Loving people. This may be the single hardest thing Jesus calls us to. He tells us to love our enemies and then shows us how everyday he walked the earth—right up until he died for his enemies.
The thing about people is they can be tough nuts to crack. They rarely act the way we would like them to and seem to think like we would like even less often! Of course there are those few we naturally identify with that make loving them easy. Usually because they are good at feeding our egos or affirming what we already hold to be true. But for the majority of people, loving them can be tough.
It’s too easy to fall into secret grudges and quiet dislike. It’s all too commonplace to find ourselves judging and holding against, all the while pretending to be friendly.
The thing about the Bible is that it doesn’t tell us to just “get along” or to avoid people who making loving them difficult.
Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:17-18
Obviously, there is a call to not hate. That’s kind of a given. It’s why so many of us pretend to like those difficult people. We know we shouldn’t hate them—and we wouldn’t if they weren’t so annoying! Well, that’s the excuse we often make anyway. But we know we shouldn’t hate them so we hide it, keep it secret. We deny even to ourselves that hate is what’s going on.
As if that weren’t enough of a difficulty for us to work with it goes further. “Can I be frank…?” This is not the way any of us want to hear someone begin a conversation with us. It implies they are about to say something they don’t want to say and we don’t want to hear. But this is the call of loving people as well.
Be frank. Be up front. Be honest. Be direct. It’s not a call to constant criticism. It’s not a call to always venting over every little thing someone says or does that we don’t agree 100% with. But it is a call to not hold something against another person when they have done wrong. It is a call to honest relationships. To real community.
“…so you will not share in their guilt.” This implies they are guilty. They have done something wrong. They have treated someone wrongly, or have acted sinfully. They have been hateful or ungodly in some way. This isn’t about personalities not clicking or opinions that differ. This is about sin. And God says if your “neighbor” is sinning you have to be frank with him or her. You have to be direct. You have to talk it out. Or you share in the guilt.
Wow, that mindset should change a lot of the judging we are prone to! The church is notoriously skilled at standing off to the side and judging the sinners. We like to see, identify and sentence…from afar. And God says we are guilty too, if this is our approach.
And it’s not a call to talk about it in a hateful or judging or condescending way. It’s not a pronouncement of their guilt to their face. It’s a conversation, a “walking with”, an honest dialogue that is carried out in love. The way we would want someone to talk to us if we were the guilty one.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
We are good at loving ourselves. We extended ourselves the benefit of the doubt, excusing behavior because of circumstances and obstacles. We trust ourselves to do it better next time again and again. We gloss over a multitude of mistakes we make with apparent ease. What would it be like to love others this same way? To love them like we love ourselves?