By Jamie Osborne
“3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
~ Philippians 2:3-4~
When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.” In today’s verses, Paul echoes this commandment in his own words.
I don’t know about you, but it does not come natural for me to love others. Perhaps you can relate when I say that it would be easy to love others if it weren’t for the others! It almost seems easier to dislike people (especially if they are difficult) or to “keep our hands clean” and avoid entering the messy lives of others than to love others.
Yet, the entire message of the bible boils down to this: love others. Along with loving God, this is the greatest commandment and surely the most difficult. We often take it as something that is conditional – I will extend love to others IF I feel like it, or IF people are nice to me first, or IF they aren’t jerks, or IF they aren’t weird. We pick and choose who to love and don’t go out of our comfort zones.
Unfortunately for those of us who put “if” in their loving, “love others” is not a conditional commandment. It is a direct order. We are called to love others – all others – with no conditions attached. That’s why it’s called “unconditional love,” and it’s the way God loves us.
God loves you and me no matter how awful we treat him, no matter how awful we treat others, no matter how far we run from him. In fact, Philippians 2 goes on to remind us just how much God loves us. By emptying himself, humbling himself, and taking our place on the cross, he poured out everything to make a way for us to be with him. That’s the kind of sacrificial love to which Christ-followers are called.
It’s not normal (for us) to love like this. It’s not even humanly attainable. But the sheer impossibility of doing this on our own does not negate the command to do it. O, how we need God’s help to grow!
I used to think that in order to love someone, I had to feel love for someone. That’s not the kind of love the Bible calls us to extend. Biblical love is always a decision, an intentional choice. It’s action, not feeling. You decide to love others whether you feel love or not, whether they deserve it or not. Love is an intentional choice.
Why? Because this is the key to Kingdom living! Love against all odds is what points others to God and shows the world a better way. Love is how the Kingdom of God breaks through in our world. Love is where people find Jesus. LOVE is what matters most! Walking in partnership with God means joining God in his love for our neighbour.
So how do we do it?
First we must commit to obey this great commandment. Then, we must choose to act loving, even if we don’t feel loving. The command to “love others” can sound vague or abstract, but today’s verses give us a very practical definition of what love looks like and how we can extend it to our neighbour. They are a condensed form of one of the greatest and most functional descriptions of love – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
HOW TO LOVE:
- Be patient even when people are difficult, complaining, attacking, irritating…
- Extend kindness – show grace, do nice things, bless others, help others, especially those who don’t deserve it!
- Choose not to be envious or jealous of others’ looks, family, clothes, home, career, ability, relationships… When you feel envy try to arise within you, don’t allow it to take root. Bring it to God.
- Don’t boast or be arrogant about yourself. Let God or others call attention to yourself, not you.
- Be nice; be polite. Don’t be mouthy, sarcastic, mean or rude.
- Be reasonable and willing to compromise, not stubbornly insisting on your own way.
- Hold your temper and don’t allow yourself to be irritable or provoked by others. Remain gentle.
- Forgive others and their offences against you (lest these offences become bitter roots that poison you).
- Don’t gloat over someone else’s downfall; instead, love what is good and true in others.
- Choose to bear with people. Choose to have faith in others and believe the best. Choose to hope for the best. Choose to endure in your practice of love, even when it feels impossible.
We cannot change those around us, and yet we are called to love them. We will be mistreated, hurt, and annoyed by others, yet we are called to love them. Someone in our family will possibly grate against us today, yet we are called to love them. Today, we will encounter irritating people, unreasonable people, mean people, even cruel people. We are called to love them.
When you don’t feel loving, what practical thing will you do today to be loving?
- Think: My choice to love points people to God.
- Do: Today, focus on one of the commands from Philippians 2:3-4 or 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Choose to live out this quality in all your relationships today. Watch for opportunities to put the needs of others before your own and so obey the greatest commandment.