The following is an excerpt from Corey Trimble, An Authentic Experience: Creating an Inviting Culture with Biblical Integrity.
I remember when I got saved in August of 2002. I instantly fell head over heels for Jesus. I know that sounds goofy, but I did. I was reading the Bible nonstop, I was at church every time the doors were open, and I was praying four or five times a day.
But, as much as I loved God and a couple of key people in my life, overall I could not stand humanity.
I would walk through the mall or go to the university I was about to graduate from and just loathe people. I had been hurt by family. I had seen the darkest corners of society when I was deep in my sinful nature. Even my newfound relationship with God (because I was immature in my faith) made me look at people that hadn’t found what I had with contempt and judgment.
I clearly remember the day it hit me that I was blatantly ignoring the second most important teaching of Jesus: to love my neighbor (Mark 12:31).
The church I came to know Christ in had a very small prayer room off the main hallway. At one point, I went into that prayer room, moved over a couple of fake plants, and lay on the floor near the corner asking God to put a love in my heart for people. Loving people is very unnatural for many of us. Therefore, we must tap into the supernatural power of God to put that love in us. I recall lying there, begging God to break down the walls of my very hardened heart toward people. I wanted not only to honor God but also to have the ability to go out and show people the love he had shown me.
God was faithful to my request, and immediately my eyes were open to how wonderful and broken people can be. I became, and still very much am, an extremely empathetic person. Though I can get frustrated with people and need my space at times, I can honestly say I love people. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I have become the guy on the airplane that always asks the person next to me where they are from and how the book is that they’re reading. Don’t judge me too harshly though, I give them their space sometime after takeoff.
We talk a lot in Christian circles about loving people, but do we really live that out?
I would walk through the halls of my college or the mall and silently judge the scantily clad young woman or make derogatory remarks about the gay couple, the whole time claiming to be a follower of Christ. I wasn’t a lover of people. I was actually a loather of them.
Even if many pastors or Christians have never sunk to the depths of loathing others, many of us love people only conditionally and if we can share common interests or life experiences. Jesus said even the nonbelievers can pull that off! Often times we aren’t interested in diverse community. Instead, we love lifestyle enclaves that isolate us from every person different from ourselves.
I remember when I first came across the term lifestyle enclave. I was studying a commentary for Ecclesiastes and the commentator used this term. It simply means that we create environments that are filled with people and ideologies that we are comfortable with. In a very serious way, the church is guilty of building such environments to the exclusion of others.
When we invite politicians into our pulpits, demonize certain demographics of nonbelievers, and make snide remarks about people that are different from us, we create lifestyle enclaves.
This is not what the church is called to be. Yes, we should have a common overarching theology, but within that biblical framework, we should have all kinds of people in different stages of their spiritual walk. For clarity, I am not proposing universalism (everybody gets saved in the end) or turning a blind eye to evil, but I am strongly urging that we create cultures that let people on all levels of their journey toward Jesus come and find solace with other brothers and sisters.
Let’s be honest. I am not sure that many of us even know what the biblical definition of love is. We love and pray for our government when our party of preference is in office but tend to spew venom when we disagree with who got elected. We love the unborn and fight for their rights while often hating the doctors who perform abortions.
Love can be difficult and full of letdowns and hurt, but we are to keep pursuing love because eternity is at stake.
We can say very un-Christlike things, such as, “I will respect her when she respects me!” We even have variations within the “family” of God, causing divisions over minor issues while completely neglecting the heresy and darkness in our own hearts. We can throw the word love around so carelessly and yet neglect the true teachings on it that came straight from the mouth of Christ.
Direct commands to pray for those that persecute us and love our enemies go ignored, even by the most popular and influential Christians. If we are to move people into an authentic relationship with God and other brothers and sisters in Christ, we must first admit that many of us don’t love in the proper sense of the word.
Of course, the Word helps us understand love.
1 Corinthians Chapter 13 shows us the actions of love. John 3:16 tells us that love is sacrificial. 1 John 4:8 tells us that we are incapable of true love without God because “God is love.” And though there is no short, simple definition of love, the study of the Bible gives us many examples and actions that make up someone that truly loves.
Maybe I am being too harsh and critical. Many people do love others, but simply don’t know how to practically live out that love in a way that not only shows others the heart of God but connects them to him. Of course, first and foremost we must go to the Scripture to learn not only how to love others but why we should love others. We know from Scripture that we are commanded to love and are able to do so because God has first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Furthermore, God has given us the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to be able to love those around us. We learn from the Bible that love comes with discipline. Love can be difficult and full of letdowns and hurt, but we are to keep pursuing love because eternity is at stake. God is the perfect essence of love, and God within us should manifest in us loving others well. The Word makes it clear that love is paramount in the life of a true disciple of Jesus, and true disciples make more true disciples.
(Excerpted from Corey Trimble, An Authentic Experience: Creating an Inviting Culture with Biblical Integrity (Renew.org, 2020).