Monday, February 23, 2015

Loving Difficult People

By Allen White

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:46-48

Perfect. It’s such a difficult word. Why does Jesus have to throw that in? It’s easy for Him. He’s God. He’s already perfect. But, perfect leads me down a road of despair. To be perfect means to act perfectly all the time that leads to perfectionism, which feels more like neurosis than theology. What do we do?

To Jesus’ audience, a right relationship with God came about by keeping the law perfectly. He then proceeds to poke holes in their idea of perfection. Rather than just avoiding murder, adultery and oaths, Jesus expands their definitions to include the heart issues of anger, lust and integrity. External righteousness doesn’t cut it. The people of God must be righteous from the inside out. This is the righteousness that Jesus brings.

But, either way, we all fall short of perfection. Who can be like God, except for Jesus, who is God?

In Matthew 22, Jesus sums up all of the Law and Prophets in two sentences known as the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). The fulfillment of the law is unrestricted love. Jesus displayed this love beautifully on the cross.

In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that even the most despised people in Jewish society, the tax collectors, love the people who love them already. In fact, people who are far from God, pagans, also reciprocate love. But, to be like God, we must love our neighbors and our enemies.

In Luke’s Gospel, he substitutes “merciful” for “perfection”--“love your enemies, do good to them…Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). Mercy in the Bible is really the idea of pity. Jesus wants us to have pity on our enemies—not in a condescending way—but in the same way that God pities us.

It’s a far cry from pity to perfection. But, perfection here is not an unblemished, faultless person. Being “perfect like God is perfect” is to be complete, fulfilled and accomplished. Going back to the Great Commandment, the Law is accomplished through unrestricted love for God and for others.

How is your love restricted toward others? What conditions have you put on loving others? What gets in the way of freely loving other people? Some people are difficult to love. You might need to ask God how to love a difficult person and then ask Him to help you love them.

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