For if you love those who love you,
what reward do you have?
D O N O T E V E N T H E T A X C O L L E C T O R S D O T H E S A M E ?
|| JESUS CHRIST ||
I am a loving person.
Heard it a million times, especially by people who reject Christ or follow Him halfheartedly. And truthfully, I know many kind, thoughtful people I do not consider brethren. Sometimes unbelievers seem kinder than many Christians who cross my paths.
A while ago, I asked God about this incongruity. Jesus said that the world will know His disciples by their love -- well and good. And indeed, the love of Christians has shaped me, touched me, challenged me, and drawn me closer to God. Jesus didn't lie about the powerful impact of a band of loving disciples. Still, God, love doesn't seem unique to Christians. What about the really sweet unbelievers? How can our Christian love, then, set us apart when all decent people hope to show love and kindness?
With shame, I know of an atheist couple who show more love and tenderness toward each other than I do to my own boyfriend many times. I know unbelievers at school who show fierce loyalty to ones they love, their friends and family.
And this love thing is supposed to make us Christians unique?
Instead of sending the answer leaping off a page or a blog post, God answered my question in real life. First He sent me to love and befriend a girl who needed a friend -- not as a pitiable person, though, not as a charitable project, not as a counselee, but as a real, true close friend. On top of that, I was jealous of her, and we had a history of trying to like each other but just not clicking. How does one purposefully set about to being friends with someone, much less someone hard to love because of my own jealousy and insecurity? I still have no idea, but by the grace of God, we managed it. Fueled by this unusual way of friendship, I came back home to a host of friendships on rocky ground. You know when sometimes friends drift away, especially childhood friends who grow up into an entirely different person than you? How do you relearn to love people like that?
It finally made sense: Christian love is not mere niceness. It's not dropping everything for a friend or sacrificing for a family member. Of course, Christian love includes unconditional love for friends and family members who are or were in good standing. But it goes beyond that. Even the tax collectors of Jesus' time loved their friends and family.
We can do better than greedy hypocrites and Pharisees -- not because we automatically gain all the awesome points by professing Christ but because the Spirit of God-as-Love indwells us.
What does loving like a Christian and not a tax collector look like? Maybe something like this:
-- Invite those odd, boring people who cling to you for reasons you cannot understand over for a movie night or a coffee date. And not just one time, but for as long as they're in your life. As in, befriend them.
-- Do something special for the girl you're jealous of or the girl who upsets you (and no, just praying for her doesn't count).
-- Keep the doors of forgiveness and understanding open for friends who drifted away from you, regardless of how they treat you back. Give gifts on their birthday. Don't give up asking them to come sleep over or go out for lunch. Send them flowers or a special note to let them know you're thinking of them.
-- Write letters to grandparents or older people who sometimes make you uncomfortable with their lack of hearing or silence.
-- Sit down and listen to the black sheep of the family tell her story and her impressions of life. Set aside special sibling time for the siblings that you don't mesh with or you don't understand. If they don't want to talk, read stories or play games together and give them love through quality time.
In short, test the boundaries of sanity and creativity when it comes to loving others. Tax collectors love those easily accessible to them, those in their circle of comfort and affection. Christians ought to love those far beyond their comfort zones and friend group. They respond to hurtful people and hard relationships differently than tax collectors. Tax collectors withdraw after the going gets tough. Christians do not. If someone starts ticking you off, mark her as a special person to love. If a friendship gets hard, pour more energy and patience into it.
Think of Jesus, our example, who emptied Himself of the privileges of His divinity to reach enemies who plotted His death. Surely we can empty a part of ourselves for quirky or difficult people and learn to love like our Savior -- and not like the tax collectors only.