Why we struggle to love perfectly
Jesus commands all His followers to love others perfectly. Yet this is something each one of us struggles to fully obey. We understand the commandment in our minds, but our hearts may be pulled by invisible strings towards things like fear, resentment, envy, and judgment instead. Romans 7 describes this as a “war”. It is hard to win these battles based on our own effort. We will find loving others exhausting.
Matthew 5:43-46,48 ESV “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? … You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Romans 7:18,22-23, 8:9 ESV For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members… You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
The only power we have to truly love others unconditionally is from the Holy Spirit. But first, we need to “put to death the deeds of the body”, meaning that we need to “kill” the sinful tendencies of our flesh.
Romans 8:12-14 ESV So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Some reasons we struggle to love perfectly
If we find ourselves disliking others and envying, resenting or fearing them without really knowing why, it can be very helpful to look at the ways we have been conditioned, starting from our childhood. Everything we “learn” in our entire lives builds up to our tendencies today.
1. Built-in bias
Each of us sees the world based on a unique set of family values, educational backgrounds, and cultures. Some of us have been taught from young that certain types of people or races are unlovely. Even school systems can teach children which type of students are acceptable, and which are not. We are “good” if we fall into certain family, social, or cultural “rules”, bad if we don’t. The truth is, all of us are “bad” because of sin and we all need God’s loving grace and redemption.
1 John 1:8 ESV If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
2. Personality differences
Other times, it is simply our personality differences that turn us off certain people. A detailed, task-oriented person may clash with someone that is more “big picture” and people-oriented. Quiet introverts may shy away from relationships with boisterous extroverts. No one is better than the other. Every one of us is created exactly as God wanted for His pleasure, not ours.
1 Corinthians 12:18-19,22-25 NLT But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! … In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other.
3. Past hurts
Our personal emotional wounds and bitter roots are often the most powerful hindrances to loving others. Those of us who have felt deeply betrayed by our friends may tend not to like people too easily again. If we have been humiliated in the past, we may instinctually react badly towards people who remind us of former abusers.
Hebrews 12:14-15 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
We may put up a wall around our hearts and wear social “masks”, so that we don’t need to feel vulnerable and risk getting hurt again. The truth is, such behaviour is being driven by fear rather than love, and fear is not from God.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Many of us have been led to believe that we can overcome our past hurts by being strong, therefore bottling up pain that becomes toxic over time. By turning to our own fleshly coping mechanisms, we invariably form deadly sinful tendencies driven by fear.
1 John 4:18-20 NLT Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?
4. Listening to gossip and slander
Many of us read the Bible and listen to sermons to grow spiritually. In the same way, we can corrupt our minds and hearts by constantly seeing and listening to ungodly things of this world.
Our subconscious minds absorb, process, and remember everything that goes on around us, whether we are conscious of it or not. When we read or listen to gossip or secular “entertainment” for instance, our hearts are subconsciously “educated” to believe things that could be exaggerated, biased, or outright false. We can find we start to develop strong prejudices and judgments over time. If for instance, we watch movies where certain people always play the role of a villain, we come to feel comfortable around such people in real life. We can end up superficially “judging a book by its cover”, whereas God looks at people’s hearts, not their appearances.
Galatians 5:7-9 NLT You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough!
1 Samuel 16:7 ESV But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Everyone has our own weak spots. Some of us lack patience, others lack empathy, while yet others lack tact. These may not be qualities we were born with but thankfully, the Holy Spirit will guide and change our hearts and attitudes when we submit to God and invite Him to transform us for His glory.
1 Corinthians 13:4-6 ESV Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
James 3:2 ESV For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
6. Un-repented spiritual footholds
One often overlooked problem is spiritual strongholds. If we have ever given Satan a direct foothold into our lives through anger, quarreling or superstitions, for instance, we may be gradually “captured by him to do his will” as we keep giving in to sin. The way to escape from such captivity is to invite Jesus into each area of sin in our lives and repent. Otherwise, we will find that we keep leaning towards ways that are contrary to love.
Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
2 Timothy 2:23-26 ESV Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Genesis 4:7 ESV If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
As we can see from the list above, our sinful tendencies are likely to be based on our “life lessons”, rather than on God’s teachings. Once we are able to identify the triggers that stop us from loving others, we can learn to be transformed by the renewing the way we think about things.
God doesn’t see differences between people the way we do. To Him, we are all sinful rebellious people whom He sent His Son to die for. This is regardless of gender, race, age, politics, beliefs, wrong or right, and so forth. Only God is good and we need to model our minds and hearts after His. Thankfully, He has given us His Spirit to guide us, and all we need to do is to ask for His help.
Romans 8:10,26-27 ESV But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
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