1 John 4:11 (Amplified Bible)
Beloved, if God loved us so [very much], we also ought to love one another.
To love as God does does not mean to accept and/or approve of everything about a person. Destructive habits, bad attitudes, persistent sinful behavior should never be embraced. But to love as God loves does mean to accept the person who possesses the habits, the attitude, and behavior.
As followers of Christ our job is to create an environment where people feel free to be themselves – warts and all. We are to cultivate a setting, a culture that nurtures authenticity. No one should have to “clean up””get it together” to hang with us. Not even God requires that.
As a wife and a mother (in that order) I work very hard at making our home a place where my husband and children experience peace and love. My desire is for them to feel safe enough to be themselves without judgment or destructive criticism. As far as Mykel is concerned, even when I disagree with him, or am offended by his words or actions, I make an extra effort to let him know that I have a problem with the behavior – not the man. After God, the man is the love of my life. He is my partner, my friend, my protector, my counselor, my head, my lover. The man has my devotion, my body, my heart. So when he hurts my feelings, I let him know respectfully (in as much as I am able), and I (do my best to) forgive quickly.
With my children, things are very different. Since my job is to discipline them – that is to provide behavior modification in conjunction with character development – I must often address poor behavior quickly and decisively. Just last night my three-year-old punched my seven-year-old square in the chest. The former knew she was wrong and was already bawling when she came to confess. After I determined that she hit her sister deliberately and with malice, I explained why what she did was unacceptable, then I meted out her discipline. She was unhappy to say the least.
Afterwards, I followed up as I am in the habit of doing. I asked her why she got in trouble. She answered because she had hit her sister on purpose. Then I asked her why Papi (my husband, her father) and I bother to discipline her. She responded as she has been taught, “Because you love me and you don’t want me to grow up to be a jerk.” Satisfied, I have her a big hug and a kiss, and held her for a minute or two – until she wiggled out of my arms to find her sister and offer an apology. From our interaction I felt certain that she understood that she was loved and cherished but that her behavior was not to be repeated. Will she test me again on both counts? Of course she will. God willing, I’ll be ready for her. Does she fully understand the words I had her repeat, explaining why I discipline. Probably not fully. But they are the truth – and repeated enough times, they will find their way into her heart and her spirit.
With my friends and family, I try to offer respect similar to that which I offer my husband. But how do I treat the people I don’t know very well or at all? Am I approachable? Do I come off judgmental? Am I welcoming? Do I engage others with humility or do I proselytize in arrogance? What about my church home? When new people come, do they experience the love of Christ or the aloofness of the “chosen?” How am I with colleagues, acquaintances, neighbors, strangers, the man who begs for change at the freeway off-ramp? Am I aware of showing the love of Christ through acceptance to them, or am I so preoccupied with my world, my agenda, my needs at the moment, that I ignore them completely? How many opportunities have I missed to show love to another human being, simply by neglecting to smile or make eye contact?
This verse reminds me that a little love and respect go a long way in a world full of hurting people. If I am to be the arms and legs of Christ here, right where I am, I must be more determined to let his love flow through me to everyone – not just the people I already know. In the name of the One who died to make me acceptable, that’s the very least I can do.
Be blessed Family!
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