Love is hard. And, no, I’m not talking about the feeling of butterflies you get when the guy you’ve been crushing on walks in the room. That’s the easy part, actually. The kind of love that compels you to give up your comforts and rights for the sake of another, that’s hard. But this is the kind of love Jesus has called us to show towards others. From beginning to end, the Bible tells the story of the greatest love known to humanity. Each page of scripture is bursting at the seams with love.
While the God we profess is a God of love and the Holy Scriptures he has given us point to the kind of love he possesses, somehow the church has lost sight of a biblical understanding and practice of love. Simply put, we do not love each other as we should. There’s a number of reasons for this, I’m sure. However, the reason that stands out to me most is that we lack a biblical understanding of the imago dei, or image of God. So, let’s review it, shall we?
Assessing the Situation at Hand: Are our actions led by love?
In Ephesians 5, Paul tells us to walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. How seriously do we take these words? It’s pretty easy to practice love towards ourselves but loving others doesn’t come as easily. Perhaps this is why scripture often exhorts us to love each other. If we’re being honest, we all need to do better at loving others – myself included.
Are our actions led by love or are they instead led by the desire to be right? Do we pursue comfort more than we seek to pour into another? Do we pray for our friends? Our enemies? Or are we simply more concerned with how God can make our lives better?
Do we love the people who seem utterly unloveable? Do we love the ones who hurt us? The people who seem to only make our lives more difficult? It’s not too hard to love people who love us but do we love the ones who hate us too?
We always have countless opportunities to share the love of Christ with fellow believers and unbelievers alike. How often do we take that opportunity?
What is imago dei and how does it help us to love others well?
All people have been created in the image of God. Imago dei simply means ‘image of God.’ We tend to understand the concept of imago dei pretty well when it pertains to ourselves. We all know how to quote Psalm 139:14 and remind ourselves that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’ However, our understanding of the image of God becomes a little unclear when it concerns everyone else.
Recognizing that we have all been made in God’s image should impact how we treat each other.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.Genesis 1:27 ESV
Genesis 1:27 tells us that God made mankind in his image. Steve Ham from Answers in Genesis describes the image of God pretty well. He explains that the image of God refers to God’s righteous attributes. Humanity was originally created to reflect God’s perfect character and righteousness. We get our capacity to love, our desire for justice, our appreciation of beauty, and so much more directly from God himself.
We are God’s representatives on the earth
The image of God also has to do with how we represent God on the earth. God gave humanity dominion over the creatures of the earth. Mankind was called to rule and care for all of God’s creation in the same way that God rules over the universe.
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.Genesis 2:5-7 ESV
Did you know that man was the only created being that God formed with his hands? He spoke everything else into being but carefully formed us from the dust and breathed his life into us. The life that sustains each and every one of us is the life of God.
We love each other well because in each person there is something of God. Each person was carefully designed by God. One of my favorite verses in the Old Testament is Jeremiah 1:5. God tells Jeremiah that before he was formed in the womb, he knew him. Long before Jeremiah’s parents met, God knew him. This is true of each and every one of us.
Psalm 8 – A Little Lower than the Angels
Psalm 8 is a beautiful psalm celebrating God’s care for humanity. The Psalmist writes:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.Psalm 8:3-5 ESV
God created mankind and gave us so much that we do not deserve. He crowned us with glory and honor. He is mindful of us even when we are not mindful of him. Believe it or not, God is mindful of the person you see every day at the bus stop but never stop and say hello. God is mindful of the guy in your class that everyone thinks is weird. He is mindful of that celebrity who did something silly in front of paparazzi for the thousandth time. God is mindful of your sibling that gets on your nerves. He’s mindful of your spouse when you just can’t seem to figure him out. He’s mindful of your worst enemy and the person who hurt you but refuses to apologize.
Let’s go a little further. God is mindful of the thief. He’s mindful of the murderer. He’s mindful of the terrorist and the politician that makes your life absolutely awful. God is mindful of racist people. He’s mindful of the prejudiced ones. He’s mindful of the liars and the kids who used to make fun of you in school.
God loves all his people because he made them. If we love God, we are called to love each of them too.
How does the image of God relate to our sin nature?
Yes, it’s true that while the beauty of God resides in every human being, there’s also something broken within us. It’s called sin. Sin causes us to do awful things to each other. Let’s be real. It’s hard to love some people because of their sinful ways. We recognize the evil in their hearts and we want to react by deeming that person unworthy of our love. I get it. But, when I see evil in others, I must also recognize that there’s evil within me. Our holy God who cannot bear the sight of sin and evil did not refuse to love us because of our condition. He could have cast you and I away permanently and created completely new humans who did not sin. Instead, he provided a way to set us free from sin’s grip.
If God can love us despite our sinful nature, we ought to love others too.
Loving others in deed and not merely in word
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.1 John 3:18 ESV
John tells us that we should not merely love others in word. Our actions should prove our love for others. You don’t need to have warm, fuzzy feelings about everyone in order to love them well. However, you do need to understand that all people are image bearers in order to love them well.
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.Hebrews 13:1-2 ESV
The point is not to merely say nice words about people. Instead, we are called to show love. What would you want others to do for you? Do it for your neighbor.
Sometimes loving someone else well means firmly speaking the truth to them. Other times, it may look like simply listening and showing compassion. It could look like bringing a meal to the sick coworker who formerly tried to get you fired. Perhaps it involves praying for someone the moment after they disrespect you.
1 Corinthians 13 is a favorite for couples. But, this isn’t just a passage of scripture to get engraved on your bible or have read on your wedding day. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us the qualities of love. Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. It isn’t arrogant or rude. It isn’t self-seeking. It isn’t easily angered or resentful. It doesn’t rejoice when others do wrong. Instead, it rejoices at truth.
I’m going to be honest here: I need to pay more attention to 1 Corinthians 13. I know that I can be envious and impatient and unkind. I boast sometimes in my heart. I can be self-seeking. I’m selfish more than I want to be.
I want to love others in deed by allowing the attributes of God to be a reality in my heart. I want conviction of the love of God to fill my heart so much that I cannot help but act in love towards others.
We need more agape love
There are four Greek words for love. There’s agape, storge, philia, and eros. Eros is the romantic love shared between couples. Philia refers to friendship. Storge speaks of affection one has for the other. Agape love is the godly kind of love. I want to read C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves one day so I can share more but right now I’ll just have to give you a brief explanation of some of Lewis’ ideas concerning love. Essentially, all other forms of love besides agape are easy to come by and are within our human nature. However, agape love is unnatural for us.
It is Christ within us that leads us to practice agape love. The more time we spend with Christ, the more of this love will be cultivated in our hearts.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.John 15:13 ESV
It is Christ who laid down his life for his friends. Paul lets us know that even before we were friends of God and while we were still enemies, Christ died for us. This is the highest form of self-sacrificial love. He did not have to die for us but he did. When we look to Christ, he forms this kind of love in our hearts.
We’re human beings marred by sin and of course, our tendency is to avoid this kind of love. However, we must make a practice of loving others even when it’s hard. When we fail to love well (and we will), we must go before God’s throne and diligently ask him to help us.
The love of God is not optional for the church. Paul says that it doesn’t matter how much knowledge you have, how well you speak in tongues, or how wonderful your gift of prophecy is. It doesn’t even matter how much faith you have. Without love, you are nothing.
May the church take love seriously again. May we value love as much as we value our denominational differences or our theological debates. May we be stirred by love to move from our comfort zones and act on behalf of another. May the world know that we are Christians by our love.
Did this article encourage you? Please feel free to share with a friend who might need these words.