A Different Kind of Love
The love to which Jesus calls His followers is one which surpasses the ordinary. Old "loves" that we have known are an insufficient preface for the new lessons we must learn. Family ties, devotion between friends, passion between loves are “natural” affections so common to men that their absence is a sign of subhuman degradation (Rom. ). Loving those who love them gives no special distinction to the sons of the kingdom. As Jesus observes, even such “low types” as the publicans and the Gentiles were capable of such exchange of kindness (Matt. 5:46-47).
The “love” of kingdom righteousness is extraordinary, not merely in intensity, but in kind. It is love of a different and higher order. Much of the difficulty we suffer in our efforts to understand it comes from the mistaken presumption that it is of the same genre as our natural affections, built upon strong mutuality, deep attraction, shared experiences and interests. How, we ask, can we feel a warm affection for those who are doing their dead level best to destroy us? Our enemies are not only unattractive to us but their behavior is despicable. We are repelled by both their actions and their persons.
Clearly the old rules do not apply here. A love for one’s adversaries cannot be built upon emotion. The love that can embrace its enemies does not originate on earth. Men, even in their most heroic moments, have only managed to love the lovable (Romans 5:7). God, on the other hand, has consistently loved His enemies, sending rain and sunlight upon both good and evil (Matthew ). This divine good will has nothing to do with some attractive quality found in us. We have succeeded to a man in making ourselves morally repugnant (Ecc. ; Romans 3:9-18), and it is highly unlikely that we shall ever in this life understand how fully His holy nature is repelled by our ungodly ways. The yearning of God for men arises, as it must, form His own gracious character and will. In His mercy He wills to do good to those whose very lives are in offence to His nature. He has loved the unlovable. How truly Paul has written, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The power that opens to citizens of the kingdom of heaven the ability to love in such a selfless way is the example of their Father. There is an awesome strength about the One who has created all things. The heavens declare His glory (Psa. 19:1). The universe testifies to his everlasting power and deity (Romans ). But it is not in the greatness of His creative power that we truly know God (1 Kings -12). The final, full revelation of God was reserved for One who came in “weakness” (1 Cor. ) and emptied Himself for the sake of others (Phil. 2:5ff). Jesus alone has revealed the Father in completeness (John ) and only when we have seen Him have we seen His Father (John 14:6-7). We have never looked more squarely into the face of the living God than when we stand by faith at the foot of the cross and hear His Son plead for mercy upon the ungodly men who are murdering Him. Here is power. Here is deity. We do not deny His absolute physical might. We cannot resist His wisdom. His perfect righteousness fill us with reverential awe. But when we have found access by Christ into the “deep things of God’ (1 Cor. ) we will know that there is no truer description of the divine character than John’s brief affirmation, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Men who have been the beneficiaries of such an undeserved graciousness ought to be able to understand and apply it to others. Indeed, “We love Him because He first loved us’ (1 John ). But this love is a love of the will, not of the emotions. Our Savior is not asking that we have a warm affection for our enemies. In reality, our success in truly loving them will be directly dependent on our ability to detach ourselves from their behavior and respond to their true need rather than their conduct. In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, William Barclay has given a most apt description of this heavenly kind of love: “Agape (love) does not mean a feeling of the heart, which we cannot help, and which comes unbidden and unsought; it means a determination of the mind, whereby we achieve this unconquerable good will even toward those who hurt and injure us.” This is the kind of moral determination which must come at last to be the foundation of all our other loves. It must be the sustaining force upon which is built the deep affections of marriage and the family, and selfless comradeship of friends, and above all, the fellowship of the saints.
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. ). There is something immeasurably grand as well as deeply disturbing about being called upon to be like God. The possibility thrills while the challenge frightens. The perfection which Jesus both promises and commands for His disciples does not refer to God’s sinless righteousness but to the fullness and completeness of His love. Our imperfect, selective good will must be enlarged to encompass all men. Such a love will not be bought at a cheap price. Pain and agony are in the process. But we must grow up to be like our Father or yield the right to be called His children (1 John 4:7-8).