How can you love people better? How can you love your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, friends, or coworkers like Christ loves you? How can you love less conditionally?
Jesus said some pretty radical stuff. Perhaps one of the most shocking was his instructions on how to treat people who wrong you. Matthew 5:38-48 are some of the most outlandish Bible verses I’ve read. For example, Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil . . . .
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . .
My initial reaction to these verses is to go find all the other Bible passages which balance them out. Setting boundaries on people, turning people over to Satan so God might humble them, enforcing church discipline, and judging people biblically – these too are all topics covered in the Scriptures.
To Love Well, We Must Not Tame Jesus’ Words
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? We read Jesus’ radical words and we instantly try to rationalize them, subdue them, and “balance” it all to make ourselves feel better. We are more comfortable with a tame Jesus. But I think if we walked with Jesus in the flesh during his time on earth, “tame” is not a word that would come to mind. When it came to normalcy, Jesus didn’t fit the mold. I think Jesus meant these Bible verses to be shocking because he wants Christians to be shockingly different than the rest of the world.
How should we be different? Christian should ultimately stand out not for their spiritual oddity, not for their opposition to the immorality in their societies, and not just for their separateness, although there are times and places for all of these categories. Christians should “be different” for their proclamation of the One True Savior and by their radical love. If Matthew 5:38-48 teaches us nothing else, it seems obvious that Jesus does not want his followers to love like the rest of the world. He wants our love to look very different than “fair.”
Jesus Tells Us to Not Be Fair
This world is always striving for fairness. The highest ideal it can offer is justice. Far too often humanity falls short even of this. But Christians are to strive for something so much greater than fairness. We are to strive to act like God, who does not treat us as our sins deserve but who offers abounding grace (Psalm 103:10-13). God never meets are expectations because he always surpasses them (Ephesians 3:19-21). God’s love and grace rush in harder and faster than our sin. Our evil never floods God’s love. God’s love and grace are always more than enough. He is never overwhelmed by our sin and fallenness.
Christians are called to imitate and reflect God. Therefore in this world people should think we are crazy not for strangeness but for our lavish kindness, mercy, and love. I know that sounds idealistic. I know there is a time to stand up and defend yourself. But if we want to meet the call God has given us, we must also rush into love, knowing most of the time we will need to treat people better than they deserve. We are always in need of being treated better than we deserve, and so it should be no surprise when other people need this of us. As Ephesians 5:1-2 states:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
We are called to imitate God, to love others like Christ loves us. Therefore we are called to not treat people fairly. Relationships fail or succeed based upon your commitment to fairness or to something better than fair – grace and love.
To Love People Better, Be a Thermostat, Not a Thermometer
The more mature you are in Christ, the less fair you treat people. God treats people the least fairly, blessing us with far more than we deserve, because he possesses the most mature love, because he is the purest at heart.
In other words if we want to love like Christ, we must be more like a thermostat and less like a thermometer. A thermostat controls the temperature in the room and seeks to keep a consistent feel regardless of what the weather is doing outside. It controls the heat and the AC and knows what to pump into the room based upon its settings. A thermometer, on the other hand, simply gauges the temperature in the room. It rises and falls based upon the external conditions surrounding it.
Christians should be like a thermostat because we are called to a certain standard of love regardless of what the weather is like outside. People can be warm and loving or cold and nasty, but the call of a Christian is to love like Christ regardless. When we act like a thermometer, we will simply love those who love us and hate those who hate us, which is exactly what Jesus told us not to do in Matthew 5:38-48. We will be conditional people if we love like that, but our God is an unconditionally loving God.
We will never love perfectly like God in this lifetime because we are not perfect like him. But the more mature we become the less fair we will treat people. The more we imitate God, the more we will love people regardless of their behavior towards us. Now that’s radical, and Jesus calls us to a radical love.
To Not Play Fair, You Will Need Fulfillment in God First
If I have $100 dollars in the bank and you ask me for $50, but I know you still owe me from the last time I lent you money, it’s unlikely I will be able to help you out. But if I have 1 million in the bank and you want $50 even though you still owe me $50 from last time, I’m a lot more likely to treat you better than fair.
Now of course in an example like this it would not be unloving to help someone learn responsibility or to put boundaries in place. Matthew 5:38-48 doesn’t mean we never discipline people or never allow them to feel the weight of the consequences that come with their actions. I’m not saying we just allow people to abuse us and walk all over us in the name of love. That’s not love.
Not only is it damaging to us when people abuse us over and over again, it’s also damaging to the abuser. To help other people grow in responsibility when it’s in your power to do so is loving. So treating people better than they deserve does not mean you never say “no” or you never say, “Now that’s enough. Stop or you won’t be in my life if you keep abusing me.”
With that said, we will need to walk in step with the Spirit to know how to express our love. And sometimes God will call us to express our love in ways that makes no sense at all in a tic-for-tack world. But to treat people better than they deserve, we will need to have more love and grace inside of us than a normal human.
If our love and grace is contingent upon the health of the relationships in our lives, we will never have enough love and grace to treat people better than they deserve. Imagine a giant reservoir of water. This watering hole will run dry if you give away the water to everyone who asks. The only way you can keep that water supply up is by refilling it from another water source that has a greater amount of water to give.
Likewise, if we are going to be giving out more love and grace than we are getting back from people, which is the call of all Christians, then logically we must be refilled from a greater source. We must receive more grace and love from God than we are giving out to people or our well will run dry.
To love better we must treat people better than fair because God treats us better than fair. But we will need God to fill us first. We must serve out of our overflow of love and not out of our reserves. You won’t love if you are empty on the inside.
So don’t’ tame Jesus’s words, allow them to be radical. Don’t treat people fairly, treat them better than fair. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer. And most of all, love people out of the love you are receiving from your Heavenly Father.