What does “loving like Christ” really mean?

“Preach Jesus, and if necessary, use words….” – St. Francis

Many of us who have grown up in church have heard this quote at least once, but have we ever just paused for a moment and tried to understand, in depth, what it actually means?  The concept (understanding) is quite simple, although the execution (action) is far more complex.  We as Christians are charged and called by God to carry on Christ’s legacy here on Earth.   We are supposed to use our lives to reflect the love of God and show Christ’s acceptance to everyone simply through our actions and lifestyles.  When necessary, we should use words to convey God’s grace, but ultimately, we should just live it.

But what does “preaching Jesus through our example” really mean?  Quite simply, it means loving and accepting people.  This can sound far easier than it usually is.  Loving people can be as easy as smiling at a stranger or telling someone you like their haircut – showing them they are noticed and appreciated takes little effort but goes a long way and could mean the world to them.  Showing love can be taking a warm meal to a widow down the street – again, it takes little effort, but it is more than a smile or compliment.  Often times, loving people takes a sacrifice on our part; a small inconvenience to better someone else’s life.  Who are we to be irritated at a little sacrifice, like babysitting for free for an exhausted mother or cancelling dinner plans to take a friend to a doctor’s appointment, while Christ sacrificed ‘everything.’

Loving people is not always doing something physical to help or encourage either.  Changing our opinion of a person or group is an inward change that happens when we allow God to transform our hearts, minds and perspectives.  The more I see in scripture how Jesus loved and accepted everyone he met despite age, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. regardless of whether he agreed with their beliefs or not, he still showed them love.  I, myself, am learning how to love everyone despite moral and religious differences.  We as Christians are told to love everyone, but not necessarily agree with everyone.  There is a huge difference that I think society does not see.  Our culture says that if you agree with me, you love and accept me, but if you don’t see things my way, you are automatically against me – a sexist, racist, homophobe, etc.  But in reality, you can disagree without hate, and love without supporting said habit, addiction, or lifestyle.  You can love and accept a homosexual friend or neighbor without morally agreeing with their way of life.  You can accept a friend doing drugs without supporting his “habit” or agreeing with his choices.  See the difference?  This shifting of mindsets, and choosing to love, can be one of the hardest implementations of showing love – when you set aside your differences, opinions, prejudices, etc. and simply chose to love and honor the other person.  Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house and loved him even though he was a low-life tax-collector; Jesus ate with prostitutes and befriended traitors like Judas.  So why can’t we do the same?  While Jesus did not condone their lifestyles, he refrained from judgement and instead, showed them love.

Choosing to love people despite our differences is the epitome of showing love and preaching Jesus with our lives.  It is usually the hardest form of showing love because it forces us to change our perspectives and ideals, but look at the people all through the Bible whose lives were transformed after Jesus simply took a moment to sit, eat, and love them.  Judgement will not draw people to Jesus.  We live in a world that is so desperate for love, and only by reflecting Christ’s love and acceptance will they be drawn back to their Creator.

The church, as a whole, needs to start loving better if they want to see people drawn to Christ.  So many people are “turned off” by the church (even Christians themselves) because they feel judged by the “super-spiritual” members – this is so opposite of what Christ’s life portrayed.  If we as a church want to see people, and this nation, turn back to God, then we need to do our part and start loving and accepting people as Christ did.  Sure, it’s uncomfortable to get out of our comfort-zones sometimes, but are we willing to follow Christ’s example or not?  Are we willing to go out of our way to show love to someone or not?  Are we “Christian enough” to look passed our prejudices and ideals, and love the lost and hurting?  I think the majority of Christians have lost sight of what Christianity truly means:  Christ dined with sinners and prostitutes, he knelt down to cuddle the children, he feed the hungry – he was the son of God yet he let go of his pride and made himself their equal.  He did not give himself airs or have a “holier-than-thou” attitude like a lot of the church does, but he simply met them where they were and accepted and loved them.  Now that, my friends, is the true meaning of Christianity – to model Christ.  But if we have a “super-spiritual” attitude and look down on others, then we are entirely missing the point.  We are not representing Christ then, but instead, repelling people from him.

I am learning this myself too, and am trying to be a living example of Christ.  But because I am human, there are times when I “drop the ball” and do not step out of my way to help someone as much as I could (and for that I repent.)  But in observing this lesson of preaching Jesus with my life, I am seeing that there is always hope.  Through Christ, I have seen and met those whose illnesses were healed, druggies set free from addictions, drug dealers come to understand the love of God, trafficked children getting rescued and beginning new lives in society through Christ, etc.  I am learning not to judge such people for where they are currently in life, but to love them for who they can/will be after God has shown them his love.  Sure, God can write on the wall as he did with Belshazzar in Daniel 5 or give them a crazy encounter…I mean, he can even use a donkey to speak the truth to someone like he with did to Balaam in Numbers 22:28, but often times it is through us that God choses to reveal himself.  What if we are the only example of Christ people see in their lives?  This is a very sobering and convicting question.  But a very real one, nonetheless.

Personally, I have struggled with the drug dealers who live a few houses down the street from us, hoping they would get caught one of these days and go to jail where “they belong.”  But after hearing a sermon by Dee Jaye at Generation 333 from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, my perspective is changing.  It is a process, but I am learning not to hate those druggies down the street who are selling meth; but instead, I am praying for them each day with a hopefulness that they would encounter God.  Jail may or may not help them turn their lives around, but I do know with 100% certainty that God’s love will change their lives if they let him.  So instead of looking for ways to report them, I will cover their house and this neighborhood in prayer.  Undoubtedly, the druggies on our street are the “black sheep” of the neighborhood.  People avoid them like the plague – for a few good reasons though, but still.  My heart is so burdened for this new neighborhood of ours, as hopelessness and darkness seem to linger; but we as Christians carry The Light and darkness has no authority where we are.  So in an effort to practice what I preach (no pun intended) I will be baking Christmas cookies to put on their porch along with a Christmas card full of life and hope.  I pray that this gesture would somehow open their hearts to allow God to work in their lives.  What if Brian and I are the only example of Christ these people see in their lives?  And not only is this proof that we can love people without condoning their behavior and lifestyles, but it will serve also as an “exercise in faith” for me as I show love and preach Jesus without necessarily using words.

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