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What does it mean to love like Jesus?

As Christians, we seek to imitate Jesus in all ways, including how we love. But what does that mean? First John 4:8 says, "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." This verse shows us that if we know God, we will be loving. Since Jesus is God's love embodied, what does it mean for us to love like Jesus? Let's look at what He showed us.

Jesus said that there is no greater love than laying down one's life for one's friends (John 15:13), and He died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). We are to love others as He has loved us (John 13:34). Most of us will not be called upon to die for someone else. But in smaller ways, many times love does require that we lay down our lives on behalf of others in the sense that we sacrifice our own desires and preferences for the good of someone else. In doing so, we are loving like Jesus—acting on behalf of the other rather than out of selfishness (Philippians 2:1–11).

Jesus was compassionate toward others (Matthew 9:36; 14:14), and He loved sacrificially. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16; cf. Romans 8:32). Showing compassion to those who are hurting, in our words and actions, is a way we can love like Jesus. We can "rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). First John 3:16–17 says: "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" Generosity is a practical way we can love like Jesus. We don't grasp our resources tightly but we are willing to share them with others, even when it inconveniences us, because we recognize that everything we have is from God. It's up to us how we will steward the resources He gives us (Matthew 25:14–30).

Jesus loved without favoritism or discrimination, meaning, He loved His friends and enemies alike. He loved regardless of economic status, cultural background, or ethnicity. We are commanded to do the same: "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors" (James 2:8–9). It's not difficult to love people who are just like us—even nonbelievers do that. Jesus made it clear that He expects us to love those who are not like us, even our enemies, too (Luke 6:32–36). In the Gospels, we see that Jesus ministered and provided healing and food to people who would later betray and crucify Him (John 13:4–5; Matthew 27:20–22). He proactively crossed cultural boundaries by ministering to the Samaritans who were hated by the Jews (John 4). In large part, it was Jesus' love for people that drew them to Him (Mark 10:1; Matthew 9:35–38; Luke 18:18).

Loving people like Jesus means we also have to speak the truth to them (Ephesians 4:15–16). Love does not mean blind acceptance of whatever someone does. Jesus was direct with those who were living in sin or deception. He called the Pharisees "hypocrites!" and "blind guides!" (Matthew 23:13, 16). He warned that just because you say you know God, that doesn't make it true: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Being a true believer requires obedience to God. Jesus was direct in His addressing of the Pharisees, but the motive was love. When Jesus talked with the rich young ruler, He pointed out that even though the man had good intentions, he loved his money more than he loved Jesus. He was not truly surrendered (Luke 18:18–25). Jesus was loving in His honesty, teaching and challenging believers rather than watering down the truth to make them feel comfortable (see 2 Timothy 4:3). We love like Jesus when we affirm and share truth.

We love like Jesus when we forgive others as Christ has forgiven us (Matthew 6:14; Ephesians 4:32). Our natural inclination when we are hurt by someone else is to nurse the wound or seek revenge. This causes bitterness to spring up in our hearts, leaving no room for love. Jesus wants us to be free of bitterness and release the burden of hanging onto our wounds (Ephesians 4:26–27; Romans 12:17–21). Forgiveness does not mean there are no consequences for our sins or the sins of others, but when we forgive someone it means we can pray for and love them without bitterness in our conscience, as God commands (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32). Forgiveness opens the door for restoration and reconciliation.

It is in our love for others that they see Jesus in us: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34–35). And it is in loving others like Jesus did that we continue to become more like Him. Jesus loved us enough to take on human flesh, live a sinless life, die on the cross, and rise back to life victorious over sin and death so that all who put their faith in Him would become children of God and live with Him forever (John 1:12; 3:16–18; Ephesians 2:8–10). His love surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:14–21; Romans 8:31–39). May the Holy Spirit produce that kind of love in us (Galatians 5:22–23) so that we can love like Jesus, and may many more come to know and rest in His astounding love.

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