There’s a new mantra appearing across social media, admonishing Christ-followers to “love like Jesus.” But something’s been bothering me about the way this phrase is used, and I’ve been trying to figure it out. I think I’ve finally put my finger on it.
Here’s what it is: I agree 100% that we should love like Jesus. Period. End of story. Triple exclamation point. But people are saying “love like Jesus” not to encourage one another toward true godliness, but to shame anyone who disagrees with them. They say it about everything from abortion to LGBT issues to the politics of poverty. And when they say it, they seem to mean, “Agree with my position on this issue, because I am sure Jesus would share it.” Therefore, if I disagree with their position, the implication is that I do not “love like Jesus” on that issue. So those who agree with them are “loving like Jesus” and those who don’t are just “haters” – leaving no room for dialog or dissent.
The problem is, we don’t always know what Jesus’s response to an issue would be. Or we see only one side of it.
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26), he accepted her, reached out to her, and loved her. So some say we should “love like Jesus” by offering acceptance, including total agreement with everything people do.
But Jesus also called out the woman’s sin, saying: “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true” (John 4:18). Jesus accepted her, but he challenged her about what she was doing.
Jesus is Jesus, and he loves people without ignoring the reality of sin. He always strikes the perfect balance between accepting, judging, loving, admonishing, and encouraging. And I do not. Try as I might, I struggle to find that balance.
But recently I experienced an example of the correct usage of “love like Jesus.” It happened while I was walking the dogs.
Now, it’s no secret that I feel constricted living in a big city. The car horns, the sirens, the sounds of violence and rage – it all seems so brutal to me. I long for wide open spaces, where people aren’t so tense. Whenever I get out of town, I can feel my pulse rate slow, my body decompress.
So when I hear people shouting and cursing at each other, as they so often do here in the city, it really gets to me. And that’s what happened the other evening. As my wife and I walked our three dachshunds around the neighborhood, we passed a yard with two other small dogs who started barking like crazy. We hurried by before ours could join in. But as we passed, a neighbor yelled from across the street at those other dogs, “Shut the f__ up!”
We were stunned at the outburst. We said nothing and kept walking even faster. But the incident soured my mood. I scrolled through my mental rolodex of snarky, sarcastic insults I could shoot back at the disgruntled neighbor. “It’s only 5 p.m.,” I thought to myself, “not the middle of the night or something. Dogs bark – that’s what they do. It’s no big deal. There are far bigger issues in the world. Why is everyone so explosive all the time? Why can’t they just overlook the small things?”
My wife noticed my silence and asked, “Why so quiet?” So I explained how I felt.
She paused a moment and then said, “Maybe we could see it from his point of view. Maybe it happens a lot—the neighbor’s dogs barking every time someone walks by. How could we love him the way Jesus does?”
My heart knew she was right. Loving as Jesus loves is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life. But my wife’s question did not shame me or make me feel guilty about my anger toward that man; instead, it simply redirected my perspective. I couldn’t stop him from shouting curses, but I could choose to understand the feelings and frustrations behind his rude behavior. My wife’s question helped me determine, despite my fleshly resistance, what it means to love others, one angry neighbor at a time. As Christ-followers, this is how we should encourage one another to “love like Jesus.”
The call to “love like Jesus” should never be used as a weapon to shame others into agreeing with me, or following my agenda. Except in a sermon or in a loving small group, the reminder to “love like Jesus” should be delivered one-on-one – and always with grace, not shame, in the context of discipleship.