It’s easy to love theory people.
Theory people are the kind of people I’m thinking of when I say things like, “Guys, we should love people better.” That is a lot easier than saying (and meaning) “I’m going to pray for Chris tonight,” or “I know I’ve had a long day, but I’m going to call Mark to just see how he’s doing.”
See, theory people don’t have personalities that are different from mine. And theory people don’t like TV shows that I find boring or music I don’t like. They don’t want to talk about hobbies I can’t relate to, and they have the exact same political beliefs and cultural opinions as me. They don’t have habits I find annoying and they don’t talk to me early in the morning when I’m still tired. They don’t text me or call me at bad times.
They aren’t real, flesh-and-blood human beings. Theory people are just that: An idea. They’re blurry, fictional creations with no serious flaws or needs. They’re not the guy who chews really loudly at work or the confused employee who can’t help you at the store or the relative who grinds your last nerve into a fine powder and then blows it all over Thanksgiving dinner.
Theory people aren’t people.
Screwtape once told Wormwood that how a man treated his mother was a better indicator of how Christian the man was than how he felt about “humanity.” Almost every time I read that I have something to repent of.
Loving “people” as a concept in my mind requires no actual love. No sweat and no blood. No work and no sacrifice. But loving the real person I talk with at the gathering of our church on Sunday? Loving a co-worker at the office? Loving the obnoxious teenager at the drive-through window? Loving my wife and kids and mom and boss and next door neighbor?
Now that requires grit, energy, and (to do it truly and to do it well) the Holy Spirit.
“Loving” the idea of people in my head doesn’t require any real love. When there’s no real, flawed people involved, there’s no real, divine love possible.
I’m a follower of Jesus. And the people of Jesus are supposed to intensely, sacrificially love each other, the church. And they are also to love, forgive, and pray for the salvation of the lost.
“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? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth.”
John, in the first of his church letters (1 John 3)
“When [Jesus] saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
From Matthew 9
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5
I know it’s difficult to love real people, redeemed or unredeemed, born again or still-lost. Seriously, I know. God tested me while writing this. Real people are obstinate. They refuse to be exactly like us, or exactly like we would want them to be. Real people, after all, weren’t knit together in the womb by us, they weren’t given life and breath by us, and they weren’t created for our glory. Real people are constant reminders that we aren’t sovereign and that we aren’t God. Theory people are easier.
As a matter of fact, loving real people in a Christlike way isn’t just difficult; from a purely human starting point it’s actually impossible. Like most of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, living real love out from the heart can only be done by the power of God’s Holy Spirit inside of us. We simply can’t muster up truly Christlike love on our own.
That’s why John, several times in that same letter, uses loving other redeemed people as a test, a barometer, of whether we’ve truly been redeemed: “If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” Sacrificially loving the church of Jesus is a sign that you’re truly one of His people, because only Jesus-people can do it.
Sacrifice. Forgiveness. Heartfelt prayer. Generosity. We need Jesus in order to manifest these things from the heart, because when done like He did them they are miraculous. I have to depend on Jesus, walk in and rely on His Spirit, in order to truly love the church and the lost well, because true Christian love is from above. Check out Stephen at the end of Acts 7: Natural people don’t honestly pray for their murderers to be forgiven; supernatural ones do.
Fleshly people don’t live and die for the Kingdom and the church; spiritual ones do.
Cross love is a miraculous love. Because anybody can love theory people. It takes Jesus Christ in us to cherish, sweat, and sacrifice for real ones.