The kind of love that wants what is best for you, God’s kind of love, is sometimes hard for mere humans to understand. Because God sees all and knows all, including the future and our deepest flaws, His love sometimes requires discipline that we need even though we don’t want it. Love whose primary goal is to make us into our best selves will of necessity include boundaries.
As we discussed in part one of this series, humans want to make God into a like-able deity who lets them do whatever they feel like. But, the very nature of God’s love means that God doesn’t need to be liked by us. Our worship of Him is not dependent upon how He treats us but on the pure awesomeness and perfection of the very nature of God, the Creator of the universe.
Unfortunately, the perception many people have of God’s love only comes from their interactions with mere mortals. We Christians try to love like Jesus loves, but we mostly fail miserably. When He walked among us, Jesus, who had every right to judge, instead offered a kind of love to people around Him that somehow inspired them to become their best selves.
What does a love that stands in truth yet does not condemn look like? How is it that that kind of love manages to foster a stricter following of the rules instead of the licentious free-for-all one might expect from such a response to sin?
A Jesus kind of love:
- Looks past the outer appearance and into the heart of a person.
- Asks the kind of questions you are compelled to answer truthfully, because He has your best interest at the core of any interaction with you and nothing about Himself to prove.
- Shows you the beauty of a life lived in the Spirit but gives you the freedom to grasp that kind of living. He won’t force you to do anything. You choose.
- Thinks nothing of Himself in the moment, but everything about the soul standing in front of Him. He never compares Himself to others and only offers the example of His life well-lived as a part of the teaching He gives to those who by choice seek His instruction.
- Jesus only sees the world through a perspective that keeps in mind God’s view of things first and foremost.
Jesus sees the real person
If you are looking for proof that Jesus sees past the outer appearance into the very heart of a person, you need look no further than His choice of disciples. Among these men of God we find some of the most lowly men in the world of their time. Simon Peter was a fisherman, Mark a cursed tax collector. Only a God who could see past the outer shell would have chosen Saul, a persecutor of Christians, to bring the word of God to the Gentiles.
As humans, we may lack the ability to perceive the heart of a man in the same way that an all-knowing God perceives, but we can certainly learn the lesson of waiting to draw conclusions about others until we have a chance to really know them. That means avoiding judging people based on the clothes they wear, the cars they drive, or even the jobs they do. Instead, we should wait to know people based on the words they say and the actions they take.
This waiting fosters a respect in us for other human beings, and respect honestly given is a hard thing to turn away. No wonder when Jesus said to Peter, Follow Me, the fisherman did not hesitate to become a fisher of men.
Jesus asks the kind of questions a person has to answer truthfully
If you ask a question totally confident that you already know the answer, the person you are interrogating can sense your attitude. They know you are trying to paint them into a corner or make a judgment against them. That immediately puts them on the defensive.
When Jesus asked questions of people, He did it in such a way as to reflect His real interest in their answers. His questions were not challenging, but obviously curious. Jesus wasn’t trying to make a judgment of the person He was questioning, but was always trying to lead them to the ultimate truth.
Examples of Jesus’ ability to draw the truth from people abound. He tells the adulterous woman He will not condemn her after challenging her would-be judges, and then admonishes her to go and sin no more (John 7:53-8:11). He asks the Samaritan woman about her husband in such a way that she feels comfortable admitting that she has no husband since the man she is currently with is her fifth “partner” (John 4:3-42). “He told me everything I ever did,” the Samaritan woman tells her fellow townspeople. They invite Jesus to stick around, and many are converted, at first because of the woman’s testimony and then because of Jesus’ words to them.
The questions Jesus asks of His listeners and modern-day readers are likewise direct and simple, hitting straight onto the core of the matter. You can review a list of 135 of these questions here.
Gives you the freedom to choose
At the core of God’s love for us is His decision to allow us the freedom to choose to believe and follow Him. God demands respect, but He doesn’t force us to bow down to Him.
This freedom makes our love for Him that much more powerful. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus says (John 14:15). The prophet Jeremiah promised, “You will seek me (God) and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (29:13).
Realizing that God wants us to have this freedom to choose should color our interactions with others. We cannot force another person to believe as we believe, but can only present by our kind words and living example the message of what we believe, allowing Jesus and the Holy Spirit to do their work in the souls of those for whom we pray.
Jesus puts the welfare of others before Himself
Perhaps another great key to Jesus’ success as a communicator is the way He puts the needs of others before His own needs. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not only that we shouldn’t do to other people the kinds of things we wouldn’t enjoy being done to us, but also to treat others as we treat ourselves and long to be treated. “Greater love has no one than this,” He tells His disciples, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
As the perfect lamb of God, Christ chose to become like man in order to die for all mankind. This ultimate sacrifice makes Jesus’ love for us perfect, just as His actions on this earth were blameless. When we carry the Holy Spirit in our hearts once we accept Christ as our Savior, we begin the life-long work of perfecting our hearts to project the same kind of love Christ holds for us to the people around us.
When Jesus asks us to be salt and light to the world, loving and communicating like our Savior is at the top of the list of the tasks we should undertake to help bring Jesus to a land struggling in darkness.
Jesus keeps a God-perspective always
Because Jesus’ treasures are stored in heaven, His life on earth always had a godly perspective. How else would He endure the vagaries of being condemned despite being innocent, of being spat upon and ridiculed, of dying on the cross for sins He never even committed?
Even Jesus, Himself a part of the god-head, sought to know God’s will always. He prayed perpetually and most famously on the night before His crucifixion, asking God to take away the cup of the cross but promising to do God’s will alone.
When others question Him or ridicule Him, Jesus takes the taunts in stride. He empathizes with those who challenge Him, turning their own reasoning against them. When He is accused of throwing out demons by the power of the devil, He calmly explains that this wouldn’t be the case since that would mean a house divided against itself.
In fact, the only time Jesus seems to get really angry is when offenses too great are made against God. He sacks the temple when it is being misused for commerce instead of worship. He tells us that any sin may be forgiven except the sin of mocking the Holy Spirit.
Pulling it together
So, what does all this mean for those of us striving to be Christ-like in this modern world? I think about the people who stand outside Planned Parenthood, for example, and wonder if that is how Jesus would have handled the situation. I rather think He would somehow be inside the clinic, asking frightened girls questions about themselves, about how they feel and why they feel that way, trying to help them see the path through all their charged emotions to an ultimate truth.
And what would Jesus say to a culture that embraces sexual freedoms, so that the boundaries that once strictly defined family and respect and community are all blurred into a free-for-all that has left us with so many young people who have no sense of self-respect or even, it seems, right and wrong? I know Jesus would not tell a young man who felt he was gay that he was less-than, that somehow Jesus would make the young man understand there was a way out of condemnation to a path free from sin.
Not being one with the power to condemn or save, I also know that my job is simply to explain what Jesus’ love means for these lives of ours that are tainted by a sinful nature and then to allow that seed once planted to be fertilized further by the workings of our mighty God, Whose ways are well beyond my limited ability to know.
God loves unconditionally and with the earnest intent to make us into our best selves. That kind of love means His ways won’t always be popular. Sometimes, the perseverance required to grow makes us even question God’s love. But despite our limited perspective, God is able to do all things, especially in the lives of those who believe. Loving God and loving like God are two of the most important things any Christian can do. I hope these thoughts will help me and others do a better job of showing the world how great Jesus’ love truly is.