve wounded us. Certainly, if such a command exists to “love your enemies,” we must strive to love everyone else, too (Matthew 5:44).
Judges with Evil Thoughts
James has a lot to say about being partial toward others…
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4 ESV, emphasis mine)
Although James is writing about favoritism between the poor and rich, we are not blameless in this matter. Without even realizing it, or perhaps on purpose even, there are people we don’t care to talk to and find in ourselves little desire to know them. Maybe it’s that widow we have trouble speaking to, or the wife who doesn’t have kids, or a new believer who doesn’t understand modesty yet.
We’d rather spend time with those who are comfortable to be around so we cast others aside, showing we view people not as image bearers to serve, but mere objects to enhance our lives. Truly, we make ourselves to be “judges with evil thoughts” seeking our own gain. Furthermore, revealing we aren’t actually loving our friends either, but instead are looking to them to serve us.
The Impartial Savior
What if Christ treated us this way? Had the Savior God treated us as we often treat others, no one would be a recipient of salvation. Praise God he instead willingly sacrificed his comfort—even his very life—by entering into our mess. We had nothing to offer but our decaying souls and yet, he saved us. Praise God for his impartiality (Romans 2:11)!
Each member of the Body of Christ is your brother or sister. All of them. The newest to the most seasoned. The “greatest” to the “least.” When we struggle to love someone, we need to know an “EGR” is present. But it’s not them, it’s us. We need extra grace from the Lord because our hearts need help loving others as we’re commanded. Our hearts need to be softened with the love of our Savior who laid down his life for our sake, though there was no loveliness to be found within us.
Learning to Love Like Jesus
Ponder Jesus, who dined with sinners and touched the leper (Mark 2:13-17; Matthew 8:3). The Pharisees—those who were highly esteemed—looked down on him. They mocked him and questioned his ways. They despised his very being and eventually plotted his death (Matthew 12:14).
Friend, you may not gain popularity by seeking out those who are on the fringes, but you will be more like Christ. You will learn how to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” and to “outdo one another in showing honor,” “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Philippians 2:3; Romans 12:10; Ephesians 5:21). “But for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8).
Here lies a warning for all of us. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t found within my own heart a struggle to love others. Wickedness still tries to grip the hearts of all believers. But these new hearts, given to us by a redeeming God, are capable of obeying him in this command. May we lay aside our selfish ambitions and seek to display Jesus to the world as we love others not for what they can give us, but because of what we’ve already been given: namely, Jesus.