Several years ago, there was a viral social media post from a man claiming to be a surgeon. While the story's legitimacy has been called into question, no one can dispute the way it inspires us to rethink our own definition of love. The doctor writes: "Today, I operated on a little girl. She needed O-blood. We didn't have any, but her twin brother has O-blood. I explained to him that it was a matter of life and death. He sat quietly for a moment, and then said goodbye to his parents. I didn't think anything of it until after we took his blood and he asked, 'So, when will I die?' He thought he was giving his life for hers. Thankfully, they'll both be fine."
Jesus says in John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." And, we know that it was God's unfathomable love for us that brought Jesus to the world on a rescue mission to die for us (John 3:16). Throughout Scripture, we are reminded that love means sacrifice. Sometimes, it may entail physical sacrifice – even death – but it involves putting others first every time.
After years of research and interviews, Thom Ranier, author and former CEO of Lifeway, posted the "Seven Common Comments Non-Christians Make About Christians." In it, he shares a couple of trends that might not shock us but should motivate us to want to change. First, many people think that Christians are against more things than they are for. They view us as angry and unhappy all the time. Also, many people don't see much difference in the way Christians live compared to others.
If we believe God's Word is true and understand what is expected of us as followers of Jesus, why is it so hard to put love into practice? Why are Christians often viewed so negatively by those outside the faith? What are those things in our lives that keep us from seeing people as Jesus does? There are likely many reasons for this, but here are a few things we can think about to help reorient our minds around what it means to truly love.
We need to develop the proper perspective.
In general, we think too highly of ourselves. One of the fundamental reasons we fail to put others first is that we are too busy putting ourselves first. We can't think of "we" if we are always stuck on "me." As we focus on our own needs, we rarely think about what's going on in the lives of others around us. This inward focus leads us to think that our ways are right and our problems take precedent. It also causes us to believe we are not all that bad, especially compared to that person over there. They look different from me; they act differently than me; they vote differently; they don't attend church every week like I do. But, the truth is, Jesus died for me, you, her, and him. In fact, if any of us were the only ones, He still would've died the same. That's how much He loves us. And, if Jesus loves all of us, and each of us, that much, shouldn't we love the people around us the same? "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).
We need to worry less about what others think or say and focus on what God says.
I believe many Christians have a hard time truly "loving" people because they are focused on what others think or say. Instead of living like Jesus, who was often found in the company of the outcasts of society, we prefer to hang around the people like us. We are afraid of what our friends might say or tweet if we are seen with certain people or groups or speak out on their behalf. Jesus was able to minister to all kinds of people, loving them in a way that inspired them to change. Today, many Christians are viewed as judgmental, not as loving or inspirational. Billy Graham once famously said, "It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love." Our job is pretty simple, laid out in Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments. "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31).
We need to pay close attention, lest other things in our lives become idols.
American Christianity is in trouble. A study recently came out that said evangelical Christians in the United States are twice as likely to open Facebook as their Bible on any given day. There's no doubt that many of us have given worldly things preeminent space in our lives. For some, it is politics and cable news. For others, it is social media. Still others, it is work or money. Even good things, such as family, can occupy our lives to the point that it becomes an idol. I often think these days about Hebrews 2:1: "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." We must be diligent not to allow this drifting to occur, much like the church at Ephesus, described in Revelation as having "abandoned the love you had at first" (Revelation 2:4).
When we lose sight of our first love, how can we stay focused on loving others and seeing them as the Image Bearers they are? God created us with one goal in mind: to bring Him glory by being His ambassadors in the world. We make Him known when we allow ourselves to be the conduit for His love.
Photo credit: ©Austin Kehmeier/Unsplash
Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @brentrinehart