I am not an emotionally expressive person, so it’s hard for me to effusively declare my love and support for those around me. My way of showing love usually involves doing, buying, writing, or making things for them, but these things take time, money, and creative effort. I can only write so many letters, make so many crafts, and purchase so many gifts in one week or even one year.
That thought made a lightbulb glow brightly in my brain. So often I have become overwhelmed by the weight of how many people are around me. God loves each and every one of them, so I have to as well, right? How can my little introverted self possibly love all of them?
The simple answer is, I can’t. In a vague sense, I can grow in my love for all of the people God has created, but I cannot know and love each one of them on an individual level. Just as I am limited in my ability to make gifts, so am I limited in my ability to show love. Only God has an infinite capacity to love.
So, how am I supposed to love other people as Jesus loves them? Many books could be (and have been) written on Christ’s love, the first and foremost of which is the Bible itself. Here are just a few simple observations of Jesus’ love as portrayed in Scripture. These have helped me to learn what loving people means.
1. Jesus Loves Intentionally
Jesus didn’t stay in Heaven and wish there were a convenient way to show love to His people. He left His throne and His Father to become a man with all of the pain and hardship that comes along with humanity. He sacrificed everything to come to His people and provide a way for them to be saved. In Philippians, Paul uses Christ’s intentional sacrifice to instruct the believers at Philippi how to love each other:
"Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Jesus didn’t have to humble Himself, but He intentionally chose to make Himself a man and go to the people who needed Him. He sacrificed everything to provide salvation for His people. That is the definition of love.
We cannot sacrifice ourselves to provide salvation for others as Jesus did, but we can sacrifice our comfort, our security, and our time to purposefully reach out to those He has placed in our lives. True love does not happen by accident. Whether or not we realize it, we make little choices to notice someone, reach out to them, give our time to them, and open our hearts to them.
Sometimes this comes easily for us, as with friends and family we already know and love. Other times this is distinctly uncomfortable:
If God has placed a person within your radar or close to your home, showing love to them is a conscious choice that may take you out of your comfort zone, but it is the true way to follow Jesus’ own sacrificial love.
2. Jesus Loves Individually
God made us unique. No two people are going to receive love in the same way. Isaiah tells us:
"But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father; we are the clay, and Thou our Potter; and we are the work of Thy hand.” Isaiah 64:8
As a loving Creator, God sculpted each one of us. Isaiah and the Psalms both declare that God knew us and fashioned us to be unique individuals before we were even born. It’s part of the awe-inspiring detail and creativity of God’s creation. Our individual, distinct, God-imagined souls are what make us fashioned in His image. This gives us the ability to rebel, but it is also why Jesus came to give us the ability to be redeemed.
While Jesus was on earth, He displayed His personal knowledge of individuals by how He spoke with people. He knew the true heart’s desire of the rich young ruler, and, in love, He asked Him to give up His idol in order to have eternal life. Jesus’ love was so focused on each individual’s needs that He didn’t give a generic answer to the young ruler’s question. He was aware of the person He was talking to and what that person, specifically, needed to hear.
Unlike Jesus, we are not omniscient. We can’t look at the rich young rulers that come up to us and automatically know their hearts. For us, this aspect of Christ-like love will take work. To elevate love to a one-on-one level we must be willing to listen to and observe other people, enabling us to understand their personal struggles and appreciating their individual strengths.
Without this personal knowledge, we can accidentally offend, run roughshod over, or neglect people who have very specific needs. In the group of bus kids, we’re moving through the church doors, we won’t notice the feeling of abandonment in a little boy whose father has left him. In the youth group, we’ll be so busy dealing with the troublesome teenagers from unsaved homes that the well-behaved church kid who has honest questions about her faith and the Bible will feel overlooked and unsure about how to ask her questions.
Every group is made up of individuals. Individuals with unique personalities, pasts, temptations, and struggles. We can love people by getting to know those individualities that make each and every person a beautiful representation of God’s image on earth. People respond better to those who take the time to notice what they enjoy and what they aren’t comfortable with. They feel loved when others show interest in and remember these things.
3. Jesus Loves Inclusively
Jesus didn’t limit His love to likable people or people who were morally and spiritually upstanding. Often, in the church, we get a little self-righteous. After all, many of us don’t commit a lot of the sins that people out there in the world do, so we think we’re justified in turning up our noses just a little bit at those people. We’re allowed to have pet peeve sins that make us cringe, shudder, and tilt our chin up a little higher, right?
Wrong. Jesus didn’t shy away from the woman taken in adultery—He offered her forgiveness. Jesus didn’t shy away from the thief on the cross—He offered him a place in paradise. Jesus didn’t shy away from the woman who anointed His feet—He commended her love for Him.
Yet in the church, we definitely have pet peeve sins that we can’t seem to imagine God forgiving. Sexual sins and substance abuse tend to stand out on top. But if Jesus, the essence of holiness and godliness Himself, didn’t shy away from these people, what right have we to cringe away?
All people living in sin need the Savior. This is just as true if the very lifestyle they have chosen to live is a sin.
As I realized in my light-bulb moment of self-reflection, I cannot love everyone. That is God’s job alone. But He has placed specific people in my life, and He has equipped me to love those people intentionally, individually, and inclusively. I just need to be willing to step outside of my comfort zone, willing to dig deeper to truly know and care for those individuals, and willing to love those whose lifestyles are openly sinful.
Regardless of our personalities, locations, and vocations, each one of us can effectively love the people around us. I’m praying that God will teach me to get over my own limitations and fears and instead rely on His power to open my heart to the individuals I interact with throughout my daily life. Are there specific people God has brought to your mind as you read this today? Let’s pray for each other to listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to go out and love those individual, God-created souls on purpose!
How are you loving like Jesus loves today?
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