Some years ago I read in a missionary biography about a woman who struggled for years to truly love the people she came to minister to. Finally she stopped looking at herself, her failures, her lack, and began thinking of God’s love for her. And almost unconsciously on her part, God changed her heart, to the point that people commented to her husband on the change.
I thought I knew which writer shared that, but I’ve looked through her books and haven’t found that passage. Yet that lesson has come back to me many times over. I feel the same lack, and pray often for repentance, forgiveness, and change.
How does the Bible tell us spiritual change comes? II Corinthians 3:18: But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Jesus said, in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” He had said it before in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” just after the section about about in Him. Ephesians 5:1-2 say: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
So how did Jesus love? This is a topic worthy of much more study, but after just a brief time of thought, I have plenty to meditate on:
Jesus us loved us “while we were yet sinners” Romans 5:8. He didn’t wait for us to clean up our act before He extended love to us.
He loved us before we loved Him: “We love because he first loved us” 1 John 4:19. He took the initiative.
He gave Himself.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. Galatians 1:3-4.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2.
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6.
Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:14.
That giving involved inconvenience, weariness, misunderstandings, false rumors, humiliation, pain, and death.
He ministered to others when He was the only One who deserved to be ministered to.
He laid down His life for us. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” 1 John 3:16. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13.
He loved not only in word but in deed.
Early in my Christian life, I had trouble forgiving others because I’d get stuck going over and over what they did to me, how wrong it was, and how they didn’t deserve forgiveness. And then I encountered the parable of a man who was forgiven a devastating amount that would have been the absolute ruin of him, yet wouldn’t forgive his fellow man a very small amount. That made clear to me like nothing else that forgiveness wasn’t based on how small or large the wrong or how “deserving” the wrongdoer was. It was based on God’s forgiveness of me. I had wronged Him so much more than anything anyone else has done to me, yet He fully forgave. In light of that, how can I withhold forgiveness from anyone else?
Similarly, my love for others is not based on whether they deserve it and doesn’t come from my paltry efforts. Oswald Chambers said in the My Utmost for His Highest reading for April 30, “The springs of love are in God, not in us. It is absurd to look for the love of God in our hearts naturally; it is only there when it has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” When the Holy Spirit sheds abroad His love in my heart, when I abide in Him, when I behold His great love for me, then His love will fill and overflow from me to others.