[Note: This is the fourth post in a series .]
At the end of the previous section of this series, we asked what practical guidance for showing love and outgoing concern to others can be found in the pages of scripture. After all, if we cannot love God without loving our brothers and sisters, our friends and enemies, and our neighbors and fellow strangers here on earth, then clearly we need to know what we are called upon to do in a practical sense. Given the fact that, as we have seen, the Bible speaks about the heart of love and concern that we should have for others, it is not surprising that we should find a great deal of practical advice that is strongly worded in laws, commands, and instruction that focuses on the behaviors that show love. Let us briefly examine those behaviors, as a way of providing us with a standard that we can use as a benchmark to encourage us in our own practice of love. Let us note at the outset that love also involves restraining ourselves from behaviors that hurt others, such as lying, violence, adultery, covetousness, and harshness, but that this particular examination will focus on the positive behaviors that we show in love.
Matthew 5:43-44 tells us the following: ” “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Here we are told that we are commanded to show love to our enemies, to those who hate us, in at least three ways. We are commanded to pray for them to God, to seek what is best for them. We are furthermore commanded to bless them, to speak kindly to them and be gracious to them, rather than being harsh or ignoring them altogether as it would be easiest and most convenient to do. On top of that we are actively commanded to do good to those who hate us, not to ignore them or pretend that they do not exist, not to subtly sabotage them or seek vengeance against them, but rather to do good.
Nor is Jesus the only one to elaborate on these difficult commands. Paul himself writes the same thing in Romans 12:9-20 gives a lengthy and practical, if exceedingly difficult, list of how we should show outgoing concern and love for our enemies: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.””
Here we see a lengthy list of practical ways we are to love our brethren, and love those who hate us. Part of those instructions are positive in nature–we are to look for the good of all, and live at peace with all to the greatest extent possible. We are to be kindly affectionate to others, not cold and remote. We are to be diligent, fervent, serve others, be patient, continue in prayer, show generosity towards the brethren in looking after their needs, hospitable. Some of the instructions, on the other hand, are about what to avoid–being haughty and proud, conceited in our own good opinion, seeking vengeance for ourselves in the name of justice. We are to let God avenge, going so far that our response of kindness and graciousness even towards our enemies is to provoke them into a shameful realization of their error in showing hatred towards us in the first place. Practical and outgoing love is not an easy thing to demonstrate.
Other passages of the Bible further elaborate on what is instructed of believers in terms of their outgoing love and concern as they are able. At least two somewhat obscure passages speak about the demands of hospitality. Philemon verses 17 through 22 give an example of hospitality that was costly to three people: “If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.” Paul wrote this short letter and sent it by the hand of a runaway slave who had stolen from his Christian master, and Paul asked Philemon to free the slave, promising to repay the slave’s debt himself and also asking Philemon to prepare a guest room, as a subtle way of ensuring that the request would be granted, since Paul was going to follow up on the request as soon as he was freed from his house arrest, presumably in Rome. Here was an example of hospitality that asked a great deal of grace and forgiveness on a part of the Christian slaveowner Philemon, who was to treat Onesimus as a beloved brother and not harshly as a runaway, and asked Onesimus to ask forgiveness of one he had wronged by stealing from him, and cost Paul what labor it took to repay Philemon for the loss he suffered. Godly love is costly love.
In his letter to Gaius, the Apostle John asks a similarly costly and risky favor of hospitality in the epistle we know as 3 John, in verses 5 through 10: “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth. I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.” Here we see that the local congregational leader Diotrophes, who had some overinflated sense of his own power and importance that would have made him an excellent candidate to lead his own church organization in the late 20th and early 21st century Church of God, had forbidden the members of his congregation to show hospitality to certain godly traveling missionaries, and had even disfellowshipped those who disobeyed his commands. John promises to deal with Diotrophes himself, but instructs Gaius to show hospitality in a way that would be likely to cause him trouble in his local congregation. Sometimes showing Christian love by being friendly and hospitable to others creates trouble for us, but we are commanded to love and be kind and accept the trouble that comes as a result of it, as little as we may enjoy it.
Often those who show the love that is instructed by God are unaware of the full ramifications and consequences of what they are doing. As it is written in Matthew 25:37-40: ““Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” Here we see that the righteous were not aware that by being friendly to strangers, by feeding the hungry, by providing a cup of cold water to those who were thirsty, or clothes to the naked, or visiting the sick and imprisoned, they were showing love and concern to Jesus Christ by paying particular attention to the weak and vulnerable and often neglected and exploited. It is for this reason that James, the half-brother of Jesus, says in James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” By loving and showing care and concern for those who cannot or will not pay us back, we show that we are motivated by love, not by a desire to profit from expectations of reciprocity.
At times, though, we are not rewarded for our love and concern for others merely in heaven, but on earth as well. One of the more obscure parts of the Sabbath law in Leviticus 23 is verse 22, part of the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost), which reads: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” Here we see that part of the love that landowners were to show was to leave part of their fields, their own property, available for the poor and foreigners, who had no land of their own, to glean so as to provide themselves with an honest way to earn their own food. We have one example where this law was obeyed, and it brought a great deal of benefit to the giver as well as the recipient of the opportunity, a poor young Moabite widow named Ruth. As it is written in Ruth 2:19-23: “And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” And Naomi said to her, “This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.” Ruth the Moabitess said, “He also said to me, ‘You shall stay close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’” And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, and that people do not meet you in any other field.” So she stayed close by the young women of Boaz, to glean until the end of barley harvest and wheat harvest; and she dwelt with her mother-in-law.” Through his generosity, Boaz provided for two of his relatives by marriage, and ended up finding a beautiful wife for himself, a fitting honor for ancient Israel’s most decent and honorable bachelor. Sometimes, without any conscious intention, we can serve our best interests and provide the opportunity by which God fulfills our deepest longings by showing generosity to others in the seemingly ordinary course of our lives.
Seeing as the demands of showing love and outgoing concern to others address their needs for physical sustenance, for sustaining encouragement and relationships, and even for the deep needs of romantic love and respect and intimacy, we ought to reflect deeply on how God wants us to love others. The love that we are commanded to give is not merely love in thought, but it is love on all dimensions: in acts of service, in quality time spent with others, in physical affection, in words of praise and blessing, and in gifts to others. No language or facet of love is to be neglected, nor is anyone too low or too contemptible to receive our love and concern. These are serious matters, and the Bible is explicit in pointing out the rigorous and practical standard of how the believer is to show love and concern to others in order to demonstrate before the world that we are His people with His laws and ways written on our hearts and minds, living according to the knowledge of God and His ways that we have been given. It is difficult to love the way that we are instructed to love in scripture, and it is easy to give ourselves a pass for failing to meet these obligations by pointing to their difficulty. That said, how seriously did God take these concerns, and what was his response when Israel and even the surrounding Gentile peoples did not act with love and concern and honor towards others? It is to that question that we will turn to next.
 The previous posts in the series may be found here: