Devotion for the Week...
Last Thursday was our 15th anniversary. Did you see the matching tattoos Paul and I got to celebrate? Unlike with birthdays, where we can just feel old as the years go by, with anniversaries there's a sense of accomplishment as the number gets higher. After being married to Paul for 15 years, I can say that falling in love with him was the smartest thing I have done.
Jesus' thoughts on who we should love can be challenging. "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" (Matthew 5:43-45). When I think of the word enemy, I think of someone actively trying to hurt me, whether that hurt is physical, emotional or whatever. Thankfully, I don't have anyone like that in my life. I had always sort of skimmed over this verse as not really applying to me, since I don't have an enemy, but the Greek word translated as enemy can also mean "hated, under disfavor." (Full disclosure here: I don't know any Greek, but I use BibleGateway.com, which allows me to see the original Greek words and to search for the meaning of a particular word.)
So enemy could also mean someone I don't like, someone I find irritating or annoying. I do have people like that in my life. Do you? I'm supposed to love them? Not in a superficial way, so the people around us don't realize how irritating I find this person. And not in way that is just polite enough that the person I'm talking to doesn't sense my true feelings. No, this is agapao which means, "to love, value, esteem, feel or manifest generous concern for, be faithful towards; to delight in." This is love, like I love my best friend. Love, like I love my boys. Even love, like I love Paul. This is how Jesus wants me to love the people I don't like.
Hmmm, I'm not so good at that.
Christians are supposed to be different, we're supposed to stand out because we don't follow the world's standards. Instead we follow God's standards. Jesus goes on to say "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?"(v. 46) In other words, even the lowest of the low know how to love those who love them back. "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" (vv. 47-48). I'm not perfect, though. Not even close, actually, so how am I supposed to follow this command? I know I'm not supposed to pretend to love people. Though I could maybe fool some people into thinking I love them when I really don't, God certainly wouldn't be fooled.
The answer isn't in pretending to be perfect, it's in becoming perfect. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul said he was "confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). God knows we're not perfect, but if we're willing to listen, He will show us how to love those people that we find hard to love. Maybe you've already been hearing those messages, like when you feel guilty for pretending you don't see someone on the other side of the store because you don't want to have to talk to her. Or maybe you feel like you should go sit with that woman who is always alone, even though you know she's alone because she complains so much that no one wants to be around her.
The question is, do we follow through on those feelings, or do we justify our reasons for staying away?