Who do you love? What kind of risks are you taking when you love someone? Why is loving others sometimes a dangerous thing to do?
Scripture teaches us that out of our love for Christ, we're called to actively love others with the love He supplies us, but that's not always an easy thing to do. Take a look at what the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write about the subject...
I. People require patience
Leading up to this section, the Apostle Paul displayed how foolish it was to boast in earthly credentials. He clearly sounded exasperated with the Corinthians as he felt compelled to do this, but he was willing to look a little silly if in turn it would help them to realize that the false teachers that had gained a foothold in that church were actually doing the bidding of Satan, not Christ, while they bragged about themselves and puffed themselves up in front of the Corinthian church.
The truth is, Paul shouldn't have had to do this at all. The believers in the Corinthian church should have defended him against false accusations that were being directed at him in an attempt to cut him down and diminish his authority as an apostle to this church. In fact, the Lord Himself had confirmed Paul's apostleship to the Corinthians through signs, wonders and mighty works that were miraculously done through Paul in the sight of the church.
How do you suppose you might have felt if you were in the position Paul was in at this point? He had led these people to Christ, spent time with them to train them to grow in their faith in Christ, was in every way a spiritual father to them, and they seemed not to be overly bothered by those who were trying to cut him down and lead them astray from what they were taught.
If I was in Paul's shoes, this would have made me quite sad. I would have felt disappointed and discouraged by this. But let's be honest about something. It isn't safe to love people, and that's ok. If you're going to work with people or seek to make an investment in their lives, it will require you to be patient with them. Leaders forget this sometimes. Pastors forget this sometimes. Parents forget this sometimes. People require patience.
I remember when I was a teenager like it was five minutes ago. The experience and conversations I had are burned into my mind. My extended family is rather close knit and I can remember plenty of conversations with my father and my uncles during that season of my life. It may surprise you to learn that I was both opinionated and vocal about those opinions, and I had my life and future all planned out. I emphatically told them all the things that I would do and wouldn't do, including the fact that I had zero intention of attending college because I thought it was a waste of money. They said, "You might change your mind about that." Decades later when I was teaching college courses, my uncle reminded me of that with a smirk on his face. My father and uncles like to remind me how I took extra patience to put up with during my formative years.
Truthfully, we all needed to be shown patience and there's no greater example of patience than what we were shown in Jesus.
As God has displayed patience toward us, remain patient with your brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly when your patience is tested.
II. True love costs you something
Friends of ours who also have four children recently asked us if they could compare the cost of our water bills because their bill seemed ridiculously high. So we compared them and it turns out that our bill last month was actually $30 higher than theirs. Have you ever come across some of the studies that have been published regarding how much it actually costs to raise children? According to the Department of Agriculture, a middle-income, married couple with two children is estimated to spend $233,610 to raise a child born in 2015. And that number only covers costs from birth through age 17 -- so it doesn't include college expenses. They say families can expect to spend between $12,350 and nearly $14,000 a year, on average, to raise a child. Loving a child and providing care for them costs you something.
Likewise, showing genuine love in an active way toward anyone is going to cost you something. Look at some of the cost that Paul paid in order to show love and minister to the Corinthians. Multiple times he travelled to them, bearing the cost of travel and experiencing the danger that comes with it. When he was with them, he didn't burden them financially, but worked at a trade in order to be able to minister to them for free. And when he sent others to them, men like Titus, he urged them to treat the Corinthians in the same way he had. They didn't come to them to get something from them. They came to share the sacrificial love of Christ with them.
The mindset that Paul was displaying to this church was that of a loving father to his children. Though the Corinthians weren't Paul's biological children, they were certainly his spiritual children. His goal was to give to them, not take from them. Have you ever had the privilege of sharing the gospel with someone and praying with them to receive Christ? When the Lord blesses you with that experience, it's only right to be concerned with their spiritual well-being and growth. In a very real sense, you take on a parenting role in their life. If you're invested in their ongoing growth, it's going to cost you something. Paul said, "I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?" You will spend and be spent for the souls of those you truly love.
I have always been amazed at what parenting has taught me about the love of God. The majority of my money, miles on my car, and hours of my week outside of work, is spent on my kids, and I'm ok with that expense because I love them. I still remember the emotions I felt when I first held them as babies. It was a strange, but wonderful thing to look at them for the first time and realize that you would give your life in a heartbeat for theirs. True love costs you something and there is no greater example of that than what we see in the price Jesus paid to show us the depth of His love.
III. Genuinely caring for others can be risky
Just as true love can cost you something, investing yourself emotionally in the well-being of others can be risky because you can't control what they do and they might end up breaking your heart. That's something that Paul was certainly wrestling with here. He was going to be visiting them again at some future date and he would have others with him, believers from Macedonia, who would be meeting them for the first time. What state would they be in when he came to them? Would they be living a devoted life for Christ or would they be immersing themselves in the things of this world all over again? Paul was genuinely concerned.
His aim all along had been to build them up in their walk with Christ, but working against him were others who were actively tearing them down. False apostles fostered an attitude of greed and self-righteousness among them. Within the church there had been problems with quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. Paul was also concerned that some had not repented of the practice of sexual sin. What was he going to find when he visited them in person? This question was weighing on his mind and he wasn't willing to stop caring about them, even though this concern was causing his heart to grieve.
When people hurt us, one of the easiest things we can do is to become defensive. We build up walls in order to protect our hearts from feeling any more pain. Some people choose to live in isolation in order to avoid pain. Others become adept at lashing out. Some of us stop taking risks because we don't want to be hurt any more. I know plenty of people who used to joyfully serve others that, over time, experienced so much pain, they chose to stop. I know former church leaders who find it very difficult to even attend church now because of the arrows that were aimed at them when they took the risk to genuinely care about others.
This is a difficult thing to wrestle with and there's certainly nothing wrong with resting up and healing up after going through a season or two that bruised you up a bit. But in the end, showing genuine care for others is a risky thing to do because you have no idea how the people you're seeking to serve are going to treat your heart. They may nurture it and pour back into your life or they may try to rip your heart out.
Thankfully, our Lord is there to pick up the pieces.
He is sympathetic with our struggles and provides His strength whenever we take the risk to love others and serve them in His name. People require patience. True love costs you something. Genuinely caring for others is risky, but if God's people won't take that risk, who will? It isn't safe to love people, but it is good. Christ's calling on our lives is to love others as a reflection of the sacrificial love He has shown to us.
© John Stange, 2017