Love. Such a simple word, a four letter word. We hear it all the time- in songs, in books, in movies, in commercials. We are a people who love love; we love saying it and we love the idea of it. But I’m not sure people really understand what love means anymore. I know that we are all capable of it, because God wouldn’t call us to do something we weren’t capable of. But honestly, the word love is so overused that it seems to have lost its meaning. I think maybe we’ve forgotten how to love.
We have a tendency of limiting our love to specific relationships in our lives. We love our family; our parents and siblings, our spouse and children, immediate and extended. We love our significant other; our boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife or partner. We love our friends; the close friends we’ve had for years and the new ones we discover everyday. We love these people because we know them. They mean something to us. These are the people who love us back.
I love my family. I love and respect my parents. I appreciate the things they have done for me, and the love and patience they have shown me. I love and adore my sisters. They are a bit weird, rather unusual, but they are the only sisters I have. I wouldn’t trade one of them for anything, not even for a brother. I love my friends. I’ve chosen them, and they’ve chosen me. I’ve made an intentional effort to get to know them, to understand them. I enjoy their company. They laugh with me and cry with me. I love them for the memories we’ve made.
We love the things that are easy for us to love.
Loving those who love us back is the easiest thing in the world. We’re happy to do it, because why wouldn’t we return the love we feel? But loving others isn’t just about giving it and showing it to those we’re close to. It isn’t only about loving those we’ve know for our entire lives. It isn’t only about loving those who love us back.
Loving others the way God calls us to is something different, something beyond reciprocated love. When Jesus issued His second greatest commandment, He didn’t say love your family or your friends or the people you like. He didn’t say love the people you see every day, the people who know your secrets or the people who send presents on your birthday. No, He says to love your neighbor.
What I love about Jesus using the word neighbor is that He doesn’t qualify it with anything. He doesn’t say to love your good neighbor or your friendly neighbor or your favorite neighbor or the neighbor who likes you. He doesn’t say to love the neighbor who acts like you and dresses like you and believes the same things you do.
No, Jesus simply says “love your neighbor” and we are left to fill in the blanks.
There is nothing easy about loving people we don’t really know, because we don’t know why we should love them. Especially if our neighbor is a bit different than the sort of person we are usually drawn towards. But loving our neighbor, loving people isn’t supposed to be some easy thing. We are never told that love is simple. In 1 Corinthians, when Paul details the many things that love is, easy and simple are never mentioned, because if we’re completely honest, loving people is hard.
The Old Testament is probably the best example of this. Book after book, we read about God trying to keep His people from falling away from the path He has laid out before them. We read of the Israelites making mistake after mistake, denying God and trading Him for idols, and choosing to sin. Yet, in spite of all of this, God loves them. He chose them. He is continually generous in giving them what they need, even when they don’t really deserve it. He keeps His promises to them, even into the New Testament. He sends His Son, His beloved and sinless Son as a sacrifice for the people He loves unconditionally, even though there is no guarantee those people will love Him back.
God loves the way we are supposed to love. He loves the way we are supposed to love our neighbor, our enemy, the entire world. God loves those who don’t deserve it, who don’t expect it, who don’t think they need it. He loves the forgotten, the shunned, the slightly awkward, and the hurting. He loves the selfish, the arrogant, the narcissists, and the oblivious. He loves the good, the poor, the sad, and the helpless.
He doesn’t ask Himself why He should love someone. He just does. He loves everyone, because we are His. He loves those who need it most. He loves us because we all need it. We need to be loved. We need to feel the comfort and peace that comes with it.
So when Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, He means it. He lived this love. The world is supposed to recognize Jesus’ disciples (read us) by the love they show. It isn’t something we can attempt half-heartedly. It is important and necessary to who we are as people. We are created in God’s image after all. We are meant to love, called to love, made to love.
Love isn’t just about loving the nice people or the people who are like us. It’s about loving the people who are a bit unlovable. It’s loving the people who aren’t really like us. It’s loving the people we don’t think deserve love. Because the truth is it isn’t our place to decide who deserves to be loved. God already made that choice- everyone deserves love. There’s no guessing game to be played, no riddle to figure out. We are called to love the random stranger who walks by us in the street and our closest friends and family. No one is off limits.
And even though we may love people differently, we need to learn and strive to love the way our amazing God loves- unconditionally, openly, generously, with room for everyone. Perhaps we haven’t actually forgotten what love means. Perhaps we’re just forgotten that we are allowed to give our love away freely.
It’s time we remembered that love actually is all around.
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