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How to Love (Even Your “Enemies”) Unconditionally

How to Love (Even Your “Enemies”) Unconditionally

Jesus repeatedly emphasized the importance of Agape (unconditional) love for three groups of people – “other Christians”, the materially “poor”, and our “enemies”.  It’s far easier to love our church friends than those who don’t look or believe like we do.  All humans are naturally inclined to avoid those “beneath” or opposed to them.  Churches and Christians occasionally volunteer to serve at a local ministry but rarely do those events involve direct interaction with those “less fortunate”.  We also tend to distance ourselves from those with diametrically different world views, unless it’s a coworker or family member who corners us at the office or a reunion.

What does it mean for a Christ-follower to love the materially poor unconditionally?  How do we love those with whom we vehemently disagree on matters of faith or politics?  Many contend “unconditional” means giving away whatever the poor need or giving in to whatever the world believes.  If we are to practice Agape the way Jesus modeled, then unconditional love comes not with conditions but with expectations.  Our loving heavenly Father gives explicit instructions to His children for how they should live – and the greatest of those commandments is to love.

As parents we love our sons and daughters no matter what they say or do, but we have rules we expect them to follow.  In fact, it’s because we love them that we endure the discomfort of discipline.  Likewise, love for fellow believers entails holding them accountable for their actions.  We’ll love them no matter what but it’s authentic love that gives us the courage to confront their sin.  A parent unwilling to deal with a child’s bad behavior or a brother in Christ afraid to address another’s issues don’t love them unconditionally.

As illustrated by those examples, both engagement and expectations are not only consistent with, but prerequisites for, Agape.  Disassociating from or asking nothing of the poor or our “enemies” isn’t love.  Criticizing and exposing mistakes that may have led to someone’s poverty or alternative viewpoints isn’t love.  The growing divisiveness and animosity toward Christians in America are attributable largely to that aggressive, unsympathetic posture that comes across as self-righteousness – not Agape.

Yes, Love is Unconditional…

If the model and goal is to love like Jesus, what does that look like?

  1. God’s love for us – As humans, grasping love with no bounds or contingencies is difficult.  How can we fathom that which is so hard to attain?  Given my loveless upbringing, I struggled for years to understand how God could love a wretch like me.  Undeserved love is necessarily unconditional, so much so in Jesus’ case that He exchanged the riches of heaven for the poverty of earth to save the (materially and spiritually) poorThe Lord recently revealed to me that His love was always there, but I wasn’t drawing close enough to sense it.
  2. Our love for the poor – Jesus’ empathy for the poor is reflected in His entry into our poverty.  Christ goes so far as to command His followers to care for the poor as proof of our love for Him.  Like Jesus, our love should be unconditional, not seasonal outreach events to “check the box” during the holidays.  Since we’re all in some form of poverty, our compassion should be heartfelt, humble, and relational.  Our goal should be to help restore the broken relationships (with God, themselves, others, and creation) that lie at the root of poverty.  That work can’t be done on occasion at arms-length.
  3. Our love for our “enemies” – If few Christians today associate with and sacrifice on behalf of the poor who need them, how many associate with and sacrifice on behalf of those who hate them?  Unconditional love is easier among the likeminded than religious or political combatants.  Agape is only possible when we look past exterior appearance, actions, and words and recognize who they truly are internally – eternal souls made in God’s image in dire need of a relationship with our Father.

If Jesus crossed the enormous cavern between us and Him on a death-defying rescue mission, we should bridge the minuscule creek bed separating those He came to save.

Yet Relationships Involve Expectations…

Love should always be unconditional, but there are stipulations in every relationship…

  1. God’s love for us – Like any good dad, our Father wants to raise mature and impactful children.  Therefore, in His infinite and undying love, God provides direction and discipline.  Jesus molded Peter into a world-changing leader through steady doses of tough love mixed with encouragement.  How could anyone not be transformed like Peter by what Jesus did on the cross for us?  Salvation is a free but grace isn’t cheap when it’s at Jesus’ expense.  Faith without works is dead.  Yes, love is unconditional – but relationships aren’t.
  2. Our love for the poor – Most poverty alleviation programs today believe “unconditional” means asking or expecting nothing of beneficiaries.  However, there’s no love without dignity and there’s no dignity in dependence.  Church “outreach” events typically do more harm than good – perpetuating poverty.  We should be more interested in the person than their poverty.  Each time we fail to acknowledge and leverage someone’s capabilities, their sense of entitlement grows and our sense of pride swells.  To quote the book Toxic Charity, “You should never do for someone what they can do for themselves.”
  3. Our love for our “enemies” – The more post-Christian America becomes, the more conditions it places on its citizens.  Progressivism is binary – conformance or cancellation.  Unconditional love for those who revile and persecute Christians does not mean saying or doing nothing while they terminate preborn children and lure those who survive to adolescence away from Jesus toward their eternal destination.  However, it’s unreasonable to expect non-Christians to follow biblical law until they believe in the Lawgiver.  Yet they do have a God-given conscience and are still responsible for the harm they cause.

Love becomes conditional when it’s self-righteous or co-dependent.  There’s a fine line where expectations for the poor and defense of the innocent (justice) blurs into seeking personal interests rather than the best interests of others and God’s Kingdom.

How to Love Unconditionally with Expectations…

From a practical standpoint, how should Christians and churches balance two seemingly conflicting objectives – being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves“?

  1. God’s love for us – In return for Agape and to demonstrate Agape, the Lord asks for complete surrender.  A life (dedicated to Christ) for a life – death (to self) for a death.  Unconditional love involves expenditure of social capital – valuing our relationship with the Lord over people’s opinions.  The cost of discipleship is increasing in America, leading more Christians to place conditions on their love – assessing the risk of confessing or sharing their faith.
  2. Our love for the poor – As long as churches treat members as “customers”, not Kingdom “employees”, there will be stringent conditions for loving and serving their intended, biblical “customer” (the ”lost” and ”least”).  They won’t allow poverty alleviation efforts to interfere or schedules to conflict with weekend services, church activities, or building plans.  Churchgoers will follow suit with conditional, transactional compassion subject to career and family availability.
  3. Our love for our “enemies” – In this tumultuous, divisive election year, we’re calling for churches and Christians to #DropMyStone of judgment and instead perform acts of kindness (prayer, care, and share) with someone across the political aisle.  The radical practice of Agape could return words like “love” and “tolerance” to their biblical roots – before our culture diluted them to satisfy its cravings for acceptance and decadence.

Society and scripture both remind Christians that it’s not our place to judge.  Yet our Great Commandment obligation to love unconditionally doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to hold people accountable as we walk alongside them in their path out of poverty or as we observe activists poisoning the minds of unsuspecting children.

It’s Your Turn…

Is disassociation driving division in our nation?  Could the unconditional love of Christ-followers overcome America’s socioeconomic and political divides, just as Jesus’ Agape love tore the proverbial curtain that separated mankind from the Father?

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