I have been preaching through a sermon series called “True Love.” Lately, I have been focusing on the characteristics of love. In other words, what does love look like? One of the characteristics of love is this: “love despises evil, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). What does this phrase mean? It means two things: first, if you truly love someone, you don’t want them to be tangled up in some kind of sin that will ultimately destroy their life. You genuinely want them to be free from sin. Second, you do not want bad things to happen to people. You want them to be blessed, just like you want to be blessed.
Do you hate seeing people being destroyed by their sin, or does it not affect your heart? Do you care when others are going through a difficult time in their life because a tragedy has struck them? You might be able to say yes to each of these questions. It is not hard to say “Yes” when sin and tragedy affect those you find easy to love. But what about those people who rub you the wrong way? When something bad happens to “that jerk” at work, do you find your heart a little happy that he or she got what they deserved?
Deeply loving people are merciful to everyone because they understand that God has been merciful to them. Deeply loving people never want someone else to be hindered by evil, because they think to themselves: if I were that person and evil came on me, then I wouldn’t like that. Deeply loving people understand Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
How do you change your heart towards someone who doesn’t deserve good in their life? How do you transform your mind into wanting the best for someone who rubs you the wrong way? Exchange sneakers with them.
What if shoes could talk? They could tell us stories about their travels. Some of the shoes would have boring stories, while others would have fascinating tales of adventure. I’d like to hand you a few of my shoes that I have worn over the years so that you can venture a little deeper into my life story. I would like to first give you a brown pair of dress shoes. I was wearing these brown dress shoes back in 2006 when we buried our second daughter. Her casket was tiny. There were only a few family members with us at the cemetery for this short and yet bitter funeral service. We named her Claire. She would be seven years old if she wouldn’t have died. If shoes could talk, what would they say?
Can I also hand you a pair of Nike high tops that I wore in 2009 playing basketball on Saturday mornings? Go ahead, try them on. Forty-five minutes into playing, I ruptured my Achilles Tendon while I was wearing them. I had surgery that next week to repair it. Do you know that I dislike those shoes? It was on that morning almost five years ago that I retired from basketball. If shoes could talk, what would they say?
I’d like you to try on one more pair of shoes. I was wearing a pair of Reebok’s the first time I met my grandfather back in the 1990s. Our family only spent a couple hours with him that afternoon, but I walked away from that encounter wondering how a man could turn away from his family. Did he carry around any guilt? Was he able to sleep at night? I never asked my grandfather why he decided to abandon a wife and six children, but I wonder what kind of answer he would have given if I would have had the courage to ask. This event filled me with thankfulness that my father was not like my grandfather. In fact, he was the polar opposite. If shoes could talk, what would they say?
I have just allowed you to wear three different pairs of shoes that I have worn in my years on this earth. When you are having a hard time loving someone, try visualizing yourself in their life. Wear their shoes so that you can understand where they are coming from. This doesn’t excuse their behavior. It doesn’t make what they have done okay. But it does allow you to sympathize with them.
We have all met people we just don’t like. They seem to rub us the wrong way. This happened to me a while back. The guy was just over the top arrogant. He talked down to people as if he was better than them, and regularly made fun of people and would always say, “I’m just kidding.” I found in my heart that I was really starting to dislike this guy and I just didn’t want to spend any time with him. He asked me if he could take me out to lunch. It is a good thing that God was working on my heart because my answer would have been, “Sorry, I think I am booked the next several months, maybe we can try in a year or two.” But I told him, “Sure, we can go and have lunch sometime.” As we were sitting down at our table at the restaurant eating lunch, he told me his life story. It was a tragic upbringing. He had a horrible family life. I walked away from this lunch with a little more understanding of why he was so difficult to be around. Not that it was okay how he acted, but it helped me grow in my mercy towards him. I could sympathize better with him. When he told me his testimony, he told me that someone showed him love and told him about Christ, and that is how he became a Christian. He even admitted that he was still working on things in his life and he even apologized for the times when he was a little too outspoken.
Do you have someone in your life that you just don’t like? You avoid him or her. If you are honest with yourself, you have never even thought about where this person is spiritually with God. Deeply loving people reach out to the “unlovable person” because they would never want someone to go to hell. Deeply loving people want everyone to go to heaven no matter how much they might have hurt them. That is God’s heart and if you have someone in your life where you just can’t imagine them in heaven because of something they have done to you or to someone you love, then you need to ask yourself if love is truly the supreme value in your life. “But Jeremy, you don’t know how much that person hurt me! I will never get over it!” Try to understand why someone is the way they are. It doesn’t mean that you accept what they have done, but it will help you have more mercy towards them instead of judging them for only the things you have seen them do.
If shoes could talk, what would they say?
If you would like to listen to some of the sermons in this series on TRUE LOVE, click here.