I was sitting in church when I glanced at the row behind me. I noticed a woman wearing a t-shirt that said “God loves the people you hate.” I have to confess, I was pretty distracted during the rest of the service thinking about the saying on that shirt. In reality it is hard to love the people we “hate” or “dislike” or “find irritating.” But if I have learned anything in studying Scripture, it is that Jesus wants us to love the unlovable.
It is easy to love those who love you (well, most of the time). It is easy to love those who have the same culture, same value system, and same beliefs we have. It is a lot harder to love those who live a lifestyle we despise, or whose political beliefs are diametrically opposed to ours.
As a Christian, I have been given a mandate to love others. I have not been given a mandate to love others if they are like me, have my same skin color, or have my same culture. I have not been given a command to love others only if they have the same beliefs I have, make the same lifestyle choices I have, or are willing to conform to what I believe. Jesus did not put exceptions to his command to love your neighbor. He said, “Love your neighbor.”
In loving someone, we do not have to condone their lifestyle. In loving someone, we do not have to agree with their sin (who of us is without sin?). In loving someone, we do not have to excuse their poor choices. But in loving someone we do need to be able to reassure them that they have value; they are worth something even when they have been told they aren’t. In loving someone we can remember that we are all created in the image of God, his beloved creation from the beginning. In loving someone we can be a reflection of who Jesus is and what he came to earth to accomplish. In loving someone we can be used by God to reveal the darkness and bring in the light.
God loves the person you hate. The liar, the cheater, the murderer, the addict, the Muslim, the Jew, the transgender, the gay, the black, the white, the far left, the far right, the person who hurt you with their lies, the ex-spouse, the abuser–all of them. God loves them all and longs for them to have a relationship with him. He sent Jesus to make it possible.
Sometimes it is hard to love others; well, to be truthful, most of the time it is hard to love others. God DOES loves the people you hate as much as he loves you. I am not saying that loving others isn’t hard–it is. But, we cannot take lightly Jesus’ words about loving our neighbor. In Luke 10 25-37, we read Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Loving our neighbor is not convenient and sometimes has a cost to us, but it is the right thing to do. “Go and do likewise.”
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” – I John 4:19.