Hatred is the void of love. I wrote that quote down in my notes from Sunday’s sermon. What a powerful statement. We think of hatred in terms of visible action or attitude. Too often, we believe that it is ok to not love someone as long as we don’t hate them, but the absence of love is hatred. The complexity of relationships requires we go deeper into this. We must first understand the nature of love.
Love moves us. It inspires us. It pushes us to action. Love without action is no love at all. I realize there may be times that people do not love us, and they do not want us around. At that point, to force ourselves on them is not love either so there are times when love keeps a distance. But for the most part, love is a proactive effort to be a blessing to others. We can easily fall into a trap, especially when we are offended, to think we are still in the will of God if we just don’t have an outward show of anger. But we must remind ourselves that our calling is not to refrain from hate but to love.
I remember the ole saying, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” Granted, we are human and there are times when we know that if we open our mouths, we are going to projectile vomit all kinds of hate on someone. In those times, it may be the best we can do, but we should never be content with that level of spiritual maturity. The absence of rudeness is not kindness. The absence of hate is not love. Our goal must not be to keep our mouth shut when angry or offended, but to love all the more as Christ loves us.
Selfishness or love, that is our choice. When someone says something or does something that angers us or offends us, we can react with selfishness or love. Selfishness has no desire to love that person in that moment. There is no love in selfishness. Offense causes us to put our needs, desires, wants, and dreams, before the welfare of the offending person. In offense, we care only about what we want. The issue becomes too important. Our priority should always be people and relationships, not issues. How many relationships have been broken because some ‘thing’ became more important than the relationship? The offense took root because someone let what was said or done push out any love they had for that person. Offense stops forgiveness, stifles love, destroys trust, and ends relationships.
We may not think that offense is that serious. After all, we are not offended for no good reason. People have done stupid, hurtful things and offense seems to be a reasonable response. But as long as I give myself excuses to be offended by people, I am going to struggle with the Lord every time He does something or allows something that I think is stupid or hurtful. The way we love or don’t love people is how we will also love or not love God. If we are easily offended by people, we will struggle with God in the same way. We may not want to admit it, but our attitude toward God makes it clear.
Forgiveness is power. Forgiveness is strength. Forgiveness is a refusal to allow yourself to be caged up by an offense. Refusing to forgive is like being caught in the Devil’s trap and being content to stay there. Forgiveness pushes, pulls, shoves, fights, plans, looks for opportunities to break out. Forgiveness is spiritual warfare fighting for the freedom found in the graces of God. As we forgive people, we will learn to be content with what the Lord does or doesn’t do. Nothing will be able to get us down on God. Our bond with Him will give birth to unbelievable strength. We will not be taken captive. We will live free.
I was visiting with an older gentleman from the church this morning. He pops in every now and then with wisdom. He said, “We can’t stop the world from doing what it is going to do, but we don’t have to let the world do it to us.” How true is this? We can’t control what other people do. We can’t control the spirit of this world. We can’t control the Devil, the god of the spirit of this world. But we don’t have to let Him control us. Don’t let Him push your buttons. It will cause us to make decisions that ruin marriages, incinerate friendships, and leave us lonely. Our goal must never be the absence of hate because it is still hate, but love never fails.
1 Corinthians 12:31 - 13:13
And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (NIV)
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (NIV)
Heavenly Father, how often would you be justified to be offended at how I have treated you? How many times have I said or done things that stomped on all of the kindness You have shown me? Yet, you did not get offended. You kept loving, even to the cross. You answered my offensive behavior with kindness, mercy, and love. What a wonderful God You are and how blessed am I! Help me Lord to allow you to cut away from me the ease of being offended. Let me love others as You have loved me.