Loving others is not an option.
Jesus clearly lays out the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37-39,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Numerous Christians and churches break it down in four helpful words: Love God, love people. In many ways, it’s the Christian mantra.
For the purpose of this short article, I would like to suggest something we can do to help us with the latter part – loving people.¹
Here’s my suggestion for every Christian who would like to grow in their love for others.
It’s called friendship.
Or, to be more specific, biblical friendship.
In a conversation I had with a Christian counselor who’s written on this, he defined this relationship as one that centres on Christ – where the two individuals are seeking to become more like Him.
This is profoundly different than many of our conceptions of friendship. Most of our definitions fall short, as they generally comprise of things like “mutual hobbies/interests,” “encouragement,” and sometimes “accountability.” There’s nothing wrong with those things, in fact, they’re good! But there’s so much more.
You see, we can start growing significantly in our love for people when we start building friendships that imitate the sacrifice, compassion, and fearlessness of Jesus Christ. By fearlessness I mean, you’re not afraid to rebuke your friend when they think, speak, or act in an unChristlike way.
Those three things – sacrifice, compassion, and fearlessness – in the context of biblical friendship will birth in you a greater love for others. How? Well, you’ll constantly be needing to practice them! If you take friendship seriously, it won’t take long until you need to sacrifice something (time, energy, money, etc.). It won’t be long before some compassion is needed. And there will surely come a time when you will need to lay aside your fear of rejection and rebuke your friend for their sin. The more these unnatural actions are practiced, the more comfortable they become.
As a final thought, look around at our world today. Most problems we see and experience directly involve relationships. How many of these relational issues that you see exercise sacrifice, compassion, and fearlessness on a regular basis – or even at all? I would think not very many.
Imagine with me if the universal church started encouraging and promoting biblical friendships? Imagine if your local church prioritized this? Imagine if you started a biblical friendship today?
May these words from Jesus in John 15:12-13 go with you as you consider building friendships that centre around Him:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
¹ As a side note, I believe whole-heartedly that loving God must come first (as Jesus says), and that true love for others flows out of one’s love of God.