As you probably have figured out, I am truly obsessed with sanctifying grace. There’s that nice big church word, sanctifying. Laymen’s terms – ever growing in holiness, ever growing to be like Jesus, making every effort to live out our lives to reflect what Jesus did as He lived. Make no mistake, it does not just happen, it is a choice and it takes effort. It is not something that gets you into heaven, it is not even close to a “works” based salvation. It is the recognition that through faith we have received salvation and in light of that incredible thing, we need to show Christ in the way we live our life.
I am a firm believer that Christianity is under attack because we who call ourselves followers of Jesus do not speak nor act as we should as a group. Christianity today has fallen into the habit of believing that once we have come to the alter and prayed, or once we have said that “sinners” prayer that is not in the Bible, or if we say or call ourselves Christians, we therefore are.
Jesus showed us how to live by the way he lived. If you study the Gospels, you can see where Paul got his simple list of the fruits of the Spirit. We need to be in a constant mode of growing and displaying our fruit. It is the simple requirement to show true Christian fruit in our lives if we have any inclination to go and make disciples. If we want those in our families and close friends to follow Jesus, they need to see our fruit. We are not a part of the kingdom that has come now as we pray each Sunday, if we do not display fruit. Finally, Jesus will use people with nice, ripe, ever growing fruit.
I believe peach trees take 2 years to build the tree structure before truly being productive and apple trees take three years. It takes maturity prior to productivity. Well most of you would say that you have been a follower of Jesus for some time, therefore the question is do you possess a bunch of productive and ever growing fruit in your life? Praise the Lord, if you don’t, there is time to get productive.
Galatians 5:22-23, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” It all starts with love. Paul defines love more in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…..” Does this describe us?
Love is probably the most misunderstood word and butchered word we use. We use it for everything. We say, “I love my wife. I love America. I love my dog. I love ice cream.” We use the word love in so many different ways that it has literally lost its meaning. Most people think love is a feeling and it is true that love produces feelings – but it is more than an emotion.
How often we let our feelings motivate us to do all kinds of things we might not normally do? It’s almost like saying that when we are in love – everything is out of control.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I fell in love”? It makes it sound as if they had tripped and they couldn’t control the fall. We talk as if love in uncontrollable, but the Bible says love is controllable. In fact, Jesus commands that we love others. He said John 13:34:”A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” It’s a choice: Colossians 3:14: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Two words, “put on”. Love is something we can choose to have. If it were a feeling, we could not command it. But we can command a choice and love is a choice. It is controllable. It is much more than feelings.
In fact, did you know that it is possible to love someone you do not even like? Jesus said it this way Matthew 5:44-46: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”
That’s a choice. It is easy to love people who are kind and lovely, it is much more difficult to love those who are not. But the fact is, our lives are full of people we don’t like. We do not like the way some people talk. We do not like the way some act. We do not like the way some others dress. But most of all we tend not to like people who do not like us.
If you were to think about it for sixty seconds, you could probably come up with a list of people you do not like. They would probably be people whom you have trouble getting along with. But the truth is, everyone is hard to love some of the time, even you, but some people are hard to love at any time. Jesus never demanded that we have warm fuzzy feelings for everyone. But he did tell us that we are to love people. We don’t have to like everyone, but we do have to love them. So how do we do that?
I think there are five steps we need to take to learn to love people.
1. EXPERIENCE God’s Love
First, before we can love others, we must understand how deeply God loved us and loved us. Romans chapter five says: Romans 5:6-8 “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
God loved us in our sin filled state before we loved Him. Let that truly sink in. That’s really unbelievable and if you do not think that is true because you were a good person from when you were a toddler, then deep in your heart you think you earned your salvation. The love of God, the fruit of love, is a sacrificial love. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Jesus sacrificed His life for you. We are called to love the way he loved you.
Why is it important to feel loved by God? Because unloved people are usually unloving people. When I do not feel genuinely loved, I do not feel like giving love. So first we have to experience God’s love ourselves. Jesus said: John 15:12: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” Notice it is a commandment, not a request.
2. FORGIVE Your Enemies
The second step in learning to love others is forgiving those who have hurt us. Colossians 3:12-13 says: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
The forgiveness that we are to show to others is the forgiveness that Christ showed us. Most people, if not all, have been hurt at one time or another in their lives. But we have to let go of the past to get on with the present. To begin loving people today, we must close the door on the past. And that cannot happen without forgiveness! Forgive those who have hurt you, for your sake not because they deserve it. Do it so your heart can be whole again. The people from your past cannot continue to hurt you today unless you allow them to hurt you by holding on to resentment against them.
Anytime you resent someone, you give that person a piece of your heart, a piece of your attention, a piece of your mind. Do you want that person to have that? No. So take it back by forgiving. Forgive those who hurt you. Instead of rehearsing that hurt over and over, release it.
3. THINK Loving Thoughts
The next step in learning to love others is to think loving thoughts.
God’s Word reminds us Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
What does it mean to think loving thoughts? It means we begin to focus on other people’s needs, hurts, problems, desires, and goals, not just on our own. It is easier to understand someone else when we walk a mile in their shoes. Folks here is a fact: Hurt people hurt people. If someone is hurting you, that person is probably doing that so because he or she is hurting. We need to look beyond people’s faults and see their needs. Then we can learn to love.
Have you discovered that the most obnoxious people and the least lovable people are those who need love the most? The people we would rather ignore are the very ones who desperately need massive doses of love. Everyone needs love. If a person can’t get love they will strive to get attention. And if they can’t get positive attention, they will work at attracting negative attention.
Subconsciously, they are saying, “I will be noticed – one way or another.” THINK Loving Thoughts of others.
4. BEHAVE In Loving Way
The fourth step in learning to love others is to act in a loving way. Some may say, “Jeff, you’re telling me to act lovingly toward someone I don’t even like. I can’t do that. I would be a hypocrite.” Believe me, this one is tough for me but that is called being faithful to Christ. Jesus left us no way out in Luke 6:27-29: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.”
Say what Jesus? You want me to love my enemy? Overlook their faults? They hurt me! Peter covers this in 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” Then Jesus commands us to do good. How do we do good to people we don’t even like? We look for ways to give to them. What can we do to serve them, meet their needs, help them, and benefit them? We can give. We can go the second mile. We can offer practical help. We can do them a favor. We can discover their needs and respond to them.
Then, Jesus commands us to bless those who curse us. It’s simple, He is referring to the way we talk about and talk to those who treat us badly. A blessing is a positive word spoken to or about others. We don’t put them down; we lift them up. We encourage them. Finally, Jesus commands us to pray for those who mistreat us. Praying for people will not only change them but also change us.
So how should we pray? We pray that God will bless people who are mistreating us because the goodness of God leads to repentance. Perhaps God will bless these people so much that they will want to change. But even if they don’t change right away, praying for them will change our attitude toward them. That is love in action.
5. EXPECT The Best
The last step in learning to love others may in some ways be the most difficult: expect the best of even those you don’t like. We are told: “Love never fails.” Love has power we can’t imagine. We should expect the best. As a Christian we have always been a people of hope, a people of faith. The reason for that is because we serve a God who is always faithful. The Bible says:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If God’s love is that powerful, is that consistent in our lives, should we not display his love to others around us?
Let us be more loving, because that is what God would have us to be.
It all starts with love, all the fruit falls after love, and let’s face it, I believe that the world today sees very little difference between Christian love and non-Christian love. This perception changes when each of us display the fruit of love the way Jesus meant it to be.