When we make friends, we are likely to gravitate towards people who are similar to us. We share the same hobbies, are in similar life stages, we share the similar backgrounds, values and beliefs. On the whole they are easy, you gain as much as your give, and what you give does not seem like a sacrifice. These relationships are important because they allow us to relax, share and have fun but they are not the only people that Jesus calls us to love.
“A new command i give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:34-35 (NIV)
Jesus spent time with sinners, tax collectors, women and Gentiles. People would not have expected the Son of God to hang out with these groups. So much so that the Pharisees complained that “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2). And yet, Jesus connected with each one of them on a personal and deep level. His love for them reached them on a level beyond their background, beliefs and society’s expectations.
So when Jesus tells us to love each other “as I have loved you”, he is not just talking about the people we are naturally drawn to. He calls us to love those we struggle to hold a conversation with, those who irritate us and those who are different from us in any way.
Let’s be clear this love comes naturally to some people, but for others it is something that takes effort and commitment to do. It means actively stepping out of our own circle. It may be that that person has a real need that you can provide but they cannot repay. You might need to work hard to keep a conversation going. You may need to let go of or work through irritations again and again.
Motives are important. Loving others like Jesus can mean providing and sacrificing but it should be a genuine effort to bridge differences and knock down walls to reach a place of community and love. The aim is not to continue awkward conversations indefinitely but to seek to find common ground to share and discuss. The aim is not to hide your irritations but to get to a place where they disappear from your mind or have resolved between you. The aim is to love more like Jesus.
And for a moment, think of all you would gain from someone investing and loving you in this way? When you realise someone values you for you. How you can be challenged in your faith and life by a different perspective. When you are opened to a new group of friends through them. Everyone benefits from this type of love.
Jesus calls us to love as he loved. This may need to start as a conscious effort, it may call for sacrifices, but increasingly it becomes part of who you are as you welcome everyone, love anyone and grow in community together.
Who is God calling you to show love to?
What barriers and walls are in your way?
How can you practically begin to remove those barriers and walls?