“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:1-2, NRSV)
There are so many portraits of Jesus in scripture that attest to his ability to love well. From the scenes we were taught as children about Jesus receiving the “little ones” to the dramatic sight of Jesus in his dying moments commending John to his mother, Mary, and Mary to her adopted son, John. Most of the settings for these loving portrayals are situations where compassion is needed. A few of these occurrences are set against the backdrop of the tension between law and grace. One such example was when Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery instead of passing judgment on her. Although the Pharisees set a trap, it doesn’t take much to imagine that they secretly hoped he would call for her stoning, although they probably knew he would choose a more gracious response.
During the sermon series on “Focusing Our Lives,” I have spoken of the importance of boundaries. Some might even argue I have chosen law over grace regarding boundaries, except I hope I’ve made clear that boundaries are for the benefit of everyone in relationships. Setting boundaries is always a loving response. Even in drawing lines around what is and what is not appropriate in our relationships, we call out the best in each other. But setting boundaries must be motivated out of love for one another and not simply adherence to some relational law.
Balancing law and grace is always tricky because both are void of compassion when taken to extremes. We don’t hold people to an impossible, unattainable standard, nor do we let them get away without taking responsibility for their actions. Compassion is somewhere in the middle where we don’t expect people to live up to an impossible standard while not letting them get away with destructive behavior. Even as a parent, I struggled with that balance.
So, how are we to love well while acknowledging the tension that exists between law and grace? We must look to Jesus as our guide and example—especially in how he views our actions considering both law and grace. “Do unto others,” we’ve been taught, “as we would have others do to us.” I am the recipient of God’s unconditional love. Nothing I do could make God love me more than he already does. And there is nothing I would ever do that could make God love me any less, for his love is enduring. When I live outside of the lines of God’s will, I suffer consequences—not because God punishes me—but because my rebellious behavior fails to serve my best interests. Even in pain caused by my rebellion, Jesus loves me and refuses to abandon me.
To love others well, I, too, must offer unconditional love. And when people rebel against my love, I may have to draw a boundary. And yet, I continue to love them as Jesus does, trusting that my love may pull them back to me and ultimately to the life God desires for them. Sometimes they come back. Sometimes they don’t. That is up to them. My responsibility is to keep loving them with the love of Jesus Christ. In that way, I am living the life God desires for me to live.
Join us this Sunday as we explore more about loving well.