Abraham Lincoln said at the height of the civil war, “My concern is not whether God is on our side. My greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”
To be on God’s side involves practicing what Jesus said are the two greatest commandments. These are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
This often seems impossible to do when it comes to loving difficult people. Sometimes, it seems easier at times to love a dog, a cat, a bird, a pet rat, or even a snake than it is to love some people. These individuals have often been hurt in the past, as a result it is a difficult time for them to accept love or give love.
Loving difficult people is impossible in and of itself. People are imperfect, by nature unlovable, and frequently irritating. It’s much easier to just drive some people out of our lives then try to love them. The problem is such action emotionally freezes us and prevents us from fully loving other people who have similar attitudes or mannerisms in the future. That is why Jesus kept talking about the need to forgive and be forgiven, if we are to love others as much as we love ourselves.
I must confess, I have a hard time loving certain people. They are unappreciative, resentful, and irritating. The trouble is as I describe the characteristics of these other people, I am often describing characteristics in my own life. All this can be very frustrating, and that’s why preaching or hearing a teaching on loving people who are difficult may be something you would rather ignore. The fact is if we claim to be Christians it is unavoidable. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
The key to loving people and being patient, involves being constantly plugged into God’s love. Jesus expressed that in Matthew 22:36-40 and Mark 12:30,31 when He told us that the first and greatest commandment involves, loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Only then can we perform the second commandment, which is to love our neighbor as our self. This is only possible when we are constantly plugged into God’s love.
When we are plugged into God’s love, we can follow the directives of 1Cor.13:7. There we are told that love, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.”
This endurance does not mean that we become enablers who keep resentment inside until we explode. True love for others involves speaking the truth in love to those that are offensive because we care what their hostile unloving actions are doing to them.
Jesus tells us that judging and just giving in to bad behavior doesn’t work. We need to ask God for help in loving difficult people. Then we need to seek Him for a solution and believe that the Holy Spirit will knock on the doors of the hard hearts of unlovable people until those hearts are opened. We are told in Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened.”
When we turn from a life of sinfulness, self-centeredness, and lovelessness to the source of life and love, Jesus Christ, we are born again. We are then referred to as, “A chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light (I Peter 2:9).
How far we have fallen from being that holy nation that Peter describes in that verse. Instead of being that holy nation of the United State of America, we have become a nation that has not been this divided since the civil war. Many of those who have claimed they are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God, are not seen as a people who, “Love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and mind.” Some even went so far as to storm the White House on January 6, 2021, to overturn an election, carrying their signs that “Jesus Saves”.
Kevin Drum in his article, “Mad as Hell” describes how angry we have become as a nation, “Americans sure are angry these days. Everyone says so, so it must be true. But who are we angry at? Pandemic stresses aside, I bet you’re not especially angry at your family. Or your friends. Or your priest or your plumber or your postal carrier. Or even your boss. Unless, of course, the conversation turns to politics, then we used to be, something confirmed by both common experience and formal research.”
Kevin Drum in his article that appeared in the Mother Jones magazine in September, October 2021 issue, was asking the question “What’s fueling America’s political rage? He goes on and says, “I’ve been spending considerable time digging into the source of our collective rage, and the answer to this question is trickier than most people think. For starters, any good answer has to fit the timeline of when our national temper tantrum began – roughly around the year 2000. The answer also has to be true. That is, it needs to be a genuine change from past behavior.”
As Kevin Drum and many others search for answers, Jesus gave the answer to how we solve America’s anger and divisiveness. This answer involves a conversion and implementation of the two greatest commandments to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves.
The tragedy is that this is not what the world is seeing today among many who call themselves Christians. Instead of changing history through living out Christ’s commandments to love they are perpetuating hatred toward those who differ with them.
Jim Wallis in his book, “On God’s Side” describes how different God’s politics is from that reflected in the lives of many evangelicals. “God’s politics is most concerned with the powerless – the least of those among us, whose interests are the most absent in election years and yet are the very ones Jesus would always have us ‘voting’ for. This means we must care most about what happens to the poor and vulnerable, especially when both parties will make their appeals to the middle – class voters and wealthy donors they desperately need. It means protecting human life and dignity and promoting the actual health and well-being of families instead of just substituting rhetorical devices around hot button social issues in the pursuit of votes.”
“It means lifting up the people who have no political influences: undocumented immigrants, who are “the strangers” among us living in the shadows of a broken immigration system; low-income families and children, who face losing their nutritional and health-care support because others want to protect the subsidies and benefits to the wealthy people.”
“The good news is that attention has been shifting away from comfortable Christians… to an engagement that finds Jesus among the world’s least, last, and lost.”
That is the Jesus of the scriptures who told the lawyer in Matthew 22:37-39, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, ‘You should love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Jesus gave very clear directives on how we can show our love for that neighbor when he told the story of the Good Samaritan and on a difficult occasion said, “Let your light so shine before men (and women) that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Jesus offers freedom for those who are so possessed by their possessions that they cannot have a relationship with God and value life, His people or creation. He at first says in Luke 12:32, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” In other words, don’t be afraid. Let it all go. Let God deliver you and set you free.
Then Jesus goes on and tells us how to experience that freedom. It is so simple that those enslaved to materialism often refuse to believe it. Jesus declares in verse 33, 34, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Only as we take literally the words of Jesus and let Him deliver us from our addictions to things can we be set free to have a true relationship with God, His people and the rest of creation.
Randy Alcorn in his book, “The Treasure Principal” says, “Jesus doesn’t just tell us where not to put our treasures. He also gives the best investment advise you’ll ever hear. ‘Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven’ (Matthew 6:20). Jesus had a treasure mentality. He wants us to store up treasures. He’s just telling us to stop storing them in the wrong place and start storing them in the right place.’ Store up for yourselves! Doesn’t it seem strange that Jesus commands us to do what’s in our own best interest? Wouldn’t that be selfish? No, God expects and commands us to act out of enlightened self-interest. He wants us to live to His glory, but what is His glory is always for our good.”
Living in the love and glory of God frees us to love our neighbors as ourselves and share with them when they have a need. This is the antidote for the poisonous anger that is destroying our nation.
Alcorn goes on to explain, “What is this ‘treasure in heaven’? It includes power (Luke 19:15-19), possessions (Matthew 19:21), and pleasures (Psalm 16:11). Jesus promises that those who sacrifice on earth will receive ‘a hundred times as much’ in heaven (Matthew 19:29). That’s 10,000 percent! An impressive return! Of course, Christ Himself is our ultimate treasure. All else pales in comparison to Him and the joy of knowing Him (Philippians 3:7-11). A person, Jesus, is our first treasure. A place, heaven, is our second treasure. Possessions and eternal rewards are our third treasure.”
How we need to pray that God will awaken us to the daily opportunities He sends us to serve Him. Life is short and passes so quickly. We need to pray along with David in Psalm 39, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days, let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and for: He bustles about but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it, but now Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you” (Psalms 39:4-7).
We have this hope because Jesus died for our sins and then rose from the dead. He gives us life both now and for all eternity. If we are truly alive in Christ, we will no longer be God’s chosen frozen saints. We won’t be content to just sit on a church pew in hopes of being blessed as we hate those that differ with us politically.
Many years ago, Oliver Cromwell was told of a shortage of precious metal in Old England that was needed for coins. After he sent out his troops to find some, they reported back that the only precious metal was found in the statues of the saints standing in the corner of the churches. To this Cromwell responded, “Well melt down the saints and put them into circulation.”
The time has come for us to stop standing around and complaining. We must let God melt us down until our love will flow into circulation doing good in this hurting world. God loves and so must his people. The opportunities to love are everywhere. We must now move forth by Faith and seize these opportunities to let the love of Christ flow through us daily into the lives of the hurting, hungry and homeless.
Abraham Lincoln, as President, showed us how this can be done. On March 4, 1865, President Lincoln, feeling the shame of the horrible conflict of the civil war, the sin on all sides, saw the need for humble repentance. He clearly saw the need for reconciliation and unity and declared the following in his second inaugural address. “Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained… Each looked for an easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astonishing. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other… The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes…”
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills this continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequired toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another draws with sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
“With malice towards none, with clarity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nations wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Following this proclamation, which some consider the greatest theological statement in the 1800’s, General Lee surrendered to General Grant on April 11. Six days later President Lincoln went to be with the Lord for “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints” (Psalm 116:15).
Unlike many today who claim to be followers of Christ, Abraham Lincoln showed us how to love our enemies and those who differ with us politically.
As we do this the world will know we are Christians by our love. They will see us not as a tribal group who are chasing the latest conspiracy theories, but as people who believe in the word of God to the extent, we are concerned that we are on God’s side and his love is flowing through us.
Remember to have God’s love flowing through us we must love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and mind. When we do this, we will truly be God’s instruments of healing that are so urgently needed at this time in American history.
Yours in Christ,