John 13:34-35 [Jesus said] “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.”

Matthew 25:31-40 [Jesus said] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ****‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me****”.

1 John 4:7-8, 19-21 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love….We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

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Over and over again in Scripture we are admonished to love God, and love people.  And not just the ones we like, either… ALL people… even strangers. Even people who don’t look like us, live like us, think like us, act like us….. Even…dare I say it?…. Even our enemies. (See Matthew 5:44; I didn’t come up with that one, Jesus did… plenty of times I’d like to erase that verse lol… but nope, God knows best, even when I, in my flesh, don’t like it one bit!)

Loving God and loving people go hand in hand.  The more we know God, the more we fall in love with Him…and the closer we get to Him, the more our hearts and minds are transformed and renewed by the word of God (see Romans 12:2) and the more our hearts change to be more like His… which causes us to…you guessed it… love people.   I don’t mean the shallow (sometimes fake) societal politeness and courtesies… courtesies and general niceness is good…but ultimately worthless if it does not stem from a heart that is being daily transformed by and daily surrendered to the love of Christ.  (Check out 1 Corinthians 13…all the good deeds in the universe are utterly worthless if done without love!)  As our hearts and minds are transformed, we will begin go see people through the eyes of CHRIST… not our own eyes, with vision blurred by selfish interests, hurts (past or present), bias or prejudices…. We will ultimately begin to see others the way God does… made in His image…deeply loved by Him… each person dear enough to God’s heart that He sent Jesus to die on that cross for us…and them.

I know…that all sounds real nice, doesn’t it? Awww, how sweet.  Great lesson for the Sunday school class, eh?

But.

How does this “loving God, loving people” thing work out here in the real world?  You know…where it’s pretty darn hard to do?  How does the call to love God, and love others show up in our daily lives?

Well…first, we must choose to walk in obedience in this area (ooh, that sounded all spiritual-like, didn’t it??? Don’t let that fool you, I’m talkin’ the real world here).   It does go against our selfish natures to want to surrender our whole lives, hearts, and wills to God. It goes against our natural selfish inclinations to love people outside of our own immediate circle…or sometimes even within our own immediate circle!  That’s where the choice comes in.  “Lord, they aren’t very lovable. In fact, that whole crowd there, they are just a whole bunch of creeps!  But… I know YOU love them.  Jesus died for them.  Their salvation matters to You every bit as much as mine does…Help me to see them through Your eyes.  Help me to pray for them and treat them as you would have me to…with kindness, respect, and dignity – whether or not I think they “deserve” it or not!”  ….and that’s when the Holy Spirit jumps in and gets to working on our hearts and enable us to do just that.  It’s only through the power of the Holy Spirit, through God’s love filling and overflowing our hearts, that we can do this.

Next… OK, God… I am willing to show my love for you by loving others…how does that work?  How do we do it?

Simple… who is around us?  Who do we encounter each day? Our immediate families, certainly.  Co-workers.  Store clerks.  Fellow shoppers in the wonderful world of Walmart, etc.  In Matthew 25, quoted above, Jesus says that as we have done to others, so we have done to HIM.  When Saul encountered the risen Savior on the road to Damascus, Jesus said to Him, “Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” – not, “why are you seeking to imprison and kill my people, Christians, my followers…etc…..” – nope…Jesus said, “Why are you persecuting ME?” (See Acts 9:4).  In other words…if Jesus was standing here in front of me…how would I act, how would I welcome Him, how would I treat Him?

All these people we come across in our everyday life…each one is an opportunity to show God’s love…not falsely from some hidden agenda, but simply because of the fact that God loves them. Period. They matter to Him…they should matter to me. Showing the love of Christ out here in the real world may be as simple as a smile, or a word of thanks. An uplifting letter or a card in the snail mail, an encouraging email, a quick phone call.  Or.,,it may be NOT saying something unkind or harsh (I fail at this one a lot; so thankful God doesn’t give up on us; otherwise I’d have given up on me a long time ago!).  It may be offering a helping hand, a listening ear, a praying heart.  It may be patience in the midst of traffic (big “needs improvement” area here) or dealing kindly with a harsh person (Proverbs 15:1) (and yes, it is possible to be kind and not be a doormat…but that’s a whole ‘nuther post for a whole ‘nuther day!)

A million times a day, we have opportunity after opportunity to see Christ in others, to welcome them as we would welcome Him, and to love them as He loves us.  We fail… well, I know I do, at least… but the most important thing is repenting and forging ahead anyway.

Love and kindness are not weaknesses.  They are the strongest forces on earth…because nothing is more powerful than the love of God.  Lord help us to love You…change our hearts, help us to see through your eyes, give us wisdom, discernment, and most of all, genuine love and compassion so that all may see YOU and come to KNOW You for themselves.  Lord, help my life to reflect Your love, and forgive me for the times I’ve failed.

Yesterday is over and done.  Tomorrow…or right now, as you read this… is a new beginning! His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22, 23).  Let’s unleash God’s love, let it out of the Sunday-only church box and turn it loose in our everyday grind…and see what cool stuff God does next!

Love thy neighbor

 

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