Monday, January 24, 2011

Loving the Unlovable & Forgiving the Unforgivable

 Loving lovable people is easy, but it's the "unlovable" people that need love the most.

If we are all honest with ourselves we can admit that there have been people in our lives - family, friends, or other aquintances - through the years that we haven’t liked very much.  Some are self-centered, obnoxious and rude. Others can be catty, malicious, and practically unlovable. I affectionately call these hard-to-handle people, "splinters" because they have a way of getting under your skin and irritating the heck out of you.

But as followers of Christ we are called to love the unlovable.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High." —Luke 6:27-35

"We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother." —1 John 4:19-21

Loving someone doesn’t mean we have to agree with them or their choices. Loving someone means we hope our actions on their behalf work for their benefit, to build them up, maybe even change their bad attitudes or help them to become easier to love and most importantly, that they learn to love a little more like Christ themselves.

But, if we want people to listen to us and understand us, first we have to show them we care about them. Love is a verb and loving the unlovable is like the Olympics of Christian behavior. We practice. We train. Sometimes we earn the gold.  Sometimes we’re disqualified for unsportsmanlike behavior. But we love, because God first loved us–and God knows, we’re all pretty unlovable at times.

 If there is someone in our life that has hurt us or offended us in some way Christ gives us a clear solution about how to mend the wounds and heal the relationship. Matthew 18:15-17 says:

"If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell them—work it out between the two of you. If they listen, you've made a friend. If they won't listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If they still won't listen, tell the church. If they won't listen to the church, confront them again with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love."

 If someone offends us in any way we are supposed to go to that person, with a forgiving heart, and tell them how their actions and/or words were upsetting or hurtful. It is important to approach them with a forgiving heart and not with an angry heart because the true motivation should be to repair not to attack and create more damage. Often times that person has no clue that they have offended you so it's always important to approach them tenderly and with sincerity. Most of the time, once the offense has been made clear, the offender will apologize, forgiveness can be extended and the relationship can move forward. In a case where the person refuses fault or denies responsibility for their actions then a third party or mediator should be called in to help settle the dispute. If this does not help then it is wise to involve some biblical counsel from either a pastor or minister who has been trained for spiritual guidance.

If all of these efforts fail then we are to continue to pray for them and continue to hold them accountable. Holding someone accountable is not the same thing as holding a grudge. Holding someone accountable means you want to help them realize and answer to resulting consequences of their actions. Holding a grudge is resentment fueled by bitterness. Bitterness will consume you, forgiveness will free you.

Love and forgiveness come from Christ. None of us deserve it, but when we seek His forgiveness He pardons us of our past and loves us despite great faults. So I believe we should follow his lead and offer love and forgiveness to others. Even the most challenging among us.

"You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you." —Colossians 3:13