Today’s post is from my new book Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus). Last Saturday we posted Chapter 28: Love Like Jesus — Fast Like Jesus. Love Like Jesus is due to be published later this year.
When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
My son Gabe drives a Tesla Model S P85D. His car has different modes he can invoke. One of those modes is called “insane” mode. When he puts his Tesla Model S in insane mode, if he wants to, he can go from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds. That’s an insane amount of power.
That power is very helpful sometimes. Like when you’re merging onto the freeway, or when you’re changing lanes in heavy traffic. That power can actually save you, and the people traveling with you, from crazy bad drivers.
On the other hand, if Gabe were on a windy steep downhill two lane highway in a rainstorm, and he put his Tesla Model S in “insane” mode, and he decided to go from 0 to 60 in 3.1, he could wind up on the pavement with the local roadkill.
What you’ve learned so far in this book is powerful, because Jesus is powerful, and imitating Jesus by loving like Jesus is powerful. And applying that power can give you the big abundant life that Jesus wants for us, and it can help people, and save people.
But applying Jesus’ power on a windy steep downhill two lane highway in a rainstorm might cause you to go insane. So I want to address two issues you’ll encounter on your quest to love like Jesus. One is the issue of influence, and the other is the problem of becoming a Christian doormat.
Influence: Jesus And The Sinners
We see in the gospels that Jesus loved people by engaging with them, in spite of their sinful lifestyle. We see examples of this everywhere, how Jesus loved people on the margins of society. (And we also see the corresponding disapproval of the religious leadership of Jesus’ day.)
There’s a blog I follow called Not Ashamed Of The Gospel. The author once posted a three-part series about a ministry which reaches out to sex industry employees. I couldn’t help but notice there weren’t many comments offered on the last post in the series, An Insider’s Look. I think people found that post just too hot to deal with. Finally, one person commented and, as best as I could tell, he used scripture to infer that this post about the sex industry ministry was an example of ungodly men perverting the grace of God. I couldn’t help myself. I had to comment.
I wrote about when the Pharisee who had invited Jesus to dinner saw the sinful woman washing Jesus’ feet with her hair and her tears. The Pharisee said, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)
“Of course Jesus knew,” I wrote in the comment box. “But He also knew those deeply ensnared in sin need Him just as much as the rest of us.”
Jesus loved people by engaging sinners.
And you should too.
What Doesn’t Matter
It doesn’t matter if they sin differently than you do.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t approve of their lifestyle.
It doesn’t matter if she’s promiscuous.
It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t provide for his family, and you think he’s lazy.
It doesn’t matter if she’s prideful.
It doesn’t matter if he’s addicted to porn, or drugs, or booze.
What Does Matter
In this book, you’ve read about many instances when Jesus was investing in relationships with sinners. And to love like Jesus, you and I need to do the same. But before we engage others there’s an important issue to address: the direction of the flow of influence. Which way that influence flows is something that matters when we invest in people.
Of course, Jesus didn’t have to consider which way influence flowed, because in his case, it only flows one way.
However, you and I are not the Christ. (see John 1:20) I could never involve myself in a ministry to sex industry employees, because the potential is too great for the influence to flow from the people and environment I’d be involved in, over to me. I think most men rightly see it that way. All of the people involved in the front lines of the sex industry ministry featured at Not Ashamed Of The Gospel were women, many of whom are former sex industry employees themselves. They were ministering to other women.
You and I have to carefully and prayerfully consider this issue of direction of influence. At any time, if you sense the flow is from the people you’re trying to love like Jesus, over to you, it’s time to end it.
With few exceptions, men shouldn’t be ministering to women, and women shouldn’t be ministering to men. Someone with a gambling problem shouldn’t be ministering in a casino. Someone with a drinking problem shouldn’t be ministering in a bar.
That being the case, I have to ask myself, “How often have I avoided influencing someone for Jesus Christ, simply because they sinned differently than I sin?” The answer is, too many times.
The truth is, disagreeing with someone’s lifestyle isn’t a reason to avoid showing that person Christ’s love. If you know you’re on solid ground in terms of the direction of influence, love that person with your time.
You must too because, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” -Jesus Christ (Mark 2:17)
Just make sure the influence is flowing in a healthy direction.
How Not To Become A Christian Doormat
The second problem that can occur when we love like Jesus is the doormat problem. As an illustration, let me share with you about these two roommates Walter and Craig. They live on the fifth floor of the Barnhart dormitory at the University of Oregon. Craig is on the football team. He’s pretty sure he’s one of the best athletes on campus. He’s really into his sport and his friends, like a lot of guys are during their college years. Two of his favorite hangouts are the weight room and wherever the current party happens to be. He’s a Grand Theft Auto and Madden NFL kind of guy.
But his roommate Walter is different. He’s kind of bookish. He’s a good student. He belongs to the college writing club. He’s watched all the Lord of the Rings movies multiple times. He’s an English major but he’s taking a physics class, just for fun. He’s more of a Minecraft kind of a guy.
Well, one day Craig has a chance to move into an apartment off campus. The day the apartment comes open is the day before a home game, and he wants to move in right away so he can have a victory party after the game. He already invited a bunch of his friends. Getting people to come to his party was no problem. But getting people to help him move wasn’t working out. Not a single friend was available. So, even though he very much preferred not to, he asked Walter.
“Hey, I need you to help me move my stuff over to the apartment.”
“I’d like to but I can’t,” Walter said. “I have a midterm and a group project presentation tomorrow.” He also said yes to a request to give a presentation at his writer’s club right after the midterm. And his parents were arriving for a visit after writer’s club. But Walter was too embarrassed to disclose that to Craig.
“I don’t really see a problem,” Craig said. “I only need you for like, one hour.”
Walter didn’t respond but Craig could see the discomfort on his face.
“Come on Walter, don’t be selfish.”
For some reason every time Walter experienced a pang of guilt he thought of the dentist’s needle injecting lidocaine into his gums. Except instead of his gums, he imagined the needle penetrating his heart. And instead of pain followed by numbness, there was just pain. Craig had a knack for triggering that response in Walter. So did Walter’s dad. So did his mother. So did a lot of people.
And there was that word: selfish. A Christian can’t be selfish, can he?
“Okay,” Walter said, “I’ll do it.”
A full four and one-half hours later, Craig let Walter go. On his way back to the dorm his phone rang. It was one of his group project partners, the only one in the group who was at all interested in helping with the project. At least until now. “Something came up,” he said. “I can’t do my part.”
Now the whole thing was up to Walter. He thought about letting the project fail, at least in part. He could present in a way that preserved his own grade. But that thought brought out the dentist’s syringe, the one filled with guilt. What would his dad think if he did that? What would his mother think? What would God think?
Have You Felt Like This?
Have you ever felt like Walter? I know I have. He’s trying so hard to love like Jesus. He’s esteeming others higher than himself. He’s dying to himself. He’s denying himself, like he’s supposed to, right? He’s simply following Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross . . .” And that’s what he’s doing, so he must be doing precisely what God desires for him to do – wouldn’t you agree? (Philippians 2:3, John 12:24, Luke 9:23)
Well, you’re right, he is right — and he’s also wrong.
Of course, Walter’s right to give of himself to love like Jesus. And he’s right to esteem others higher than himself. And he’s right to die to himself. And he’s right to deny himself. Jesus said, “. . . whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)
Then he said, “. . . even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
We all know why Jesus came. He came to die and, to love like Jesus loved, so should we. As Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship: we should die every day.
But here’s where Walter goes wrong. And here’s where I go wrong, and where you go wrong. We go wrong and we become a pushover when we leave out the Holy Spirit. Because leaving out God’s Holy Spirit causes us to go from someone who loves like Jesus to someone who serves like a doormat. To see an example of someone who died to themselves and yet followed the leading of the Holy Spirit we have only to look to Jesus Christ himself.
Jesus Christ, the one who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” did not die, until the Holy Spirit’s time for him to die came upon him. Think about it: Right after he was baptized by John, and having just received the Holy Spirit, Jesus went out into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days. There Satan came and tempted him three times. The third time they were on top of the highest part of the temple where Satan tried to persuade Jesus to throw himself down. But God didn’t want Jesus to die in Satan’s timing. So Jesus denied Satan’s request. (Luke 4:9-12)
Not long after that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. He read from Isaiah a messianic prophecy and explained that the scripture was referring to him, to Jesus. The people who heard that didn’t take it well. They were so offended, they were so outraged, they took Jesus to the edge of a cliff and attempted to throw him off. But God didn’t want Jesus to die in the people’s timing, so Jesus resisted. He muscled his way through the crowd, and he escaped. (Luke 4:28-30)
In his third year of public ministry, Jesus made the statement, “…before Abraham was, I am!” He was referring to his own divinity. And when his listeners heard this, “. . . they picked up stones to throw at him . . .” But God didn’t want Jesus to die in the timing of this group of listeners. So, “. . . Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple..” (John 8:56-59)
The last unsuccessful attempt at killing Christ outside of God’s timing occurred one winter day when the Jews asked Jesus to tell them if he was the Messiah. At the end of his reply, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” They were incensed at this proclamation. They picked up stones to stone him, they tried to seize him, they tried to kill him. But God didn’t want Jesus to die in their timing, so Jesus “escaped from their hands.” (John 10:22-39)
How to Know When to Die
So, perhaps surprisingly, it’s OK for you to deny someone’s request, as Jesus denied Satan’s request. And it’s OK for you to resist and escape, as Jesus escaped. And it’s OK for you to hide yourself, as Jesus hid himself, and slipped away from the temple grounds. It’s OK.
You might be asking yourself right now, “But when? When is it OK? How do I know when it’s OK to refuse a request, or resist a crowd, or hide? And we’re also supposed to die to ourselves, so how do I know when to do that? How do I know when to die?”
It’s been pointed out in a previous chapter: not one single miracle from Jesus is found in the biblical record, until after he received God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ made every decision not to die — as well as his final decision to die for us all — after he received the Holy Spirit. And that’s how it is for you and for me. Without following the leading of God’s Holy Spirit, we’ll find ourselves trampled upon. We’ll find ourselves walked on. We’ll find ourselves dying to self but outside of God’s timing. God doesn’t want that. (Luke 3:22)
You know God doesn’t want that because you know that Jesus refused requests, and resisted the crowd, and hid himself, and escaped. And you know that at the pool of Siloam there were many gathered there who needed healing, but he, the Son of God, the One through Whom all things were made, the One Who is the Light of all humankind, he didn’t serve them all, but only served one man with healing. And you even know Jesus didn’t rescue John the Baptist when he was on death row. Jesus himself didn’t serve everybody, but only served those who the Holy Spirit led him to serve. (John 9, Matthew Chapters 11 and 12)
So to love like Jesus, we can’t just die at every opportunity. Because if Jesus only died when led by the Holy Spirit to die, if Jesus, only served when led by the Holy Spirit to serve, how much more do you and I need to die and serve only when led by the Holy Spirit to do so.
The Holy Spirit Is The Key
The key to not letting that dentist’s needle inject guilt into our hearts, the key to breaking free from that guilt that can so easily plague us, the key to loving like Jesus is to ask for, and follow, the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. It’s important to know that the Holy Spirit is the key. When you look at all the different ways Jesus loved people, you might feel overwhelmed. As you’ve been reading this book you might have thought to yourself:
“How can I ever do all of this? How can I possibly love people like Jesus? He loved so much, and he loved in such a variety of ways. He’s so amazing, and I’m so inadequate.”
Of course, you’re right. You are not the Christ, and you never will be. But as we’ve seen in this chapter, even the Christ was discerning about when he gave of himself and when he didn’t. Even Jesus didn’t help everybody.
Jesus was led by God’s Holy Spirit when to give of himself and when not to. Jesus was led by God’s Holy Spirit when to help, and when not to help. Jesus was led by God’s Holy Spirit when to die, and when not to die.
So pray for yourself. Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to lead you to give of yourself when it’s time to give of yourself. And pray for God’s Holy Spirit to lead you not to give of yourself when it’s outside of God’s timing.
Love like Jesus — according to God’s Holy Spirit.
That’s what Jesus did.
That’s how Jesus loved people.
That’s how you can love like Jesus — without becoming a Christian doormat, and without being influenced in a dark direction.
The illustration about the dormitory roommates is a fictional account inspired by true events.
Further study will be rewarded. See Luke 11:5-13.
- Peter Guirguis, “Club Sin: Interview With Tara Ulrich Gives You an Insider’s Look at Christian Outreaches to Sex Industry Employees”, NotAshamedOfTheGospel.com, 9/25/2012
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, SCM Press, 2011
- Unborn Word of the Day, Crucifixion of Jesus was the Sixth and Final Attempt on His Life, March 11, 2008
Image via Tony Roberts – Creative Commons