Costly love

It’s hard to love when it costs so much.

It’s a strange thing that none of us is opposed to the concept of love, and yet in practice we frequently fail to embrace it.  It can be easy to live out when the other party is amiable, but when there is resistance, rejection, or obstacles, loving others can become frustrating or even impossible.  Over time, it can seem the results are painful sacrifices without fruit.  How can we love others when it is so costly?

The Apostle Paul once arrived at an interesting place: he was so confident in his identity in Christ that he found freedom from the Laws that once bound him:

I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself.
Romans 14:14a

Imagine it: you spend your whole life studying the law and living it out flawlessly, denying your desires for the sake of blamelessness, and then one day you discover you don’t have to be bound to it.  That delicious looking meal that you had been forbidden to touch for decades was now an option!  What joy you would feel in being free to eat that once-prohibited fare, until…

But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died…
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.  All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
Romans 14:14b,15, 19-21

Paul knows he’s allowed to eat the food, but realizes to do so in the presence of one who finds it unclean would be unloving.  Even though he has the right, he denies himself for the sake of the other.  His goal is not his desires and satisfaction, but “peace and mutual edification”, even if it costs him.

How often do we chose our desires and satisfaction at the expense of others?  And this is over small things like food and entertainment!  How then do we respond when scripture calls our love to costlier places?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness a will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Isaiah 58:6-8

Sure, we want needs to be met and for light break forth, but if we’re honest our willingness depreciates the more we must sacrifice; yet God is blunt when it comes to His expectations of love for those in hardship:

  • share your food, as in, the food you were planning to eat
  • you provide shelter, which will either cost you money or — if it’s in your own home — comfort
  • you clothe them, either buy spending your money or giving them your clothes

Verse 10 makes it clear this isn’t a small request, like, “Oh, I was giving these clothes to Goodwill anyway” or “I just cleaned out my pantry and I don’t need these old cans”:

..if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry…

Not, “if you spend your money,” but, “if you spend yourselves!”  Perhaps you’ve been there: your acts of love go beyond just emptying your wallet, closet, and pantry, to an internal draining.  Perhaps its in the form of your energy as you exhaust yourself serving others.  Perhaps it’s mental, as it doesn’t seem your work is making a difference.  Or even worse, perhaps it’s emotional as your acts of love are rejected or twisted by those you serve!  “Spending yourself” can become unreasonably costly, and yet:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

The Apostle Paul — who gave up a prestigious and privileged life and denied his rights and safety for the sake of others — tells us not to become weary, because eventually it will be worth it.  For Paul, this in-between space included those he served persecuting him, twisting his motives, and attempting to murder him.  Paul’s acts of love frequently looked like costly failures, and yet he chose to not become weary, not give up.

Church, it is hard to love when it costs so much, but that is our invitation! 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35

Here’s the good news: when Jesus said this, he knew we could not do it in our own power, so he not only set an example, but sent a Helper!  This means our true invitation is not to love from our own understanding or capacity, but to be willing conduits of Love through the Spirit!

Yes, it will be costly, but on an eternal level that cost is actually a beautiful, powerful investment, worth every sacrifice:

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
Isaiah 58:9-12

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