“What a jerk,” I thought as I hung up the phone. Not a very spiritual reflection for a pastor, but that’s the way I felt nonetheless. I was just concluding a counseling session and was trying desperately to prepare a Bible study for the evening service on “Love One Another” from John 13:34-35. It wasn’t coming together.
The caller had identified himself as Ernest F. Thomas, “as in doubting Thomas,” he told me. He was traveling between Oregon and Phoenix, the 45 year-old unbelieving son of a minister, needing–no, demanding–a motel room due to medical problems. Because I couldn’t listen to his story right then he rudely impugned my Christianity, as well as the faith of fifteen other ministers he allegedly had called. He was insulting, insistent, and, in spite of the 185 I.Q. he claimed, a real pain.
When he called back ten minutes later as we had agreed, I can’t say I was looking forward to talking to him. But God had been talking to me. Thinking of Ernest as a jerk had jolted me. The verse I had been studying was starting to come home. “Love one another, even as I have loved you.”
How did Jesus love? He taught us to love those who mistreat us. If He hadn’t practiced what He preached, I would have had no chance. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” He told His disciples (John 15:13), yet He exceeded man’s best by dying for His enemies (Romans 5:8). Jesus doesn’t love on the basis of our worthiness.
Transients who chronically call churches for help are perplexing. Must a person be deserving for me to love him with practical help? No. God doesn’t operate that way–He loves radically. So must we. “Love one another, even as I have loved you.”
We must love the underserving. Even Christians can be hard to love. Jesus’ own disciples were incredibly self-centered sometimes. The miracle of love is that it continues–in spite of weaknesses, anger, sins, “blind sides,” and grating habits. That quality of love, Jesus said, will be the sign to outsiders that we are His disciples. In our love they must be able to glimpse His surpassing love.
Yes, I helped Ernest F. Thomas get a room that night. But I learned a vital lesson as well: God loves jerks and so must I.
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson