Loving the Unlovely: Compassion without Passion?
I have to love him, but it doesn’t mean I have to like him! Have you ever heard anyone express this idea? Perhaps you’ve said it yourself? I know I certainly have. The problem with this statement is that it has no foundation in the Bible. In fact, this kind of statement actually contradicts what the Bible actually teaches.
We often attach extra-biblical ideas to our biblical understanding to give us an excuse not to follow what the actually scripture says. Here are some examples:
• I don’t give the homeless money because they might spend it on booze
• The Bible says I have to love my neighbor, but that doesn’t mean I have to like him
• I don’t have the gift of evangelism, so I don’t have to witness to people
• Tithing is part of the law, and I’m not under the law, so I don’t have to tithe if I don’t want
• Love is a verb
These are the exact kind of things that the pharisees of Jesus’ day did so that they could feel like they were following the law even though they were breaking the law. Jesus rebuked them for this in Mark 7:6-12.
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, ‘Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
It is true, love is a verb. Modern Christians often say things like this so that they may keep their hatred for someone and disguise it as a biblical expression. But it’s not biblical, not in the least. We forget that John said, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (I John 4:20-21).
Love is more than something you do. It is an emotion. Without emotions man would be nothing more than a biological machine. But God has created us to be much more.
True love is also an emotion. When Jesus was preparing to enter Jerusalem the scripture says he wept over it. Jerusalem was going to kill him, but he had heartfelt compassion that overflowed to tears. Have you ever wept over your enemy? Jesus said in Matthew 5 that we must love our enemies. We think that means not retaliating but actually it means more, it means to proactively do good things for your enemy out of an emotionally compassionate heart. Paul said in Romans 5:10, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.”
How can we justify our idea that love doesn’t include a compassionate or passionate heart whether about our friends or our enemies? Paul said in I Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Are not many of Paul’s descriptions, emotions? Certainly they are. Therefore, true love, even a biblical love for your enemy MUST include an emotional component; otherwise love is not really love. It may be that the reason you don’t love your enemy is because something else is missing: true forgiveness.
Here is a truth we must never forget: There’s no such thing as compassion without passion. If we have not yet grown to the point of loving others, even when they revile us, then we have not yet achieved the image of God in ourselves that we are designed to bear. Jesus loved his enemies. If we truly want to be like him then we must submit ourselves to the same. This is the essence of what it means to be a true follower and imitator of Christ.
Tom Terry is an author and Christians broadcaster. Learn more about his ministry at www.thomasterry.com.