Over the last few months I have been studying and teaching on Jesus' commands to love our neighbors as ourselves—and, as He says in another verse, to love others as He has loved us. As I have studied this I am more and more coming to realize that my loving someone else is not about me and them, but about me and God. This is hard because (especially when someone has hurt me) I want to justify my love or response or action (or lack of any of these) toward them by their action toward me. But God doesn't give me that room. . .
The more I read through the New Testament the more I see the solitary nature of this love and how verse after verse basically says that if I love God, I will love them. I want to cry out to Him, "But God, don't you see how they are acting, or how they don't even admit their wrong, or how they will take it for granted, or . . .?" It is like He says, "Yes. I do. Now, do you love me?" When I answer, "Yes, I do," He says, "Then love them."
"But . . . , but . . ." to which I again hear, "Do you love me?" to which I answer, "Yes," and to which He then, again, says, "Then love them."
This is both freeing and constraining at the same time. Freeing in that I can love someone who is very unlovable because I am loving them for Him, not them. Constraining in that I can't use their actions to justify not loving them—I can't give myself that way out.
The more I spend time on this, the more I realize that it can't be any other way. When I love another the way He calls me to it is costly, sacrificial, not about my rights, not about their action, not about their response . . . and that is exactly how He has loved every one of us. He FIRST loved us. He loved us when we were still His ENEMIES. He forgave us when we were unrepentant. His love cost Him everything. He laid down His rights to love us. He humbled Himself to love us. He has met our needs at every level—spiritual, emotional, and physical—He didn't just "pray for us" and wish us well.
When we look at the costly love He calls us to love others with, and when we read about the love the early church had for one another in Acts and the Epistles, we realize that this amazing level of love is simply a love He has already loved us with. He is simply calling us to love others the way He loved (and loves) us. So, it really has to be that way if we want to be the image and fragrance of Christ. Everything He did for us—salvation, healing, deliverance—all came from, first, love . . . and He reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that we can have all the spiritual gifts and Christian charity, but if we don't have love we have nothing. But, when we operate in love toward friends, and enemies, we truly take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him. We truly become His fragrance and I believe that He comes in all over that and loves hanging out in the presence of love.
I understand, and need to state, that a persons response to our love may dictate and affect our physical expression of that love—and that situations may require withdrawing from an environment that is, say, abusive—but the heart side of love is not about them, it is about us and God. He reminds us that even the lost love their friends . . . it is the fragrance and presence of Christ to love an enemy and it is that type of love the world desperately needs to see if it is going to recognize Jesus. The world has enough of itself—it needs something out of this world—and the love of Christ, through us, that is radically contrary to its ways and values, is where it all begins.