I like to think that I’m not too bad at the whole ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ thing. I let people go ahead of me in queues, I try to tell the truth, I stand up for old people on the tube, that sort of thing. …or at least, I do unless I’m late…or telling the truth will damage someone’s good opinion of me…or I’ve got more than 5 stops to go…or really anytime that doing the loving thing will hurt me.
I realise I’ve been seduced by cheap ‘love’. I’ll do something nice for someone else if it won’t inconvenience me and my plans. I’ll sit and talk to you about why you’re upset… as long as you let me help you and take my advice, and you cheer up within half an hour. I’ll let you stay at my house….as long as it doesn’t harm my schedule, and I don’t have to stay up late talking to you, and you don’t finish my milk. I’ll be friends with you…as long as you’re always nice to me, I can ignore you when I’m busy and you don’t challenge me on my behaviour.
But what sort of ‘love’ is that? I realise that often my ‘kind’ deeds for others are motivated by self-interest. If I do something nice for you then I’ll feel better about myself and you’ll be nice back to me. So when loving others becomes truly costly to me the equation flips: it’s no longer in my interests to do it. So I won’t. If my motivation for loving others is that it will benefit me, then I will never love people beyond the edge of my comfort zone.
But that’s not how Jesus loves. Jesus loved us to death itself. Paul talks of his Lord as the One who ‘loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Gal 2:20). Jesus Himself said:
‘I tell you who hear me: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you…Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners’, expecting to be repaid in full.
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting anything back, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.’
If I claim to follow the Man who is the perfect example of this type of sacrificial love, I need to learn to keep loving when it hurts. I find it an uncomfortable thought, but I suspect that the ‘love’ which doesn’t hurt may not be love at all.