These days, in between loads of laundry and grocery store trips for more milk, I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships—specifically, what does it mean to love others well?
In Matthew 22:39, Jesus issued one of His famous commands: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I love the sound of this, but if you’re like me, you struggle to discern what that looks like in the day in, day out of our lives.
We’re coming into a season of holidays and celebration, gift-giving and tidings of good cheer… but I know for many, this “most wonderful time of the year” comes with a mixed bag of emotions.
Throw a lingering pandemic and looming presidential election in the mix, and we have all the makings of an explosive firework show of epic proportions. If we’re honest, we could probably all identify at least a sliver of anxiety tucked into the gentle melodies of that Christmas music many of us already have playing.
In a season of comfort and joy, sometimes loving others well feels anything but holly jolly. What do we do with our twisted emotions?
The friend who’s difficult to love?
That neighbor who makes you want to pull your hair out?
The coworker who causes you to run in the opposite direction?
That family member who has you thinking of boycotting the holidays this year?
Our culture adopts a twisted, self-serving sense of “love.”
We boil down potential mates to a single profile picture and list of interests. We scroll through all the wins and high points of our friends and “friends.” We’ve torn down the walls of privacy and replaced them with iron bars that, whether meant to or not, often prevent true intimacy from occurring.
It’s as though we know everything and nothing about one another. All the while, we plod along, craving genuine, unconditional love—the very love we’re so often slow in doling out to people in our lives (guilty).
Nearly every advertisement and cultural norm around us—indeed, our very sin nature—points us toward a selfish, self-seeking type of love.
Is it any wonder Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves? As our Creator, he knew doing so would not come naturally for us.
Loving others as we love ourselves is one of those hard, hard truths for followers of Christ. I want love to be a feeling. I want it to come easily and naturally… but God requires that we love at all times, whether we feel it or not.
If that wasn’t enough, Jesus really threw down the gauntlet in Luke 6:27-28:
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (NIV)
Ouch. When I hold my love up to this standard, I too often find myself lacking. Add this to the list of “things I wish Jesus hadn’t taught.”
The New Testament contains nearly two dozen references to this radical love, with calls to:
- “Be devoted to one another in love” (Romans 12:10)
- “Serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13)
- “Bear with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2)
Jesus was so focused on His mission of loving God and loving others—even to His dying breath. And we are to go and do likewise.
Finding Peace in Release
I can hear you asking the same question that I ask: but how? I believe the answer is found in the simple and challenging word release.
The world screams the message that we must hold onto our rights with an iron grip. We’re bombarded by the call to live within a quid pro quo paradigm of love.
But as Jesus so often does, He’s woven the counterintuitive into His great command. Just as forgiving others releases you from the grip of bitterness, so loving others paves the way to a heart of peace and rest.
Releasing love, even when it isn’t easy, deserved, or fair, acts as the express pass to a heart and mind free from the icky entanglements of our twisted emotions.
And here’s the really great news: we don’t have to struggle alone. What God has called us to, He equips us for (see Hebrews 13:20-21).
If this makes you squirm, I’m right there with you—so may I close by extending a challenge to us both?
Is there a person who came to mind when you read this? Picture him or her in your mind and—deep breath—ask God to show you how you can specifically love this person well.
Maybe there’s a phone call you need to make. Or an email you need to send. Perhaps there’s a kind act of service you’ve been putting off.
Let us take a chance and lay down our “rights,” grab ahold of God’s capable Hand, and ask Him to supply the love needed to accomplish such a task.
God is waiting to dazzle us with His supernatural ability to supply grace, freedom, and pure agape love beyond our capacity… He simply asks us to take that first obedient step in faith.
In this season, step in my, my friend—and be blessed by what the Lord will do in your heart and the hearts of others!