Question: "What does it mean to love like Jesus?"
Answer: A Christian wants to be as much like Jesus as he or she can be. Part of being like Jesus is loving like Jesus loved. God has a goal of conforming us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Jesus was always obedient to the Father (John 8:29), He was pure in every way (Hebrews 4:15), and He loved people selflessly (Matthew 9:36; 14:14). He commanded His disciples to love each other the same way He had loved them (John 13:34). But that presents a problem. Jesus demonstrated His love by dying for us, saying, “There is no greater love than this” (John 15:13). Since most of us will never be called upon to die for someone, what does it mean to love like Jesus?
John 3:16 tells us what it means to love like Jesus loves: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” Godly love gives sacrificially. Loving like Jesus means we hold everything we own with loose hands. We are willing to part with money, time, and possessions in order to serve other people. We recognize that all we have is on loan to us from our Father in heaven and we are responsible for what we do with it (Matthew 25:14–30). We give people what they need when it is within our power to do so. When we see a brother or sister in need, and we have resources that could help, we are to share what we have with them (James 2:15; 1 John 3:16–17).
Jesus was undiscriminating in the way He loved. He warned us that it is easy to love those who are like us (Luke 6:32–33). But Jesus loved even His enemies and expects His followers to do the same (Luke 6:35). He healed, fed, and ministered to many who would later cry, “Crucify Him!” (Matthew 27:20–22). He washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, knowing that within hours Judas would betray Him (John 13:4–5). He made a point of ministering to the hated Samaritans (John 4), even making a Samaritan the hero of a parable (Luke 10:25–37). Rich and poor, young and old, religious and pagan—people flocked to hear Jesus because He loved them (Mark 10:1; Matthew 9:35–36; Luke 18:18).
To love like Jesus means we cannot be selective in how we treat people. James strongly condemns favoritism based on financial or social status: “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). We are to treat every human being with dignity and respect, remembering that this person is a special creation, designed in the image of God (1 John 2:9–10; 4:20–21). We must work to rid our hearts of racial prejudice, socio-economic snobbery, and religious superiority. None of that belongs in the life of someone who wants to love like Jesus loves.
We must not equate love with complete acceptance of everything someone does. Jesus did not tolerate sin, deception, or false followers. He was painfully direct with the Pharisees, religious leaders, and those who claimed to love Him but loved their lives more. While still loving them, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, calling them “Hypocrites!” and “Blind fools!” (Matthew 23:13, 16). He challenged the religious leaders with the warning, “Not all who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). He puzzled the half-hearted by telling them, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 9:62).
Loving like Jesus means we care enough about the souls of others to tell them the truth. A rich young ruler came to Jesus with good intentions, but with a lack of surrender (Luke 18:18–25). He wanted what Jesus offered, but he did not want Jesus. He loved his money more, and Jesus lovingly pointed out the young man’s greed. We do not love people by watering down the gospel that could save them. Jesus never changed the truth to satisfy the “itching ears” of His listeners (see 2 Timothy 4:3). He loved them enough to warn them, challenge them, teach them, and forgive them all the way to the cross (Luke 23:34).
Forgiveness is another way we can love like Jesus. We forgive when we’ve been wronged (Matthew 6:14; Ephesians 4:32). Our selfishness wants to hang on to the wound, cherishing it, cradling it, and reliving it. But Jesus forgave and tells us to forgive as well (Mark 11:25). We cannot love someone we won’t forgive. Jesus does not hold our forgiven sins over us; rather, He pronounces us clean and restored (1 John 1:9). There may be consequences for our sin, but He loves us through them and helps us learn from them. When we forgive someone, we can love and pray for that person with a clean conscience because we have done what God commands us to do (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32).
Jesus told His disciples that the primary way the world would know they were His was by their love for one another (John 13:35). If we love Jesus, then we will love what He loves, which is people. And as we practice loving like He loved, we become more like Him.