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The Hardest People to Love

By Jim Barringer

Do you love your neighbor?

When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment in the whole Bible, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” The first part, if I may be a bit glib, is easy. All you have to do is think for a while about how badly you messed up your life, and how miraculously God saved you, and you really can’t help but love him. You can love him by yourself in the desert, like the ancient saints used to. Loving people while living in a world surrounded by them, on the other hand, is much harder.

That’s because people are annoying. People are the ones who drive slow in front of you, take fifty-eight items into the ten-items-or-less lane, play their music too loud after your bedtime, and come to your workstation five minutes before closing with something urgent that’s going to take an hour. Who can love their neighbors, honestly? Yet that’s what we’re commanded to do.

Many of us think that we’re loving people because we love the people who we spend a lot of time around, the people who love us. What credit is it, really, if we love our friends? As Jesus said, “Even the pagans do that.” I think there’s a really good way to measure how loving we really are, and it’s by gauging the way we treat two groups of people who are the hardest to love: strangers and the people who hate us.

The Bible does talk a lot about loving strangers. It usually refers to a few specific types of them: widows, the fatherless, and people who are traveling through the land. The common theme between those people, and the thing that makes loving strangers such a sacrificial act, is that most of them are utterly unable to give anything back to you, except perhaps for the joy you get from serving. The quintessential story of stranger-love in the Bible, the parable of the Good Samaritan, was compelling because the Hebrew and the Samaritan were strangers, not even from the same country. If they’d been best friends, the tale might not have had the same impact. Giving to strangers strikes at the heart of selfishness, which even in saved people, is often the strongest instinct there is. The last time I went out of my way to really help a stranger was several months ago. When did you last part with a major chunk of money that you really shouldn’t have given away? When did you last pick up something that somebody dropped, or even let someone cut in line in front of you?

I’ve heard other Christian writers talk about how people often speak of love using economic metaphor. You “invest” in a relationship. You “spend” time with people, and you “pay” them attention. Trust is “earned.” Words are power, and without even realizing it, we think of love the same way we think of money, and the end result is that we frequently only spend our love when there is something in it for us. Showing love – which usually means parting with our time and/or our money – to strangers gives us nothing in return. To use economic metaphor, it gives us no return on investment. There’s no compelling reason to do it at all, except that God says to. Because there’s nothing in it for us, because there’s no reason to do it except for personal conviction, it’s a great measure of how loving we really are.

The second way to gauge our love is to see how we react to the people who don’t love us. This might mean different things for all of us – a difficult co-worker, an abusive parent, or an unloving spouse. For many of my Christian friends, it simply means the people who have different Christian beliefs. The most natural reaction is to lash out against these people with the pain, indignation, and frustration that their actions seem to deserve. Yet again, what credit is it to us if we treat the people well who treat us well and treat the people poorly who treat us poorly? Even the pagans do that.

Actually, many of the same things that made it difficult to love strangers also make it difficult to love these people, and those difficulties are often multiplied. While loving a stranger is hard because you don’t gain anything and may never see them again, loving a co-worker is hard because you see them almost every day, and loving a parent or spouse is hard because it’s such a deep emotional relationship. Rather than simply gaining nothing from your love, you actually stand to lose a lot, by opening yourself up to the pain of rejection or the chance that they may take advantage of your kindness. If you’ve ever loved someone who’s hard to love, you know what I’m talking about, and you probably understand why it’s such a rare occurrence, even among Christians. But the difficulty of it is precisely what makes it another accurate gauge of whether we’re loving people or not.

I think that most of us, upon looking honestly at how we treat the strangers and the haters in our lives, have no choice but to admit that we fall pretty short of the standard that Christ laid out. Those people, though, represent the pinnacle of love. There’s no reward for giving them time, attention, or money. Yet, as Jesus said, what reward can there be if we merely give people the love or unlove that their actions deserve? We are called on to love unconditionally. That is the example set by Jesus, dying for you and me rather than giving us the condemnation that our actions so justly deserve. Let us all strive to follow his example, spreading love and kindness to friends, strangers, and enemies alike

Jim Barringer is a 26-year-old writer, musician, and teacher serving at The Church of Life (.com) in Orlando, FL. More of his work can be found at facebook.com/jmbarringer and ExtantMagazine.com. This work may be reprinted for any purpose so long as this bio and statement of copyright is included.

Article Source: http://www.faithwriters.comCHRISTIAN WRITERSMAKE A WEBSITE

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