Truly loving others involves sacrifice, not merely sentiment or words (1 John 3:18). Loving others is not about liking everyone we meet; it is about putting the needs of others before our own, valuing their inherent worth and acting for their benefit. This is not something that comes naturally to human beings. By nature we are sinful, selfish, and sometimes even heartless (Psalm 51:5; Romans 1:31). We are finite creatures with limited time, energy, and resources. Oftentimes, instead of sharing our resources with others, we covet and hoard (Matthew 6:19–21; James 4:2). Our natural instinct is to love only those who love us, and we fail to do even that (Matthew 5:46–47). Add to this the fact that other people are selfish as well and can be as unlovely and unloving as us, and it is no wonder that loving others is hard to do.
The root cause of our unloving attitudes toward others is our estranged relationship from God (Romans 8:7–8; Colossians 1:21). It is only by being reconciled to God that we can be filled with His love (Romans 5:10). God is love (1 John 4:8). The only way we can truly love others is to be born again by the Spirit of God (1 John 4:7). We cannot love others in our own strength or power (John 15:5). In order to love as God loves, we must be filled with His Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). We do this by receiving the gift of His love, His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:12). God demonstrated His own love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Likewise, Christ commands us to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). We have difficulty doing this because we fail to appreciate how sinful we are and how much God has forgiven us. As illustrated in the parable of the unforgiving servant, we gladly accept God's forgiveness but then demand that others pay for their sins against us (Matthew 18:21–35). Instead of merely loving those who love us, we are to bless those who revile us, pray for those who persecute us, and do good to those who hate us (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27–36). We can only do this when we see ourselves as people who were once enemies of God who have been transformed by the power of God's love (Romans 5:10). Christ prayed for those who persecuted and crucified Him, Stephen (the first martyr for Christ) prayed for those who stoned him (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:59–60). Likewise, we are called, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to get rid of all anger, wrath and bitterness, and instead be imitators of Christ's love (Ephesians 4:31—5:2). In order to do this, we must confess our bitterness and pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit daily.
Love is not merely an emotional response, and it is not something we can generate on our own. God calls us to demonstrate agape love to others. This type of love is a love that takes action and is willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others. Impeded by our own sin and that of others, this is a love we cannot express without the power of the Holy Spirit. When we understand how much God loves us and allow Him to change our hearts, we can more easily love others the way He has called us to.
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