The Labor of Love (click to read more)

Written by Jamie Martelle

We’re called, as Christians, to love one another, to love our enemies in particular.  That’s so hard sometimes – we just aren’t “feeling it” — with some people, because they really, really don’t deserve our love based on their actions.  But then, we know that Jesus died on the cross for all of us – ALL of us – and we certainly did not deserve it, especially not the Roman soldiers who nailed Him to the cross, or the people chanting “crucify Him!”  And yet, those very people are the ones about whom Jesus spoke to the Father when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  I know I don’t deserve God’s love – I’m not worthy, I can’t earn it, there’s no possible way I ever could earn what God has done for me out of His great love.  I know what the Bible teaches:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-38)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’   But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.   If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?   And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?   Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:43-48)

We may wonder about that last sentence – Jesus is talking about being “perfect” and I can’t be perfect!  I’m a human being, flawed and broken, a product of the fall.  But, wait a minute.  That’s no excuse either, because His meaning of “perfect” isn’t like the meaning I give it.  Jesus was telling us to be the people we were created to be, created in God’s image, as Genesis teaches us.  His meaning came from the Jewish meaning of perfection, which was that “the created vessel would fulfill the purpose for which it was created.”[i]  He is teaching us a new way to live, as citizens in His kingdom.

I have thought about this a lot.  God has revealed to me that this is so hard because I struggle with my basic belief that He really does love me.  Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t believe that God lied, or that the Bible is wrong, or that Jesus really meant, “everybody except HER, that one over there” (meaning me).

No, I struggle with all this, I think, because, I strain to really believe with all my heart, mind and soul that God could ever love ME.  Not because I’m so evil or anything, just because I see myself as…essentially unlovable.  I have heard the eloquently preached sermons that have explained to me God’s Word that says it’s not because of my righteousness, or my good works, or anything to do with what I have done to earn God’s love that He loves me, because HE IS LOVE. I have heard this and I have read it, and I know it, and still….

I remember a time about fifteen years ago, when I was dating someone who I knew would not meet with my mother’s approval.  I was describing him to her to brace myself for an introduction, gushing about all his wonderful positive traits.  As I went on, feeling more confident about the eventual meeting, I paused and my mom asked, “Why is he dating you?”  It wasn’t even a joke.  That may be a little clue about why I have this struggle.  And, you know what?  I think she has the same struggle. And so it goes.

I don’t think I’m the only Christian in this boat when I look around at the way Christians are interacting with the rest of the world.   Are we truly loving those in the world who are different from us, who aren’t among the body of Christ?  Are we truly loving those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ?  With an agape love – self-sacrificing, esteeming them as higher than ourselves, seeking their highest good?

Could it be that this is one reason, or possibly the basic reason why we Christians struggle so much with loving others – especially our enemies?  We love the Lord, oh, yes.  But we struggle with others because we haven’t gotten that first one down yet, that one that has to come before the others, “as [you love] yourself”.

“Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner!”  ― Max Lucado

 If we haven’t accepted, forgiven, and come to love ourselves, then we will struggle to believe that God loves us.  These relationships, the internal one we have with ourselves, and the one we have with God, seem to be inextricably intertwined.  We need to recognize our need, so we can be healed and made whole, useful vessels for the One who made us so lovingly and carefully, to hold and pour out upon others this great love He has for us.  His love is more than enough to heal our wounded hearts and make them ready for His use.

“Come to me now,” Jesus says.  “Acknowledge and accept who I want to be for you, a Savior of boundless compassion, infinite patience, unbearable forgiveness, and love that keeps no score of wrongs.  Quit projecting onto Me your own feelings about yourself.  At this moment your life is a bruised reed and I will not crush it, a smoldering wick and I will not quench it.  You are in a safe place.”[ii]

The only way we can move ahead into the abundant life God has for us and obey His command to love, is if we have fully accepted, with all its incredible implications, His love for us.

Friends, we have an enemy, a common enemy, who has perpetuated a lie since the beginning of time.  He wants us to believe that God couldn’t really love us, that God doesn’t really want to do anything good for us, and that every bit of truth that God has spoken into our lives is suspect.  The truth is, “[f]or God so loved the world [meaning you, me, and everybody else, from time eternal to the end of time] that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, emphasis added).

Scripture worked for Jesus in His battle against Satan in the wilderness.  It will work for every single one of us, too.  Here is a letter that has been created from scriptures that wonderfully illustrate God’s love for each of us.  Read it and look up the scriptures for the full context, and share it with others who need to hear it, too.

  My Child,

You may not know me,
but I know everything about you.
Psalm 139:1

I know when you sit down and when you rise up.
Psalm 139:2

I am familiar with all your ways.
Psalm 139:3

Even the very hairs on your head are numbered.
Matthew 10:29-31

For you were made in my image.
Genesis 1:27

In me you live and move and have your being.
Acts 17:28

For you are my offspring.
Acts 17:28

I knew you even before you were conceived.
Jeremiah 1:4-5

I chose you when I planned creation.
Ephesians 1:11-12

You were not a mistake,
for all your days are written in my book.
Psalm 139:15-16

I determined the exact time of your birth
and where you would live.
Acts 17:26

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Psalm 139:14

I knit you together in your mother’s womb.
Psalm 139:13

And brought you forth on the day you were born.
Psalm 71:6

I have been misrepresented
by those who don’t know me.
John 8:41-44

I am not distant and angry,
but am the complete expression of love.
1 John 4:16

And it is my desire to lavish my love on you.
1 John 3:1

Simply because you are my child
and I am your Father.
1 John 3:1

I offer you more than your earthly father ever could.
Matthew 7:11

For I am the perfect father.
Matthew 5:48

Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand.
James 1:17

For I am your provider and I meet all your needs.
Matthew 6:31-33

My plan for your future has always been filled with hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

Because I love you with an everlasting love.
Jeremiah 31:3

My thoughts toward you are countless
as the sand on the seashore.
Psalms 139:17-18

And I rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

I will never stop doing good to you.
Jeremiah 32:40

For you are my treasured possession.
Exodus 19:5

I desire to establish you
with all my heart and all my soul.
Jeremiah 32:41

And I want to show you great and marvelous things.
Jeremiah 33:3

If you seek me with all your heart,
you will find me.
Deuteronomy 4:29

Delight in me and I will give you
the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4

For it is I who gave you those desires.
Philippians 2:13

I am able to do more for you
than you could possibly imagine.
Ephesians 3:20

For I am your greatest encourager.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

I am also the Father who comforts you
in all your troubles.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

When you are brokenhearted,
I am close to you.
Psalm 34:18

As a shepherd carries a lamb,
I have carried you close to my heart.
Isaiah 40:11

One day I will wipe away
every tear from your eyes.
Revelation 21:3-4

And I’ll take away all the pain
you have suffered on this earth.
Revelation 21:3-4

I am your Father, and I love you
even as I love my son, Jesus.
John 17:23

For in Jesus, my love for you is revealed.
John 17:26

He is the exact representation of my being.
Hebrews 1:3

He came to demonstrate that I am for you,
not against you.
Romans 8:31

And to tell you that I am not counting your sins.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19

His death was the ultimate expression
of my love for you.
1 John 4:10

I gave up everything I loved
that I might gain your love.
Romans 8:31-32

If you receive the gift of my son Jesus,
you receive me.
1 John 2:23

And nothing will ever separate you
from my love again.
Romans 8:38-39

Come home and I’ll throw the biggest party
heaven has ever seen.
Luke 15:7

I have always been Father,
and will always be Father.
Ephesians 3:14-15

My question is…
Will you be my child?
John 1:12-13

[i] Reflecting the Image, Our Call to Mirror Christ to the World, Carla Sunberg with Keri Mitchell, Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2015, p.75.

[ii] Abba’s Child, The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, Brennan Manning, Navpress, 2002, pp.22-23

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