Sacrificial Love

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Friendship isn’t always comfortable.

I remember waking up in the middle of the night as my visiting friend entered my room, complaining that a beeping smoke detector in our apartment was keeping him from sleep. While my roommates and I could adapt to the occasional chirps for the weekend, my friend, who has autism, couldn’t sleep. I knew he couldn’t stay on the couch close to the noise, but I also knew he wouldn’t be comfortable on the floor of my room (which was his plan to get away from the sound). The only solution I could see was for him to take my bed and for me to take the couch. I’ll confess that I didn’t like that solution. I’m a bit of a germophobe, and I really don’t like the idea of someone sleeping in my bed (or of me using someone else’s blankets or pillows). I thought about how I’d have to wash everything after he left. But in that moment, I didn’t see another way. Love demanded that I let go of my preferences and step beyond my comfort for the sake of my friend. I struggled with the decision to serve, but decided to serve nonetheless.

Friendship sometimes requires sacrifice. It may call for you to give more time than you intended to spend on the phone as someone has an emotional breakdown. It may require you to change your plans so you can give someone with no transportation a ride. It may call for you to forgive someone who’s hurt you again.

What makes us do these things? What causes us to sacrifice our time and preference and comfort for the sake of another?

I think of the example of Jesus. Paul calls his readers to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). He continues by pointing to Jesus as the example of humility, sacrifice, and service. Jesus, the holy Son of God, entered the darkness and bore its full weight to save those who’d willfully forsaken him. He healed the sick, encouraged the lowly, and loved the lost. Through grief, he brought hope (John 11). After the death of his cousin John, when he sought solitude and was still found by crowds, he selflessly served them (Matthew 14:13-14). He even prayed for the forgiveness of the very ones who participated in his crucifixion (Luke 23:34). Jesus served when it wasn’t comfortable to serve, when he could have rested or refused. His life demonstrated the truth that love gives its life for friends (John 15:13).

Jesus didn’t only serve those who deserved his service. In fact, if we believe the Bible, we recognize that nobody deserves his service. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Paul writes (Romans 3:23). We are unworthy, yet still he loves us. We can learn from this that love is not contingent upon the character of the one loved. The quality of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13 places no limitations based on difficult people or repeat offenders (remember that Jesus multiplies Peter’s suggestion that we forgive people up to seven times in Matthew 18:21-22); rather,

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

In emphasizing sacrificial love here, I am aware that many will want to balance a loving service to others with a healthy self care. And rightfully so. I don’t downplay the importance of a healthy self love. However, there seem to be circumstances in which love calls us to go further than is comfortable, to serve beyond the point when we’d rather take a break, and to love in ways which may lead to pain. This doesn’t justify running yourself into the ground, nor does it justify abusive relationships. We must exercise wisdom and caution in all things. But we should be careful not to use that same caution, that healthy emphasis on self care, as an excuse not to serve as Jesus served.

True, there’s only so much we can do. We have limits. We can’t love perfectly. But we who know Jesus work in the strength God provides. As Paul writes, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). His testimony here reflects the truth he proclaims to the Ephesians, that “we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We can thus “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us] both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). And though we know our weaknesses better the more we attempt to love, we can rest in the promise of God: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I admit that the line isn’t always clear. Sometimes those who don’t really need our help demand it while those who really need our help remain silent. We won’t always know the hearts of those before us. But I’m not sure that’s the point. As we exercise wisdom and prayerfully engage the people around us, we can trust the Spirit of God to be with us, to empower us to love well, and to work all things for good. We will make mistakes. We will give our time to those who don’t deserve it and will overextend ourselves. But let us not avoid the work for fear of failure. Let us not forsake the call of Christ to love as he loved us because people are unworthy. Let us shine brightly in the darkness, reflecting the love of the Savior as we walk from here to glory. And may God be glorified by our love.


Photo by Rex Pickar on Unsplash

Thanks to Cortney for giving the topic for today’s post. Thanks to Jamie and Cortney for reading over the post and giving feedback.

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