Loving Isn't Always Easy
If you haven’t noticed, loving people can be difficult. Because of this, we may choose to allow relationships to die because they take too much work or they cause too much pain to keep alive. Somewhere inside we know this is not the right response, but who would fault us for distancing ourselves from those relationships that require constant maintenance?
Have you ever had such thoughts? It would be the rare person who has not! We may wonder if such relationships are worth the effort they require. We can find our answer in the parable of the prodigal son where Jesus offers a lesson on the father’s love.
In the parable, the prodigal tells his father, “I want my share of your estate now before you die.” (Luke 15:11) Talk about relational pain! The father grants his son’s request and the boy “moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.” The real story of the parable is not about the prodigal, it is about the father’s love for his sons. His love has nothing to do with their deservingness and all to do with the love that he has for them as their father.
Our love for others will be tempered by our understanding of God’s love for us, his child. How do we become a child of God? By being good? By being worthy? If we answer yes, then we are likely to identify with the elder brother in the story who is incensed that his father has welcomed his undeserving brother back into their home. He is hurt thinking that his brother is being rewarded in his wickedness while his own righteous deeds are being ignored.
While we can easily recognize the elder brother’s hypocrisy, we can fail to see our own. When we fail to receive the accolades for our hard work, we can become embittered. Our error is to fail to see our own sin – sin is always more obvious in another person. We can be blindsided by their comments, but the test of our love, the test of our character, will be revealed in our response. Paul offers us some critical words on this, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:17-18)
Yet we may say, “Don’t you know what they have done? Didn’t you hear what they said? How can I keep quiet?” Yet, none of us are innocent.
Both sons dishonor their father. The prodigal by wishing him dead and the elder brother in his self-righteousness denial. The father is burdened by his sons’ failure to understand love so he chooses to shower them with love unconditionally. His love was not tempered by deservingness; his love was emboldened by God.
What do I mean? We can only love another by looking beyond the person in front of us to see Christ in them. This is why Jesus tells us that if we wrong our brother we need to make peace, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24) A broken relationship with our brother not only harms that relationship but it also builds a wall on our side in our fellowship with God.
Only when we remember the love that can be ours in Christ are we able to love others as Christ has loved us. It may not be easy but it will always be worth it. How can we walk in such love? Listen to the words of Hebrews 11:2, “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
If you are to love those that test you, you must keep your eyes on Christ. Remember that just as the prodigal’s father did not love his sons because they deserved it, so too God loves you not because you are worthy but because of your faith in Christ. Therefore, embrace the opportunity to love those who challenge you with the love God has shown you. You will find it to be worth it!