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Scripture Reference: Matthew 22:36-40
How do I love someone like I love myself?
I act in my own interest
I believe the best in me
I always give me another chance
by Charlie Loften
So you’re out at a restaurant and a baby screams. What is your first thought? If you are like most of us, it is likely along the lines of, “Oh, great. A crying baby. I didn’t come out to listen to someone else’s baby cry.” Our first reaction is to think about how everything affects us. We (most of us anyway) don’t think, “I hope the baby is ok,” or “That poor mom.” We just begin to dread what we believe is about to be a long meal. Some of you may be objecting, believing you are nicer than this. However, if I were to change restaurant to long flight or cry to tantrum, I would eventually hook you in as well.
The reality is we see the world primarily through a “How does this affect me?” lens. We see a car in a hurry and judge them for being reckless. We don’t think about what stresses may be affecting them. We are annoyed by a homeless person clogging an intersection. We are less concerned about the tragic backstory that has led him to this place. Everything we see and experience, we view through the lens of “me.” Is this situation good for me? Will this person be a good friend for me? We make plans, evaluate people, consider opportunities, and spend our money all by asking “What’s in it for me?”
This is the beauty of Jesus’s phrasing when he tells us how we should love others. He could have said something similar to what he did when he told us how to love God. Love others fully, to the best of your ability. Love with your whole heart. But what he said was that we should love our neighbor the way that we love ourselves.
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40
Beginning to love others the way we love ourselves, might mean starting to ask “how does this affect them” and “what does it mean to them” rather than just looking at life through our “me lens.” What would it look like if we had the same instinct to think of others first that we have to think of ourselves first? I see a person who would normally annoy me and rather than getting upset with them, I wonder what they need and if there is anything I could do for them. Rather than responding quickly and harshly to a friend or family member who snaps at me and hurts me, I instead think about what could be upsetting them and wonder how I can love them through it.
Saying we should love others in this way is easy. It’s easy to describe and easy to illustrate. None of that is the problem. The issue, of course, is how. So, the big question is how can I make that transition? All the clever descriptors of how I love myself aren’t going to get me there. Describing what it would be like isn’t going to get me there either. The answer, as with most issues in our Christian life, comes down to a simple yet supernatural formula—Holy Spirit + time.
First, we must confess to God our shortcomings in the area of loving people. Then we tell him we want to grow and ask his Spirit to help. Ask the Spirit to show you people you could love better. Ask him to open your eyes to needs and hurts you aren’t seeing. There is no lack of people in your life who need to be loved, and God definitely wants this for you. You will be pleasantly surprised at what God shows you. Once he opens your eyes, you then have the opportunity to do something different from what you normally would do. Take that step of love or compassion and watch what God does in and through you.
As in all areas of character growth that we need, this takes time. We have been building bad habits for a lot of years. Our behaviors won’t change overnight. Give the Spirit time and continually commit this to prayer. Don’t become discouraged during the process. It is through the process that God will heal you and lead you to become a great lover of people. Over time, you will be amazed at how God uses you to make big differences in the lives of others, and you will love the person you are becoming.
Pick up the “Love Does” book at church on Sunday. Start reading it. Get in a small group and be a part of the series this fall. How to love the people God puts in our path is a primary theme of the book, and Bob Goff has some great stories from his own life that will both challenge and encourage you.
Questions to Ponder
How do I love someone like I love myself?
What would it meant to always act in the best interest of another person?
What keeps us from believing the best in others?
How can we be more forgiving of others?