What do you do with that difficult person in your life? Confront them? Lay down the rules? Let them know what you will and will not accept? Perhaps. But if you really want lasting, heartfelt change—love them more. Laws don’t change people. Love changes people.
S-h-h-h…I’ll let you in on a secret—most wrong-doers know they’re wrong. That obnoxious boss has accepted his behavior as “that’s just who I am”. The disobedient child doesn’t believe she can make good choices anymore. The wayward spouse expects his wife to fuss at him. Wrong-doers expect people to not like them. They expect the worse because they know they are wrong.
But, love is unexpected. More precisely, your love is unexpected. Your love opens the door to hope. Hope tells the fearful heart that life can be better. The wrong-doer begins to think, “If she loves me unconditionally (love given without requiring a good action on my part), maybe she sees something in me worth loving.” The cold, stony heart set on rebellion, thaws under the warmth of unconditional love. The key is: You must love them first.
It works. Unconditional love inspires change. This is how God loves us. God sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, before we were even born, before we committed all of the sins God knew in advance we would commit.
Romans 5:8, King James Version
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
1 John 4:18-19, King James Version
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.”
How can God love us unconditionally? How can God love murderers, adulterers, liars, back-biters, sexually-immoral, and rebellious people? Easy. The bible says, God is love (1 John 4:8).
What! So, does God love sin? Of course not. But, God does love sinners. He loves us sinners so much, he is committed to transforming us into the glorious people he knows we can become. People made in his image, in his likeness (Genesis 1:26-27).
We begin to change when we receive the love of Christ and his death on the cross as payment for our sins (John 3:16). Once we experience God’s forgiveness, we are able to give forgive others (Ephesians 4:32). We become able to love others. The love we possess is not just our own—we actually have the love of God dwelling inside of us.
1 John 4:16, King James Version
“God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
How do you think the most challenging person you’re facing would behave in the presence of God? Would the irate boss continue cursing and accusing because his employees can’t meet his unreasonable demands? Would the rebellious child keep throwing a tantrum because she can’t get her way? Would the gossiping church member slander the pastor in the Lord’s presence? Probably not.
God’s love changes the atmosphere. When we abide in love, the presence of God fills our atmosphere. Have you ever been around a person full of the love of God? I have.
This summer our family traveled to Yosemite National Park. After an arduous drive, in 102 degree weather up a 6,100 foot elevation, with two tired kids in the back, we were stressed. Did I mention we missed our turn (GPS does not work well in the Sierra Nevada), we couldn’t use the A/C in the rental car, the gas gauge was near empty and there were no gas stations in the park? Just when we were at the end of our rope, we pull up to the park’s Ranger Checkpoint. A ranger with the kindest eyes and a big smile on his face walked towards our car. He took one look at our kids in the backseat and said, “You’re almost there, just four more minutes. Yosemite is beautiful, you’re going to love this place.” Immediately, the tiresome drive was forgotten as we took in the breathtaking view surrounding us. What happened? The park ranger’s love was contagious. He changed our atmosphere.
It’s impossible to remain angry in the presence of people full of God’s love. Upset turns to peace. Frustration turns to laughter. Many pastors walk in love at this level. But, so can ordinary people like us. A smile, a kind word, and a little mercy works wonders. How do you handle that difficult person in your life? Love them first. Love them more.