“Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:21
After love for God, the most basic mark of the Christian is love for other Christians (Matthew 22:36-40). But love for our fellow blood-bought brothers and sisters isn’t always easy.
As a pastor friend of mine used to say:
“To live above with saints we love; Ah that will be glory,
To live below with saints we know; Well, that’s another story.”
Just because someone is a Christian, doesn’t mean they are easy to love. Sanctification is a slow process (sometimes really slow) that doesn’t transform our personality quirks, theological peculiarities, and sinful tendencies over night.
Love requires patience—and perspective.
Help from Heaven
Having an eye toward eternity helps our hearts to love even the most difficult of believers.
John Newton captures what I mean in a letter he wrote to another pastor who was about to write a letter to a fellow Christian he strongly disagreed with. Here’s a portion of his advice,
“As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him…you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.
If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.”
The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.
In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.”
You can read the letter in its entirety here.
Remembering Empowers Love
Let’s consider three reflections from this letter to help us love our “tough to love” brothers and sisters in Christ.
1. Remember how God has loved you.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
God serves fresh grace to our hearts when we recall the ways He has loved us. It would do you (and others) well if you take a moment to consider how Jesus has loved you.
Think of His persistence in pursuing you, even in spite of your resistance to His pursuit.
Reflect on how many transgressions He has blotted from your account with His own blood.
Consider specific ways He has shown you compassion despite of your defiance.
God has been kind to you. His heart has been tender toward you. If you are in Christ, He has forgiven your debt in full. Shouldn’t your love for others be affected by His love for you?
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11
2. Remember that we will soon be with them in eternity.
There will be a day when all God’s children will stand together before His throne of grace. On that day, all disputes will be forgotten and all irritations will be abolished. Why allow those quarrels to steal love from your brother on this day?
I’m not in any way suggesting that all disputes are small or all disagreements are insignificant. There are weighty things in this life, some which are very difficult to endure. But what I am suggesting is that all of our relationships must be guided and guarded by the fact that one day we will stand alongside our fellow Christians before the Savior who died for them.
That kind of perspective helps us to extend love to those who are not so easy to love. Perspective grants us patience and compassion. Let the sourness of a relationship today be overcome by the sweetness of that everlasting day to which you are traveling together. Ask the Lord to help you see others in light of the love you will share together in the eternal dwelling Christ is preparing for you (John 14:1-2).
3. Remember that you aren’t so easy to love either.
Spurgeon rightly reminds us “if you cannot bear with your imperfect brother, take it for certain that you are very imperfect yourself.” Our inability to love others perfectly is a faithful reminder that we don’t have it all together either.
Humility about our own lovability serves as a gracious help in extending love to others. What sinful patterns do you have a tough time fighting against? When have you said hurtful words? Where do you still have room to grow in spiritual maturity? How do you think those shortcomings affect those around you?
I’ve found that when I’m concerned with confessing my own sins before the Lord, I’m less irritated with the sins of others. Regularly confessing your sins to God keeps you downwind of yourself and helps you to remember that you’re probably just as as tough to love as the next person.
Though no relationship will be perfect on this side of eternity, I am convinced that the more our hearts are set on heaven, and the more that we are sobered by our own need for a Savior, the more our love for others will reflect the love of Christ—including those who are tough to love.