Withholding Love

Jesus makes many bold statements in His Sermon on the Mount. One such statement was:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48 NLT)

More than likely, someone who is considered your enemy is doing something that harms you. They may be completely in the wrong of the situation. They may have no legitimate reason for causing you harm, pain, or discomfort. And yet Christ calls us to love them anyway. Not only that, but His indwelling Spirit in you brings forth His character and manifests His power to love enemies in and through us.

Nevertheless, this is a difficult saying to follow! It is even difficult to always love those whom we would consider our neighbors.

What Jesus essentially says is that His desire is that we love everyone, regardless of their behavior towards us.

Honestly, can we really imagine any less for the Bride of Christ?

I bring this up to share an observation that I have seen in myself and others who desire to follow Christ and live by His life: when a person treats someone badly (like an enemy would), they often respond by withholding their love from the person hurting them. But in reality, this is exactly the opposite of the character of Christ. The love of Christ transcends human behavior. Everyone is eligible to receive His love.

What is more, I have observed Christians (myself included) who do this to those that you think would be their neighbor, such as their spouse, children, parents, friends, and other Christians.

The reality is that instead of turning away from someone who hurts us, Christ’s life in us draws close and embraces them. Christ’s life desires to shower them with love, even when we are hurting.

We further see this contrast in the parable of the prodigal son. When the wayward son returns home after squandering his father’s inheritance, the father runs and greets him with a hug and lavishes him with gifts and a parrrtayyyy! The older brother, however, distances himself from the celebration and broods over his father’s easy forgiveness and love towards his restored son. Again, the father approaches the elder son in love.

In Against the Tide: The Unforgettable Story Behind Watchman Nee by Angus Kinnear, a story is told of the young Watchman Nee telling a mentor of his about a coworker in the Lord’s work who always refused to follow Nee’s logical advice. The brother was a few years older than Nee and he used this to get his way over and over. After much complaining to his mentor, she said to him,

“‘Have you, right up to this moment, never seen what the life of Christ is? Do you not know the meaning of the cross? These past few months, you keep asserting that you are right and your brother is wrong. But do you’, she went on, ‘think it right to talk as you have been talking? Do you think it right to come and report these matters to me? Your judgment of right and wrong may be perfectly sound, but what about your inner sense? Does the life within you not protest against your own resentful behavior?’

By meeting him thus on his own ground she had touched him on the raw. Dumbfounded, he had to admit to himself that even when by human logic he was right, the Holy Spirit within pronounced his attitude as quite wrong.”

Neither our own rightness nor someone else’s wrongness should really determine how much love we give to someone else. Jesus, in His own words and actions and through His indwelling Spirit in us, compels us to love all in all situations.

Certainly, there are times when something that is right in the Lord’s eyes requires a strong stance from us; but even this must be done in great humility and love.

In the Apostle Paul’s words,

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.

Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:14-21 NLT)

In other words, don’t withhold your love from others, even when you’ve got a legitimate right to do so. By this, the Bride of Christ becomes perfect, “even as your Father in heaven is perfect”.

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8 comments on “Withholding Love

  1. This article is extremely timely for me. It is like you are shaking my hand but not letting go, with a firm grip, looking me in the eye saying this is important. Don’t just read it and move on but allow it to do its work, allow it to go deep and search you. This word is Christ.

    • Thank you, brother. I do think it is important for us to learn how to let Christ love through us, especially when we can find no logical reason to do so and the flesh resists. This is when we truly learn and reveal the power of His love and life in us. His love is beyond our capacity to produce as fallen humans, but thankfully He fills us with His own Spirit. I’m no expert; I’m learning along side you. 🙂

  2. yes this is a very relevant article for me-I went to a bible study last night at the hospital where a friend of mine is dying of cancer-him and his friends present are all charismatic and im not-I went with the attitude of spirit control and death to my own opinions against charismatic theology–I ended up having such sweet fellowship with them I was stunned–gods love conquers a multitude of sins.

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Kenneth, and for sharing another aspect of this. Love does not build walls to keep people out, but breaks them down so we can share His life together!

  3. This is precious, mark. I think of a story Watchman Nee told. I can’t re-tell it as it should be told. Anyway, these brothers had a rice crop higher up on a hill. Those with rice growing below started letting the water out of the brothers’ crops so it would water their rice. The brothers said nothing for some time, and nothing changed. Then they went to Nee and told him what was happening. He told them, “if you want to be Christ to them, then starting watering their crop and your’s.” So they did. They went to a lot of trouble to see that both crops were watered. As a result the greedy neighbors below were astonished at the love being shown. I don’t remember how the story ended, but it was good! This story is in Nee’s devotional book, Table in the Wilderness.

    • Thank you for the comment and encouragement, Jon! Yes, the man downhill was sabotaging the water supply from the Christian man’s rice field directly uphill from him. Each day the Christian brother would mend the tear in his retaining wall and fill it up again with the same result. After he started watering both fields (instead of retaliating), the man downhill was very impressed and became a believer! This story is also in Nee’s book Sit, Walk, Stand and I read it recently. 🙂

  4. Well said Mark and I echo the sentiments of others that this blog is very timely. I’ve been personally involved in a situation where I personally feel like my diagnosis of these events are correct but my attitude us not reflecting the love of Christ. I’m with you in wanting to learn to live by this life more. Thanks for the sign post to enter into his rest of love.

    • From what I’ve experienced, James, living towards each other in love transcends the right/wrong issue. I think this affects people in a way that brings about internal change versus an external consent to who’s right, which often leaves the inner disagreement in tact and the issue ultimately unresolved. As Paul said, “why not rather be wronged?” Thanks for reading and commenting!

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