Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
March 8, 2015
There is no wiggle room when it comes to love
Radical Islamist terrorists are beheading innocent Christians. Does God expect Christians to love these terrorists? Does God love them? The answer to both questions is yes.
God, of course, is a just God and he will hold everyone, including terrorists, accountable for their evil deeds. His love does not negate his judgment.
When it comes to loving our enemies, no matter how vile, God leaves us no wiggle room. Genuine disciples of Jesus must love others. No matter how severely others hurt us we must forgive and love our offenders.
The irony is that we cannot love others simply because we realize we must love them. What God demands is utterly impossible without God’s help. So the first step in loving others is to admit we cannot do it on our own.
That is where the gospel comes in. God loved us first. He sent his Son to die for our sins. By allowing Jesus to die for our salvation, God showed us how much he loves us. Then God invites us to confess Jesus as the Savior of the world and invite him to live in our hearts. Learning how to love as God asks us to love begins with confessing Jesus as the Son of God.
Think of this as opening your heart to Jesus. When you repent of your sins and open your heart to Jesus, God begins to “abide,” or “dwell,” or “live” inside you. Since God is love, you now have eternal love abiding in your heart. Now, loving others, even those who have hurt you, becomes possible. God Himself is helping you love.
Loving others then is never something you can boast of having done since you cannot do it without help. Such love is the result of a partnership with God who empowers you to love as Christ loved.
Nothing in the world is more beautiful than a person who loves others like Jesus loved people. That is why we marvel at the self-giving love of a David Livingstone or a Mother Teresa. We realize that their Christ-like love was possible only because God dwelt in their hearts.
All of us are tempted to return evil for evil and retaliate against those who offend us. We can resist such temptation by remembering that God loved us when we did not deserve it. When revenge heats up within us, we can say, “Because God loved me in spite of my sins I can ask him to help me love others despite their sins.”
A woman confided in me that she hated her father and could not forgive him for abusing her as a child. Her pain was so great that she did not even want to forgive him. I urged her to pray for deliverance from her hatred and ask God to help her forgive her father. Slowly she began to see that her hatred was like a ball and chain binding her to her wretched past.
The day finally came when, in tears, she said, “I am willing to forgive him – if God will help me. God will have to give me love for my father because I have none in my heart for him.” That was all God was waiting for; He gave her the love she needed as soon as she asked for it. When she forgave her father, she released herself from the prison of her own hatred. She was free to live a healthy life and she blossomed like a flower in spring, her face radiating joy and peace.
The wisest thing we can do, when hatred is consuming us, is to do what that woman did: ask God to give us love, his love, for the person for whom we feel no love. Since God is a generous God, and his supply of love is inexhaustible, he will give us all the love we need.
God understands when love is difficult. He knows that hurt can numb our capacity to love. Insults and cruelty can exhaust our capacity to care, to the point that we are tempted to give up even trying to love our abusers.
When that happens to me, the only solution is to fall on my knees and confess that I am lost without the Christ within. His words, “Without me you can do nothing at all,” vibrate within my numbness. Then a wonderful thing happens. When I admit I am helpless, at that very moment God opens the reservoir of heaven and fills my heart with his love. Then—and only then—am I able to love as Christ loved.
Saint Paul explains in his Letter to the Romans how God’s love gets into our hearts. We cannot obtain it by striving for it. We must simply open ourselves to it for we are “vessels” with the capacity to receive God’s love. When we do, God does an amazing thing: He “pours his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”! The word “pour” suggests two things: the abundance of God’s love and his great willingness to share it.
Paul shares in the fifth chapter of Romans that we are sinners without hope but God sends his Son. Through the death of Jesus, we may find peace with God. This is justification by faith. Once reconciled to God we have access to his all-sufficient grace. We can “stand” in it! Indeed, grace is the only solid ground upon which to stand. All other ground is “sinking sand.”
God’s grace allows us to rejoice even in our sufferings. Though we suffer, God gives us the undeserved gift of hope. We see through the pain the glory that God will eventually bring. This, indeed, is hope, the inner certainty that there is meaning in suffering because God is in control.
It seems fitting to let the original Methodist, John Wesley, offer this final word:
“When the love of God has been poured into the heart of the born again person, the necessary fruit of that love is the love of our neighbor. This means every soul whom God has made, including our enemies. We cannot exclude those who are now despitefully using and persecuting us, for the love of God is a love by which we love everyone as we love ourselves.
“Our Lord has expressed it strongly, teaching us to love one another, even as He has loved us; and while we were yet sinners, He loved us and laid down His life for us. Accordingly, this commandment is written in the hearts of all those that love God, ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another.’”
Amen! + + +