A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church. Find another day here.
Friday June 5, 2020
1 John 4:19-21
We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
I need to make a confession: loving others does not come easily to me. While some people might be lovers not fighters, or natural romantics, I am not one of those people. I’m not saying I don’t or can’t love people, but it requires purposeful, intentional effort for me to love even those who I already like. But, in all fairness to myself, I don’t think I am alone here. A recent article in Business Insider examined the results of a sociological experiment in which 240 college students were presented with fabricated news articles detailing the same violent assault against either a one-year-old baby, a 30-year-old adult, a puppy, or a six-year old dog and then compared the readers’ levels of empathy. Researchers found that empathy levels were virtually identical towards the baby human, puppy, and adult dog victims, while the adult human came in dead last. The author of the article concluded, perhaps unsurprisingly, that “people really do love dogs more than other humans.”
Why do we find puppies and pandas and tiger cubs so adorable but have such a difficult time loving other human beings? Because love is not just mushy affections or feelings of sympathy. Speaking only for myself, I often have a tendency to look at the people around me and feel a sense of superiority by comparison. Here’s the thing, I almost always give myself the benefit of the doubt. I frequently judge myself based on my best intentions, but other people off of my worst assumptions. If I want to feel better about my parenting skills, I walk through the store and smugly look down at exasperated parents impatiently pushing shopping carts full of emotional and energetic children. If you cut me off on the Parkway, you must be a terrible human being with no regard for other people, but if I do the same to you, its because I have a very important appointment with tacos to keep.
When I judge myself in comparison to others, I usually stack up pretty well. I have never killed another human being, hardly ever shake my fists in anger, and rarely raise my voice. By all outward appearances, everything typically looks more or less “okay.” But, and this is important, the Bible tells us that God does not judge me by my outward appearance, He judges me based on what is in my heart. In Romans 3, the Bible tells us that the wages, what we are owed, of our sins is death, and not just for big sins like murder, but all of our sins. In Matthew 5, Jesus explained that, in the eyes of God, being angry with another person in my heart is equivalent to killing them. When I replace my scales of justice with God’s scales, I see myself in a whole new light.
The beauty of grace is that none of us is deserving of the love of God. From His perspective, no one is easy to love, but that doesn’t stop God from loving us. God showed His love to the world by sending Jesus first to the earth, and then to the cross, on our behalf. None of us are innocent, none of us are worthy, but He is. Knowing and experiencing the love of Jesus in our lives changes everything about us. It means that we are forgiven of ALL of our sins, that we are transformed from His enemies into His heirs, and we now have a new home that is secured for us forever. It also means that we are given the power to love like Him.
We love because Jesus first loved us. I don’t love because I have been coerced or emotionally manipulated. I don’t love because I feel sorry for someone else or I have decided to try harder or I am ‘woke’ to the realities of the world. Loving like God is a divine gift from above. Loving like Jesus means turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile. Love is patient and kind; selfless and slow to anger. Love hopes, believes, and endures all things on behalf of others because of what Jesus endured on my behalf. If we know Jesus, if we have experienced His love, we can love our brothers and sisters in that same way. It is not always natural. It is not always easy. It can be costly and even humiliating. But it is possible, because of what He has done for us.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, forgive me for the times when I forget what You have done for me. My status with You is only based on what You have done on my behalf. The only thing I deserve is punishment and condemnation, but You have instead given me grace and mercy. Help me to know and feel Your love today. Give me Your power to offer that love to others. In Your Merciful Name I pray, Amen.