I was thinking about how people love one another, how they are attracted, or detracted from each other on the basis of how they look, their age, appearance, weight, social skillset, personality, and life status. As believers in Jesus, we are to love everyone as Christ has loved us. John 13:34; 15:9,12 &17:23 I like to say, ‘we love everyone, it’s our policy.’ While loving others is a good and commendable attribute, it is also quite the challenge with some individuals as compared to others. Often it’s certain family members, fellow church parishioners, and co-workers that fall into this ‘difficult to love category;’ sometimes it’s even us.
“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, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45
- Our ability to love our enemies defines just who they are in our life, if we even have enemies, and what our response toward them should be. ‘To love’ is the key command here in this passage. Words like ‘bless, do good, and pray’ are verbs given by Jesus to address someone’s offensive behavior toward us like ‘cursing, hating, and spitefully using.’ Our call to love in response to offense is the ultimate in opposite response behavior; itflies in the face of our flesh nature, what most people would do; what most heathens would do, what I would do.
Jesus goes on to say, ‘that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’ This quantifies a true characteristic of a Christian, a Christ-follower, in that we are to obey the Lord by loving those who offend us. More specifically, we are given a title of sonship from the Lord as a result of this proper response to offense. While our works of righteousness can’t save us, they do speak to a greater, inward work, that is happening in the life of a believer. This sanctification process is the greater goal; which is to express our love and faith in Christ by obeying Him when and where it hurts the most; and loving those who are difficult to love would be a proper response.
Jesus goes on to say that our heavenly Father ‘makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.’ These are statements of blessing; sun and rain, and they are given by God Himself without partiality as the Apostle James would later state. James 1:17
“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren (friends) only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors (Gentiles) do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:46-48
- In this passage we are again challenged by the Master with a deeper understanding of His command to love those who ‘love us back.’ Jesus says that even the tax collectors (Gentiles or non-believers) do this; they can love those who love them back. The command here is to love others even when they don’t love us back or respond in a favorable way. This is when things get really tough, really real.
Jesus is telling us to love people even when they don’t love back; this is the real challenge of this command, especially when you’re married to them. If we love those who don’t love us back, then we will be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect. That is, as perfect as we can be on this side of the veil. This perfection is heavenly, and it speaks to our heavenly reward because we know that while we are in this world, we can’t be totally perfect. However, when we come into the kingdom, we will be perfect, like Jesus. When we see Him, then we will be like Him, perfect in every way. We can’t get to heaven unless we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. We can’t attain perfection unless we go through Christ and put on His perfection.
A major part of our faith is demonstrated by how we love others, even those who are deemed ‘unlovable’ by the culture at large. Often we tend to identify people who are unlovable by their attributes which include, but are not limited to, the way they look, their age, their weight, their health, their personal hygiene, their smell (odor), their intellect, their social awkwardness, and overall flawed personality.
When certain individuals don’t add up to our expectations or appeal, we tend to distance ourselves from them, thus perpetuating their cycle of rejection and our unwillingness to love them as Christ has commanded here. I can think of a hundred examples, and so can you, with regard to this kind of behavior, yet the Lord’s command still stands, we must love those who are not as lovable as others; regardless.
I remember the story of Jim Eliot and his friends who went down to the jungles of Ecuador in the late 1950’s. They felt the call of God to reach an unreached people group, an indigenous tribe known as the Huaorani. Their tactic to approach this group in a small single engine airplane led to an attack of these tribesman when the plane landed. No doubt the attacking tribesman were as confused as they were threatened, attacking the men in self-defense. Jim Eliot and four other men on that plane were hacked and speared to death by these tribesman. The story, which is incredible, goes on as Jim’s wife regrouped and engaged these people, eventually winning them to Jesus. You can get the rest of the story in the book The Jim Eliot Story, or, for those of you who don’t like to read, the Torchlighters video version of it, or the movie, The End of the Spear (2005).
My point for this blog has more to do with loving the unlovable. I told the Lord, if I had been on that plane that day, I would have been armed and I would have shot the advancing tribesmen dead as they advanced with their spears and machetes. I love Jesus, but my law enforcement background commands such a response. The Lord, however, reminded me that He didn’t call me to do what he called Jim Eliot to do, I wasn’t even born yet. Had I been there and done that, the advancing tribesman would have all died and gone to Hell for eternity, thus disrupting the plan of God for His missionaries being there in the first place, While I am not proud of my tactical prowess, it does challenge my premise of loving the unlovable, especially when they are running at me with intent to barbarically kill. Our lower nature demands such a response, yet the Lord calls us higher.
I have a friend who is a street preacher. He has big signs, bullhorns, and tracts that he and his team use. They proclaim the gospel and pass out tracts to the crows at various venues around the country. I pray for them weekly. Their team is always heckled by certain people in the crowds, sometimes to the point of causing the street preachers to fear being accosted and assaulted. One time he invited me to join them. I told him, if I go and someone heckles me or attacks me, I will put down the ‘Jesus loves you’ sign and beat them to a bloody pulp. I am sure I have a screw loose somewhere, but my experiences in life have taught me a language that is not consistent with what we are to present in the name of Christ when street preaching. Clearly I have a ways to go, yet I do love the Lord. I also have a problem taking crap from heathen hecklers who feel it’s their right to accost me because of my faith. I tend to be sort of a ‘are you talking to me, are you looking at me, I’ll break you’re frigg’en arm’ kind of guy. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus and I am saved by grace through faith in the Christ. However, when a fight ensues, I have to thread that needle of grace with Krage McGraw. I remember a movie called The Mission (1987) with Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons. The premise of the movie poses the question, when persecuted, do we fight back and die, or just die? I am a fight back and die kind of guy.
I remember a few years back when I took an outreach team to the Midnight Mission in Skid Row in LA. We were waiting in line outside the Pantry in LA for breakfast before going to the mission; it’s sort of a tradition. This homeless man came up to me and started accosting me, yelling at me and cussing and such. I stood between him and my people and I began to pray under my breath, but in my heart, I was going to pummel this guy if he so much as took a swing at me. All of my ex-cop prowess kicked in, but I was taking authority over the spirit that was driving him and singling me out. I wasn’t in fear so much as I was angry and implementing a meekness that only the Holy Spirit could provide. He soon left when the security approached and chased him away. I thought to myself, I will be serving this same man lunch in a room full of broken people just like him in a few hours at the mission. These precious souls are as broken as they are lost, yet they all represent the Lord.
I realized that I am not called to pummel these folks no more than I am to beat down hecklers while street witnessing or shoot attacking tribesmen. I am learning as I get older that brokenness and a crushed spirit are the things that God uses to build our faith and mature us; not to hurt people who attack us. We must learn to love those who are difficult to love; they’re everywhere, get used to it.
In 1999, Pixar Animation produced the first of four films in their Toy Story franchise. In the first movie we see the two main characters, Buzz Lightyear, a cosmic space man, and Woody, a western cowboy. They’re two toys in a young boy’s bedroom full of toys who share an adventure with the common goal of fulfilling their purpose of giving joy to the child who owns them. In the first movie, Andy is a little boy and his toys, Andy’s toys, are available to him to play with. Andy is a loving boy who loves his toys. When he’s playing with his toys, they are stoic, still, and lifeless; but when he is away, they come to life and interact with each other. The little boy next door, however, is a bit troubled; his name is Sid, and he is abusive to his toys, ripping them apart, blowing them up with fireworks and such. Sid is the kind of kid that no toy wants to be owned by because they are abused, spitefully used, and persecuted by him.
While Woody is self-aware of who he is as a toy and what his purpose is, Buzz Lightyear still thinks that he is the character (action figure) that he represents, the real Buzz Lightyear. Through a mix up at a local pizza parlor, both toys end up at Sid’s house, which is right next door to Andy’s house. While the two of them are at Sid’s house, and through a series of events, Buzz comes to realize (self-aware) that he is just a toy. While Woody is trying to plan an escape back to Andy’s house, Buzz becomes apathetic and depressed because he has discovered that his former purpose as the real Buzz Lightyear has been shattered; now he sees himself as just a toy. A sense of despair comes over him as he reaches this new understanding and predicament all the while Woody is attempting to explain to Buzz what a toy’s real purpose is, to bring joy to the child who owns it. Buzz’s attitude is, ‘Sid’s house, Andy’s house, what’s the difference?’ The truth is, for a toy and for a believer in Jesus, there is no difference. We re to love them both just the same.
For Woody and Buzz, and all believers is Jesus, what the Christ is addressing here in these above passages is to love those who are difficult to love. Jesus wants us to love everyone, not just the Andy’s of our world, but the Sid’s also. We all want to live at Andy’s house because Andy is loving and kind to his toys. Nobody wants to live at Sid’s house because of the toxic and hostile environment that exists there. For Woody, his purpose is to love Andy who he has been separated from. For Buzz, his purpose is to be the real Buzz Lightyear, who he has come to understand that he is not. Both toys no longer have a purpose unless they can reconnect with a better
understanding of their self-awareness. While the movie explains the outcome appropriately, the focus of this blog has more to do with loving Sid when we would rather love Andy; because Sid needs love too.
We all have Sid’s in our life who can be abusive, unloving, and abrasive at times. We tend to avoid and isolate them because we want to be with the Andy’s in our life, family, and church. If you look around, you will see that Sid is everywhere, acting out in a variety of ways, because for the Sid’s of this world, they destroy and abuse toys (and people) as a form of their dysfunction. This unwanted behavior acts as a coping mechanism and way of life that somehow addresses their pain (at least for them). If they are not properly loved, confronted, or reached with the gospel, they will become more twisted and continue to act out in abusive and toxic ways; eventually leading to their spiritual death. Sometimes this behavior can lead to self-abuse in their mind and body. There are a lot of Sid’s burning in Hell right now, suffering for eternity, who, if they could have been reached with the gospel may have been saved. Nobody cares that they’re gone; by God’s grace, there goes I.
I have come to realize that loving Sid is a chief and common goal for every believer. We are permeated with media imagery that screams at us to love only the Andy’s of this world and forsake the Sid’s. Hallmark moves, romantic comedies, magazines, and media stars all look great and have a greater amount of sex appeal than most; but in the end, they are people, like the rest of us, who need God’s love too. Sometimes these ‘unlovable’ people are in our own families, they are our coworkers, our neighbors, our church family, our traffic mates, and such. Jesus is proclaiming to us in these passages that we are to love the unlovable people of this world; confronting and consoling them as we are able, all the while being a witness of the gospel as we do.
Can you imagine what would have happened if in the first Toy Story movie the character of Sid could have been restored because of the love and correction he desired most from his toys? If that could have been written into the script, it would have been the gospel manifested in a Pixar movie, which is something this world has no interest in. This world wants to love the Andy’s and forsake the Sid’s because the appeal to the flesh of those who are lost is greater than what God desires to do in each of His children who have placed their faith and trust in Him. We are not to be pursuing happiness as a chief goal in this life, but to pursue what God’s Word says about loving others and proclaiming His salvation to all the Andy’s and Sid’s who are out there.
This is the essence of our Great Commission given to us by the Lord. To go into the world and preach the gospel, making disciples, and being the body of Christ to those who would listen. We are far from perfect, yet God chose to use us to love the ‘Sid’s’ of this world because they need love too. While we are more comfortable with loving the Andy’s of the world, may we find the grace to extend ourselves to the Sid’s in our lives, and see what the Lord does with all of it in the end. This close to the Rapture, even Sid’s need to know.
Encouragemen is a blog written by Pastor Rob Lee, recently relocated to Northern Missouri. He lives with his wife of 33-years, near their three adult children, their spouses, and children (their grandchildren). Pastor Rob is an Ordained Assemblies of God minister, a former Lead Pastor (25 years), police chaplain, and community advocate. He continues to serve, consult, and disciple men of God, including those who are in the ministry.