How Does Love for My Neighbor Begin?

Cactus like stacked stones

The problem with people is, well, people.

Some of us are easier to love than others. 

But most of us alternate between loveable, tolerable and detestable depending on our environment.

For years I have made the tongue-in-cheek joke that if you don’t love my brother Karl, there is something desperately wrong with you. My brother is easy to love. Everyone loves him.

He has the phlegmatic personality and infectious grin that draws people in and seems to disarm all defenses and makes something in them say, ‘I can trust this guy and furthermore, I like him.’ Everyone he meets is his friend or at least, wants to be his friend. I, on the other hand, am an acquired taste. I am harder to love. (I perhaps don’t need to go into why that is, but most of my readers will have no problem believing the truth.)

Despite my brother Karl’s friend-creating personality and personal style, the Scripture tells us what the problem with people is. The heart.

The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?          Jeremiah 17:9

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

    “None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”        Romans 3:8-18

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” . . . 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”            Matthew 15:10-18

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.        Psalm 51:10

Do you have people who are hard to love in your work environment?

How about in your neighborhood?

Closer to home, do you have family members who are hard to love?

How do you get there? How do you get to that place where you begin to love the unlovely or at least the people who seem unlovely to you? How do you love the people who put a strain on your patience? A friend once called the difficult people, the exasperating people, the irritating people in his life, “the EGR people”–the “extra-grace-required” people. How do you begin to love and respect people on the basis of their inherent dignity and worth as a fellow-image bearers of God when something about them challenges your ability to love?

A couple of principles and a wise quote from C.S. Lewis on the issue:

  1. Be humble: recognize that you are a sinner and need the grace of God too.
  2. Be repentant: recognize that your attitude stinks; confess it and ask forgiveness from God.
  3. Act in love: Do what you know you should irrespective of your feelings. Here’s how C.S. Lewis puts it in his classic work, Mere Christianity.

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love them.” 

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Let’s not waste any time. Let’s just love people for the glory of Jesus and the good of others.

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