Where do you and I draw the line between people we have hope for and continue to pray for who are messing up their lives, and those we give up on? When my son, Wilfredo Jr., was flunking out of school and smoking marijuana, I never thought of giving up on him. Sure, I was upset, frustrated, and deeply disappointed, but his behavior got more of my attention, not less.
But others are harder to love, and it’s more difficult to believe they’ll ever change. We tend to draw a line to exclude them from our lives because of their behavior or their views on important topics. That’s why it’s important for us to develop a kingdom perspective about people and ideas. It’s the only way to build bridges of love.
Most of us have family members whose lives have gone off the rails. The list is almost endless: people who are alcoholics, addicts, thieves, liars, narcissists, hoarders, or sexual predators; human volcanoes who blow up and go dormant until the next explosion; people who are abusive; those who abandon us physically or emotionally; people who are irresponsible; and people with obsessive-compulsive habits or personality disorders, to name a few.
It’s my guess that most of us have drawn a line in the sand, and on the other side are people we’ve written off as utterly hopeless. We manage to barely put up with people who are grouchy or whose habits are somewhat repulsive, but these others are beyond our limits.
To move the line so we can love more people, we need a rare and precious commodity: humility. Paul describes the humility of Christ in his letter to the Philippians. He begins by saying that we can have a similar attitude if our hearts are filled with God’s grace. Paul begins with a series of “if” statements:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion . . . —Philippians 2:1, NIV
Paul is reminding us of the phenomenal gift of grace poured out on us in Jesus. This grace isn’t just a theological truth; it connects us with His heart so that contempt for others melts away and is replaced with kindness.
Notice that the “if” clauses conclude with a “then” statement as Paul describes what happens in us and through us when we experience grace:
. . . then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. —Philippians 2:2–5
What was Jesus’ mindset? He didn’t insist on His comfort and popularity. Instead, He emptied Himself. He was the King of glory, but He became a servant. He was the Lord of life, but He let Himself be killed to pay the penalty we deserved. He was supremely powerful, but He humbled himself for you and me. He died for His enemies, people who had nothing to offer, people like us.
We get a picture of how wide Jesus’ love was on the morning of the resurrection. The first person who saw Christ was Mary Magdalene. When she saw Him, she didn’t expect to see a risen Savior. She thought He was the gardener who had taken the body away. But when Jesus gently called her name, “Mary,” she knew it was Him. (See John 20:11–16.) At that moment, the message of the gospel was in the hands of a woman who, Luke tells us, had been possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2). She was the most unlikely evangelist: she was a woman in a man’s world, a person who had been possessed by demons, and uneducated. But Jesus looked beyond these factors and revealed Himself to her. You and I were once just as unlikely, and yet He has revealed Himself to us.
Jesus obliterated the line and the limitations on His love. No one was outside His grace, and everyone was welcome to experience the wealth of His kindness. As we grasp His love more fully, our line will move out.
Does this mean we totally accept everyone, no matter how abusive or irresponsible he or she is? No, not exactly. We are called to love people but not necessarily to trust them. It would be foolish to trust an abuser or a habitual liar. Jesus loved the Pharisees by speaking the truth to them and letting them respond. But He did not exclude them.
We can build bridges of love with people if they’ll open their hearts—even just a little—so we can take steps toward each other. Sometimes a relationship may look hopeless, but God can make a way when we don’t see one.
This is an excerpt from “Love Them Anyway: Finding Hope in a Divided World Gone Crazy” by Pastor Choco De Jesus. More at https://lovethemanywaybook.com
Pastor Choco De’ Jesus is the former senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago, one of the largest churches in the nation. He serves as General treasurer of the Assemblies of God. He was named in 2013 as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. He is the author of several books, including “Love Them Anyway”.
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