Jesus said: The Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God….Think about and practice whatever is lovely, lovable and peaceable, kind, winsome and gracious. (John 16:27; Philippians 4:8-9, my paraphrase following AMP)
An Example of Jesus-like Love
Peter Miller (1710-1796) was a Baptist pastor in Ephrata, Pennsylvania during the American Revolution. He was friends with General George Washington. Also living in Ephrata was Michael Wittman, a hateful man who opposed and humiliated Pastor Miller and his congregation. Wittman despised the Christian faith. Later, Wittman was wrongly convicted of treason and sentenced to die. On hearing this, Peter Miller did something amazing. He traveled sixty miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for Wittman.
General Washington listened carefully and said, “I am sorry, Peter. I cannot spare the life of your friend.” The old preacher replied, “Wittman is not my friend! He’s my worst enemy.” Washington said, “What? You walked sixty miles to save your enemy? That puts it in a different light. I’ll grant your request.”
Peter Miller carried the pardon papers to the place where Wittman was going to be executed. He arrived just as Wittman was walking to the gallows. Wittman hollered, “Here comes old Peter Miller, eager for revenge as he watches me hang.” Miller stepped forward, said “not at all,” and gave the hangman the pardon that spared Wittman’s life. Then Miller and Wittman traveled back home to Ephrata, no longer as enemies, but now as a friends.1
Aspects of Christ-like Love
Philippians 4:8-9 says we are to think about and practice whatever is lovely (or loving) and commendable (or kind). That’s accurate. The two Greek words translated as “lovely and commendable” appear only this one time in the Greek New Testament. So I will write more broadly about Christian love.
Jesus said the most important commandments are to love our God and to love our neighbor as ourself. He said that everyone will know that we are His disciples, if we love one another. Paul taught that until Jesus returns for us, we must devote ourselves to faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.2
Michael Kelley of LifeWay Christian Resources wrote that the word “love” is overused, misused, and diluted in modern America. We “love” food, entertainment, pets, nature, etc. We are a culture in love with all kinds of stuff. But the “Jesus kind of love” is unique.3
Christian Love Is Sacrificial
Kelley writes that we tend to love things we get a benefit from emotionally, intellectually, or physically. “Self” is at the center of our love for people and things. As Peter Miller illustrated in the opening story, Christ-like love is not selfish, but sacrificial. Instead of taking from others, Christian love gives, serves, helps, and blesses others.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins….God presented Christ as the atoning sacrifice through faith in His blood…. (1 John 4:10; Romans 3:25)
Christian love is top-down, not bottom up. God’s love, not our merit, moves Him to send Christ to obey the Law we have broken, to suffer the punishment we deserve, and to rise from the dead to give us new life. Peter Miller received God’s salvation as God’s free gift. When he remembered Christ’s prior love to him, he could forgive an enemy who wronged him and then help him.
Christian Love Is Demonstrated
We talk about love glibly. But words are cheap, easy to give and receive without action to back them up. Yet Michael Kelley reminds us: Christian love is not merely stated. It is demonstrated.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a person is without clothes and daily food. If you say to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but do nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
James is writing about faith expressing itself in loving deeds.4 Who needs our help today, beloved? Remember Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Our neighbor is not someone we like, are related to, or choose to be a friend. Our neighbor is the next person we meet who is in need. That’s the big issue. They may be an enemy, a stranger, or a Christian brother or sister. But Jesus commands us to love and serve them. We should help people whenever we can, especially if they are followers of the Lord.5
Christian Love Takes Initiative
Michael Kelley writes that people often use love as weapon or a bargaining chip. We sometimes withhold love until we think others “deserve” it. Christians must not wait for others to show themselves lovable or worthy. Rather we take the initiative, reach out, and seek to bless others, just as Jesus first did for us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Putting it into Practice
C. S. Lewis said: The rule for us is simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor. Act as if you did. As we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will come to love them. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking them more. If you do them a good turn, you will find yourself disliking them less.6
We are to love like Jesus in sacrificial, demonstrated, initiative-taking ways. This is unique, and God means it to be. God the Holy Spirit enables us to practice this kind of love so that the world will follow the Jesus whom we claim to follow.
Notes (various translations): 1 Story heard from R. Kent Hughes of College Church (Wheaton, Illinois). 2 Mark 12:29-31 (quoting Deut 6:4-5 and Lev 19:18); John 13:35; 1 Cor 13:13. 3 I am indebted to Michael Kelley’s “3 Unique Characteristics of Christian Love.” 4 Gal 5:6. 5 I recall Dr. Vernon Grounds (1914-2010) teaching these things in a radio message. 6 Mere Christianity (Touchstone edition, 1996, p. 116-117).