“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (NLT)
The first phrase of this wonderful verse of Scripture tells us that God loves the world. Love has to have an object in order to be authentic love. God loves the world! It’s been said that “God doesn’t love all of us, he loves each of us.” I like that because it reveals both the scope of God’s love as well as its personal and intimate nature. God’s love is limitless and without border.
Who do you love? Jesus was confronted by a young attorney one day who inquired about the greatest commandment. Jesus replied that the greatest commandment was to love all of God with all of oneself. But he didn’t stop there. He added, “The second is like the first, love your neighbor as yourself.” Even 2,000 years ago citizens of the Middle East were consumed with understanding who their neighbors were. Intrigued by the response, the attorney bit and asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then unpacked the famous story of the Good Samaritan. The basic story line conveys a traveler who is overtaken by bandits, robbed, beaten and left for dead by the side of the road. A priest walks by on the other side, then a Temple assistant who follows suit. The third to happen upon the scene is a Samaritan who stops and offers aid. “Who was the neighbor?” Jesus asked. “The one who showed mercy,” replied the attorney.
When we teach this story to our children, the outcome is usually something like “everyone is your neighbor.” But that’s not the force of Jesus’ point. Jesus’ point is that my neighbor is the least likely of persons…the last person on earth you’d want to be stranded on a desert island with, so to speak. My favorite definition of community is “what happens when the person I love least moves next door.” That’s your neighbor. Real love crosses lines. Jesus modeled this by loving those who were different, those who were outcast, and those who were selfish. He loved those who fabricated lies about him, those who denied him, those who betrayed him, and those who would reject him. He loved those who would condemn him to his death.
Have you ever wondered why your life is filled with difficult people? I think God fills our lives with difficult people to show us something about ourselves. Think about the most difficult person in your life right now. That probably didn’t take long, did it? Instead of wondering how to fix that person, maybe we should think about what that person reveals about our own hearts.
We’ll never love like God loves until we’re willing to cross lines. To do that means we will have to eliminate the conjunctions from our claims. Conjunctions are words like “but” and “however” that make our claims of love conditional. For example, you may hear people say, “I love you, BUT…” or “I love you HOWEVER…” Conjunctions establish conditions. Yet Jesus did not love that way. John 3:16 proclaims that “God so loved the world,” without conjunctions or conditions.
Do you love like God loves?