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How Can I Wisely Love People?

Greg E. Gifford, PhD, CBC



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“How can I wisely love people?”

Let me read to you one of the most basic and yet profound statements that Jesus gives to us in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7:8 says, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” The golden rule really sets the stage for how we are love others. David Powlison says, “Obviously, the happy valentines day_wide_t_ntmost basic violations of the Golden Rule occur when we simply mistreat others, doing malicious things we’d hate to have done to us. But perhaps the most common misunderstanding of the Golden Rule is that even in attempting to love others we do what we would want.”[1] 

Have you thought about this: in loving other people, we are still being self-serving. My first semester in college I was eager and passionate about studying the Scripture. It was a great time of learning, growing in Christ, being surrounded by others who were passionate about the Scripture and maturing as an adult. I found myself spending hours in the library and even buying books from other friends and upper classmen to start building my own library. It was the exciting time. The semester started in January and my dad’s birthday came around in April. So I purchased a textbook for him as a gift. Let me make sure you caught that: I purchased him a textbook for his birthday! If you were to know my day you would know he is into the outdoors, works around the house, works on cars, but has never been one to sit down and read a college textbook (especially one as dry as the book I purchased). But guess who did love reading? Guess who did love college textbooks? Yep. I later realized that in giving to my dad, I was really giving to what I would want, not what he would want. Maybe you too are guilty of this: loving people in the way you want to be loved.

One of the most challenging things that Christ does in reminding us to treat others the way we want to be treated is that He harnesses our natural self-love and directs it towards others. Christ wants you to love others the way that you love yourself. Why do you think that the second greatest commandment—according to Matthew 22—is to love your neighbor as yourself? Because Jesus assumes that you love yourself a lot! Think with me about our self-love for a moment: When was the last time someone had to remind you of your rights? When was the last time someone had to inform you to feel wronged? At what point do you need others to step in and say, “Are you going to take that?”

If we are honest with ourselves, we have such a rampant self-love that we easily can misconstrue our love for others to a “scratch my back and I will scratch your back” mentality. This is an inherent danger of the “love tank” ideology and picture that Dr. Gary Chapman uses in Five Love Languages because it can help stoke the flame of our own self-love. For instance, “the reason that I am not loving you is because you have not loved me.” The reason I am hostile to my kids is because they are loud, unappreciative, and disrespectful. The reason I am abrasive to people at work is because they don’t carry their load.

When really, all of these things amount to us saying, “love me—like I love me—and I will in turn love you.” And nothing could be further from the perspective of Christ’s love for us. Christ was reviled and He didn’t revile in return. He was sold out. To use the terminology of Paul Miller in The Loving Life, He loved without an exit strategy. He was hated. He was scorned. He was lost by His parents. He was falsely accused and yet through all of this syphoning of His “love tank” He loved. He repaid evil with good. He blessed those who cursed Him.

In summary then, how can you wisely love others? How can you love them like you love you? How can you put off a self-seeking love for a love that is not looking for something in return? Christ has called us to a radical love that engages others and loves them wisely, no matter their response to us. He has called us to love others, wisely.

Copyright (c) by Greg Gifford

November 2014

[1] David Powlison, Seeing With New Eyes (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 227.

"God may be looked upon in an absolute consideration, as he is in himself the best and most excellent being, wherein we behold the concurrence of all perfections, the most amiable and beauteous excellences, to an intellectual eye, that it can have an apprehension of." --John Howe, On Delighting in God
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