Jesus simplified his commands for us into two things: Love God. Love people. (See Matthew 22:37-39). Coming back from Africa a couple months ago inspired me to write a blog post titled “Loving God Intentionally” as I considered the devotion it takes to love God well amidst the clutter of our busy lives. Now it is important to consider how He also calls us to love others intentionally.
In order to effectively love others the way God calls us to, we must be plugged into the Source. We must be closely attached to the One who loves us with perfect love, so that we may be able to pour out to others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV) says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Therefore, if you want to encourage others, first let yourself be encouraged by Christ. If you want to speak truth to others, first be filled by the truth of His Word.
The cards are stacked against us in our efforts to love others the way Jesus loves us, so we must consider what it means to live out our relationships in stark contrast to the society around us. Our work or school strains out our time with family and friends. Facebook has the potential to enrich our social lives but often leaves them shallow and dry as we substitute meaningful face to face time with people. We also maintain shallow relationships in fear of exposing each others’ sin. But Jesus calls us to holiness in this area.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. – Romans 12:9-13 (ESV)
“Let love be genuine”: God calls us to love with more than just feelings; He calls us to love with our actions. “Abhor what is evil”: seek holiness together. Be lovingly bold to point out sin to a brother or sister. Surprising as it sounds, judgment of sin does have its place within the body. “Hold fast to what is good”: if you’re going to lovingly call someone out, you have to give them a vision for what is right and good for their lives. You also better be just as fast to bless them with words of encouragement!
We should have a vision for what holiness looks like in each others’ lives and help keep each other on that path. Recently two friends of mine who we will call Alan and Dave (just for fun) drove to come reach out to people downtown through Breakthrough. Alan was driving and was playing some crude rap music. But Dave asked Alan to turn it off, as he wanted to focus himself on God’s work to be done that night. He also challenged Alan to consider God’s calling for us to live holy lives, set apart from the distractions of this life and “holding fast to what is good.” Alan took that to heart and has started to look at other things in his life that God could want to weed out. This is not to say that listening to the rap was necessarily a sin, but that it was not building him up. This is a good example of how we can love each other intentionally. It is not always easy.
Let’s continue dissecting Paul’s words, and I’m skipping a couple verses here (I can do that. It’s my blog post). “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality”: Seek out how you can serve others in the body. There are always needs; so be attentive and seek out how you can make your time, talent or treasure available to someone. In the process, you will be serving Christ himself (Matthew 25:35-36 ESV).
God also intended His command for us to love one another to be a witness to outsiders of Christ. When they see the way we serve and love each other, they will wonder and eventually see that He is alive and working in us. Acts 2:42-47 (ESV) talks about the early church’s healthy spiritual community and ends with “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” It is necessary for us to use words in communicating Christ to the world, as the early apostles clearly did, but the way we selflessly love one another opens the door to hearts.
What gets in the way of us loving others intentionally? Two apparent things are selfishness and distraction. For me, sometimes when I walk into a room full of people, I am not always looking for the person who looks down and out so I can encourage him. Often I am looking to see who is telling the funny jokes or for that girl that I find pretty cute. My selfishness gets in the way of intentionally loving those around me.
As I discussed in the “Loving God Intentionally” blog post, there are a multitude of distractions in our lives that Satan uses to tear us away from meaningful relationships. If only I had a nickel for every time I find someone on their smart phone while the person across the table from them stares blankly out the window waiting for them to get off. A few of my friends and I have recently done media fasts in which we have given up Facebook, TV or movies, and found how much we really do not miss these things at the end of the day; and a lot of that time can be substituted for more significant time with others.
Other distractions can be things that seem good otherwise. Martha was frustrated with her sister Mary for sitting at the feet of Jesus while she labored away in the house, serving others. Jesus’ response to her was, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42 ESV). Sometimes our service to others can go too far, decay into “busy-bodyness”, and ultimately distract us from loving others well.
Consider what distractions in your life take away from you having deep relationships that foster change and growth. Consider the ways that you are self-serving in your relationships. And then in an effort to change, pray every time before you spend time with someone. Pray something like this, “Lord, You are Holy and you are love. Make me a blessing to these people. Forgive me of my selfishness and help me love in the sacrificial ways You have loved me. May I speak truth and grace into the lives of those around me. And may my actions reflect my words. Amen.”
Author: Jeff Oleson