Love is inconvenient. It actually has the audacity to ask us to drop what we’re doing in order to attend to the needs of another. It presses up against our desires for autonomy, comfort, ease, safety, and control. It punctures our bubble of self-importance and self-protection. It lifts our heads to look up and outward at our neighbor, instead of down and inward at ourselves. It prods us toward a “you before me” ethos and away from our fleshly default of “me before you.” It beckons us to see and live through another’s eyes. So Jesus, knowing our hearts, turned our self-interest on its head when he said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…” (Matt 7:12).
The truth is we don’t even want to be inconvenienced by these startling words from our Lord. It’s difficult to live in the way of love. It is costly and inconvenient, to say the least.
- It’s inconvenient to pause the task you’re in the midst of and listen to your 5-year-old tell of her backyard discovery.
- It’s inconvenient to help with the dishes when you’re dead tired and just want to relax.
- It’s inconvenient to hold your tongue and really listen to your friend tell of ways you recently hurt her.
- It’s inconvenient to take the time in the early morning to pray for your family members when the day’s demands are screaming for your attention.
- It’s inconvenient to interrupt the flow of your conversation to include the one on the edge of the circle.
- It’s inconvenient to respond in a timely way to an email from a member of your church, knowing it will likely precipitate hours of hard conversation.
- It’s inconvenient to wear a mask to protect your neighbor when it’s hot and you’re pretty sure you don’t have COVID.
- It’s inconvenient (especially if you’re part of the majority culture as I am) to grapple with the fact that George Floyd’s murder proves, yet again, what people of color have been saying for years, when it was easier to believe the myth of equal treatment under the law.
Yet inconvenience is the way of love. Love seeks to understand another. Serve another. Bless another. Lay one’s life down for another.
But who is sufficient for such things? I know I am not. But there is One who is. Paul speaks about the height of inconvenient love in Philippians 2:6–8 in his portrayal of Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
How should we respond to Jesus’s extravagant love? We trouble ourselves because he troubled himself. We humble ourselves before others because he humbled himself for us. We die for others because he died for us.
Paul says essentially these very things in the verses preceding those above. He explicitly links our ability to love others to the love of Jesus Christ:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 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. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… (Phil 2:1-5)
What enables us to do this? To turn from our selfish ambition? What allows us to embrace the humility of putting the interests of others before our own? It’s our relationship with Jesus. We are encouraged and comforted by his love. We are empowered by his Spirit. Love wells up within us as we consider the One who gave up everything to make us part of his family.
Love is indeed inconvenient—and often quite costly. But with each faltering and imperfect act of neighborly love we undertake, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus whose very presence animates and undergirds our steps. A willingness to follow Christ’s path of inconvenient love doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to accommodate every request or opportunity that comes your way. We are finite creatures, after all. But if you often find yourself unwilling to inconvenience yourself for the sake of loving others, look to Jesus to lead the way. We love . . . because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).