“Mommy,” said our youngest son one day when he was just 5 years old. Lines of deep-thinking furrowed his little forehead as he sought to say what was on his mind.
“Jesus wants us to love each other, right?” he asked while sitting in her lap.
“That’s right,” she answered him, wondering what was forthcoming.
“He wants us to love all people, right?” he asked, looking into her eyes with two little blue globes of innocence and wonder sparkling up at her.
“Yes, that’s right, too,” she replied.
“Even strangers?” he continued.
“Even strangers,” she responded.
“Well then, the next time I meet a stranger, I’m going to say, ‘Hello there, sweetheart.’”
“Oh, you are, are you?” my wife said, trying nearly in vain to contain her laughter, as she hugged him tightly.
“Yes,” he gravely replied, “because Jesus wants me to love even strangers.”
Hmm, to love “even strangers.” Loving those we know seems hard enough a challenge at times, but must we also love people we do not know? Yes, it IS the will of God that we love even strangers. Of course, we must realize what is meant when we say that we are to love strangers. It is NOT meant that we must simply conjure up warm fuzzy sentiments about those we meet; nor is it meant that we lavish on strangers a sludge of sugary nonsense that has no real meaning or depth.
No, the kind of “love” that Jesus expects is an attitude that we DETERMINE to take upon ourselves which will shape our choices and actions to support, encourage and assist others. In fact, the word “love” has everything to do with “OTHER-mindedness” and is willing to sacrifice “SELF-centeredness.” You may conclude that you are being “loving” when you make a conscious choice to help others who are in need whether they are inside or outside your immediate sphere of interaction. Such love will be most clearly genuine when it compels you to help or encourage others at some cost to yourself.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 NIV).
You and I are given opportunities throughout our lives to help others. Unfortunately, we fail to recognize them or become enmeshed in patterns of thinking and behaving that reduce our contact with very real need. Let’s face it, the needs of others can be a terribly uncomfortable subject for us.
After all, it isn’t comfortable for us to patiently listen to a co-worker as she shares her heartache over a devastating betrayal and a marriage that is falling tragically apart. Nor does it feel safe to talk to a homeless man, trying to connect him with shelter and, ultimately, the means by which he can take care of his own needs. And it is most certainly not a pleasant experience to witness a child that is literally starving to death, clutch at his swollen belly, whimpering for food, staring at you with the vacant eyes of the dying.
Nevertheless, we must look at our safe and carefully planned lives, and be ready to evaluate our priorities. We must realize that our resources and blessings have not been earned but have been entrusted to us so that we might be blessings to others. We must acknowledge that the revelation of the grace of God to the world at large is directly proportionate to the extent that you and I are willing to be vessels of grace.
Of course, you might be too busy to help. Or maybe your budget is too tight and if you helped then you might not have enough left over for the new golf clubs you’ve been wanting. Maybe you feel that it’s someone else’s job or someone else is much more gifted for helping than are you. If so, then you neither see what Christ has done for you upon the cross as He gazed upon your spiritual poverty, nor do you perceive the call that He is sending to you right now to love others.
Don’t wait for an angelic choir to break out in a grooving song to signal your invitation. The need itself is your invitation. Don’t miss your invitation.
Don’t hope for material blessings to reward you for your concern or sacrifice. Don’t even wait for a certificate of appreciation. The fact that you DO help and that it pleases your Father in heaven is your reward (no matter that no one else affirms, approves, or even notices). Don’t miss your reward.
Too often we fail to recognize the privilege being given to us in this day and hour to help someone in real need. But the question is not “CAN I help?” but rather “How WILL I help?” Giving, going and praying are all things that God’s people should be doing right now to make a difference. But set the bar for yourself higher than you’ve ever set it before. Dare to love others. Dare to love them though you must give of yourself. Dare to love them … even if they ARE strangers.
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:11-12 NIV).
But back to the conversation between my wife and son: “Yes,” my wife said, agreeing with him. “Jesus wants us to love even strangers. But, really honey, we don’t have to call them ‘sweetheart, ’ do we? We’ll save that word for the people that we know best, right? We can find other ways to show we love strangers.”
Our son furrowed his eyebrows a bit more intensely, thought for a moment, and then finally said, “All right … sweetheart.”
Pastor Thom Mollohan leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.