In Ephesians 1:15-16, Paul tells the recipients of the letter that he gives thanks for them, in part because of their “love for all of God’s people.” (The original language reads literally, “love for all of the saints.” The NIV rightly renders the inclusiveness of “saints” with “God’s people.”) You might be tempted to read this phrase quickly and move on. But if you stop for a moment and think about it, you might wonder about loving all of God’s people. All? Really? How is this possible?
It is possible, I believe, but only with God’s help. As you can imagine, I’ve spent much of my life relating to other Christians. Most of the time, it has been a pleasure to love them. But, honestly, there have been times when love hasn’t come easily to me. I think of certain people in my congregation in Irvine whom I did not especially like. They were demanding and critical, the kind of people I would naturally try to avoid. But as a Christian, not to mention a pastor, I knew I was supposed to love them.
I freely confess that I did not do this consistently. There were times when my human inclinations won out and I treated people poorly or, more often, just avoided them altogether. But there were other times when I could not escape. I remember praying silently, asking God for help. I asked that God would help me treat people with love no matter what I felt for them. Moreover, I sought from the Lord a deeper understanding of the people I found hard to love. If I could relate to them, not as obnoxious folk, but as broken, needy people, then I found it easier to have compassion for them in spite of their disagreeable behavior.
All of us have people in our lives whom we don’t especially like, people we’d rather avoid than love. But the Lord calls us to love “all of God’s people,” even our enemies. This kind of love comes only from God through the Spirit who dwells within us and helps us to love when our human resources fail.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Who are the people in your life whom you find it difficult to love? Will you ask God to help you love these people? Perhaps God will even show you something you can do this very day to love them. Why not ask him for this?
PRAYER: Gracious God, you love me with an everlasting, unbreakable love. You have demonstrated this love time and again, most of all through the death of Christ. Help me, I pray, to receive your love afresh, to dwell in your love.
As I do, help me also to love those around me. Today, I pray in particular for the grace to love those I don’t especially like, even those who bug me or have wronged me. May I love others as you have loved me, by the power of your Spirit.
Show me, even now, how I might love in genuine and tangible ways those you have brought into my life. Help me, Lord, to be creative and compassionate in my love for others, all others. Amen.