Making the Tough Choice to Love

Sometimes love is awkward. Sometimes the things God asks you to do out of His love seem bizarre. But you can still choose to love and be known for your love.

Years ago, my cousin died from Cystic Fibrosis at the age of 25. His was the first death in my very large family, and it hit us all particularly hard. After his funeral, I stood in the church, crying … and noticed my uncle’s wife, who notoriously steered clear of family events. 

I walked up to my aunt and hugged her. While I was in the middle of squeezing her tight, I clearly felt the Holy Spirit saying, “Tell her you love her.”

Now I KNOW this was the Holy Spirit, because, quite truthfully, I didn’t feel like I loved her at all. The impulse to declare my love to someone who didn’t give me warm fuzzies wouldn’t have come from me.

But I obeyed. And without hesitation, in the middle of our hug, I said, “I love you!”

This only made my aunt cry harder and cling to me even more. 

Sometimes love is awkward. Sometimes the things God asks you to do out of His love seem bizarre. But you can still choose to love and be known for your love.

When love is awkward

I have no idea why the Holy Spirit asked me to do that on that September afternoon. I have no idea what it might have done to my aunt. She later divorced my uncle and I have no idea what’s happened to her. 

But I do know I was asked to love the unlovable. And even if it seemed awkward or bizarre, in that moment I chose to obey and love.

Sometimes love IS awkward. Sometimes the things God asks you to do out of His love seems bizarre. And it’s with that same awkward, bizarre, but radical type of love that we can consider Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.

When so many people today are ready and willing to end relationships and move on, Jesus calls his followers to something that seems awkward and bizarre. Jesus calls his followers to love and forgive and keep their promises.

As we learn in Matthew 5, Jesus gets to the very heart of the matter. Bypassing what’s seen from the outside, he gets to the core of huge topics like adultery, divorce, vows, being sinned against, and loving your enemies and shows that they’re all related.

Marriage involves forgiveness and keeping your word and loving the unlovable. Commitment, vows, and promises all involve trust, integrity, and faithfulness. 

Sometimes love is awkward. Sometimes the things God asks you to do out of His love seem bizarre. But you can still choose to love and be known for your love.

When love doesn’t come naturally

As I’ve pondered Jesus’ teaching, I’ve felt especially moved – and convicted – by what He taught in verses 43-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 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 makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:43-48

I could try to tell you 10 practical ways to live this out, but in doing so, I’d feel like a hypocrite. It’s not easy to love your enemies. At all. And it’s not easy to be kind to those who treat you with nastiness. For humans, it doesn’t come naturally. 

Just because I told my unlovable aunt that I loved her, that happened once more than 20 years ago. Is this a daily occurrence where I overlook my annoyances or how I’ve been wronged and bubble over with love? Unfortunately it’s not.

Do we want to love the very people who oppose us? No. But we’re called to do it anyway.

This echoes throughout the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, Jesus promised blessing when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on His account. He gives us yet another reminder to love in the face of opposition and adversity.

If we, as sinful, imperfect people are asked to do this but know we can’t, what are we supposed to do? Know that we don’t want to love our enemies so hold a grudge instead? Find ways to get revenge?

Of course not. We are called to love. And this call to love is written throughout the New Testament as evidence of your relationship with Christ.

The trademark of Christ followers

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Yet when we’re trying to love the unlovable, we can’t love in our own strength and will. We need the power of the Holy Spirit living and working in us. We need to live and do in His strength and ability. This reminds me of Jesus’ teaching: 

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15: 4-5

We can do nothing apart from the Lord. This kind of righteous living Jesus calls us to is only possible through Him. 

Sometimes love is awkward. Sometimes the things God asks you to do out of His love seem bizarre. But you can still choose to love and be known for your love.

A call to love

This call to love our enemies in Christ’s power echoes the trademark we should have as His followers – LOVE. Earlier in John 13, Jesus teaches, 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

Again in John 15, Jesus teaches: 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

John 15:12-14, 17

If Christ Jesus is your Lord, love for Him and love for others is your response. Love is what Christ followers need to be known for. Love for other believers and love for non-believers. Love for those who are for you, and love for those who are against you.

Christ showed us the greatest love – laying down his life for his friends and enemies. As Christ’s disciples, we’re called to love like He loved.

When and how have you watched the love of God change a relationship?

Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Hilary

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