“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another.” —Jesus (John 13:34)
Like everyone else, I have relational challenges in my life.
Author Mary Southerland calls them “sandpaper people.”
Maybe I am someone’s sandpaper person.
Loving difficult people intentionally and well can be very hard work.
It is the work that Jesus is calling me to right now.
Regarding I Corinthians 13, D.L. Moody wrote, “The one great need in our Christian life is love, more love to God and to each other. Would that we could all move into that Love chapter and live there.”
As of today, I am moving in and living there.
Fortunately, I won’t be there alone. Jesus will be there with me, every step of the way.
He will direct my cold, selfish, stubborn, hard heart right into the very center of His love. (2 Thessalonians 3:5).
That is my only hope.
I don’t have much love to give on my own. I love those who love me, those who are easy to love. There is nothing supernatural about that; it’s human nature.
But Jesus calls me to live in HIS love, to display HIS love to a dark and dying world.
His is a love that prayed for His enemies even as they viciously killed them.
His is a love that laid down His life so that others could rise to eternal life with Him.
His is a reconciling love, a passionate love, an unconditional love, a redemptive love, a perfect love.
I need to be willing to die to self and let His love flow through me. I need to cooperate with Him and submit to Him because He is Lord. I need to always remember the astonishing love He has shown to me.
Love is so important to Jesus that He tells me in His Word that without love my life amounts to nothing in His eyes (I Corinthians 13:1-3).
It does not matter how talented I am, how much money I give away, if I am in church every time the door is open, if I volunteer five days a week at the local soup kitchen…if I do those things without genuine love, it means nothing at all to Him.
That is very sobering, is it not?
When I accepted His invitation recently to take an honest, no-holds-barred look at my life in light of I Corinthians 13, I had to admit that much of what I was doing amounted to nothing because I didn’t do it with love…especially when it involved the sandpaper people in my life.
To my dismay, I realized that I had actually been patting myself on the back because of all that I had sacrificed, thinking I was doing the noble thing. But all along, it meant nothing to the One I want to please the most.
While on the outside, I may have appeared accommodating, in my heart I was filled with resentment.
“Pretending” to be loving doesn’t cut it. Nor does gritting your teeth and hiding behind a fake smile.
The love that Jesus requires of those who follow Him must be genuine and sincere. (Romans 12:9). It must be real to the bone.
That is my stumbling block.
So, He is going to take me on a journey with Him to learn how to love like He does.
I made several copies of I Corinthians 13 from my Bible. I put one on my bathroom mirror. I will carry one in my purse. I am using one as a bookmark. I will listen to it being read on my Bible on CD while I drive around town. It is the first thing I will see when I turn on my Kindle.
I will memorize it until it drops the eighteen inches from my head into my heart.
And I will watch to see how Jesus takes my willing, imperfect heart and transforms it until it beats in time with His and pours forth His love.
Something our Sunday school teacher said yesterday gave me an excellent place to start.
During class, he quoted author John Maxwell. When dealing with difficult people, Maxwell advised focusing on just 1% of the good in them. My first thought was, “I can do that! I can make the choice to focus on that 1%!” (Philippians 4:8).
I left the class filled with resolve and optimism.
You can imagine what happened next.
I have said it before and I truly believe it. Our God has a sense of humor.
One of my sandpaper people called!
I saw the name on the caller ID and just burst out laughing.
Then I prayed, “Lord, show me the 1%!”
And He did, praise His Name!
I am marking that one down as a victory!
I am under no illusions. I know that this is going to be one tough battle. Love in the Bible is not portrayed as a fluctuating emotion, though emotions are involved. It is primarily an act of the will.
But I also know that Christ promises that He will always lead us in triumph (2 Corinthians 2:14) when we are doing His will. He will do that for me.
If I speak in tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails…And now, these three remain: faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:1-8a;13).