Let love be your only debt!
If you love others, you have done all that the Law demands.
In the Law there are many commands, such as, “Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not want what belongs to others.”
But all of these are summed up in the command that says, “Love others as much as you love yourself.”
No one who loves others will harm them.
So love is all that the Law demands.
~Romans 13: 8-10, CEV
We talk a lot about love in the Church. Love your neighbors. Love your enemies. Love one another.
And because we know that we’re supposed to love people, there tends to be a lot of “I love you, but I don’t like you” floating around.
We’ve all probably been on the giving and receiving end of being loved but not liked. It certainly doesn’t seem like love. And I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus is asking of us.
While we do a good job of saying that we’re to love one another, I don’t think we’re as good at giving ideas on how to do that. The practical aspect of love is often missing in our discussion.
But I think we can be better at loving one another by employing one simple word.
So much of what I see missing in our interactions with one another is empathy. We know that we’re supposed to love people and we pay lip service to that command, but we don’t do the work of trying to understand what others are experiencing. I believe this is the path to genuinely loving one another. Over and over this is how the Scripture tells us to love.
In 2 Samuel, the prophet Nathan goes to admonish King David for his sin against Uriah. He could have come out and told him how bad he was, but instead, he helped David understand what he had done wrong by helping him to empathize with someone who had what little he had taken from him. By helping him to see his own story from another perspective, Nathan invited David into a better sense of repentance and ultimately a better love for those he served as king.
When Jesus spoke to the crowd who was about to stone the woman caught in adultery, he appealed to their sense of empathy. He asked them to place themselves in her position. He could have gone with “tough love” that demanded that they follow the rules regarding the treatment of those caught in adultery, but instead, he called for compassion.
The Golden Rule is mostly just a reminder to practice empathy.
One of the things that makes it difficult to love someone is being unable to understand them. When we can’t see an issue from the perspective of another person, it makes it much harder to love that person.
Empathy requires us to step outside of our comfort zones; to choose to go beyond our own knowledge of how things are and to try to place ourselves in the situation of the other person.
Empathy requires humility.
When we empathize with someone, we can no longer simply assume that our way is right. We can’t look down on someone else’s experience when we choose to experience it ourselves. There can be no condescension in empathy.
And when we lose that air of superiority, when we stop looking at ourselves as being better than the other person, and when we choose to put on a new perspective, we begin to love in a way that reflects the love that we have been shown.
When we practice empathy, we become like the One who is Love.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
-Philippians 2:1-8, NIV