Love Someone I Can't Stand?

Love Someone I Can't Stand?

John Calvin on seeing the image of God--even in an enemy
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Love your enemy? You can't even stand to sit next to her. Still, you know you're supposed to treat others as you would like to be treated. But how is that possible when she says mean things about you? In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin offers some advice: Look for the image of God in everyone.

The Lord commands us to do good to everyone without exception, even though the majority don't deserve it. Scripture adds a splendid reason, when it tells us that we are not to think about what men deserve in themselves, but to look at the image of God which exists in everyone, and to which we all owe honor and love. The same rule should be even more carefully observed in those who are of the household of faith, since that image is renewed and restored in them by the Spirit of Christ.

It doesn't matter who the person is needing your help: you have no excuse for refusing it. Say he is a stranger: the Lord, in renewing the image of God in him, has given him a mark which ought to be familiar to you … (Gal. 6:10). Say he is humble and little thought of: the Lord points to him as one in whom his own image shines (Isa. 58:7). Say you feel no ties of obligation towards him: the Lord puts him in his own place, so that you may realize the great obligation you are under to him. Say he is totally unworthy of any efforts you may make for him. The image of God, which commends him to you, is worthy of everything in you, and anything you can do. Even if he is totally undeserving, and has also angered you by hurt and wrong-doing, there is no valid reason why you should not enfold him in love and load good deeds upon him (Matt. 6:14; 18:35; Luke 17:3). He deserves something very different from me, you may well say. But what has the Lord deserved? As we think of him, we can achieve the difficult and unnatural: we can love those that hate us, give good for evil, and blessing for cursing (Matt. 5:44), remembering that we are not to dwell on the evil in men, but look to the image of God in them. This image covers and obliterates their faults, and by its beauty and dignity draws us to love and to embrace them.

So we shall succeed in denying ourselves if we fulfill these duties demanded by love. However, they are not fulfilled simply by discharging them completely. They must be done from a motive of pure love. It is possible to carry out every sort of good deed, as far as the external act goes, but not to do it in the right way. Some people might be thought very generous, and yet give insult by superior looks or cruel words. Such behavior is unworthy, even among unbelievers, but something much more is required of Christians. It is not even enough for them to have a cheerful manner or to carry out their duties with courteous speech. First, they must put themselves in the place of one who needs assistance, and sympathize with his misfortune as though they felt and suffered it themselves. Only then will a feeling of pity and humanity move them to help him just as they would themselves. The person who has this attitude will assist his brethren without spoiling the act by arrogance and blame. Even more, he will not look down on the brother to whom he does a kindness, as one who needed his help, or put him under obligation. Really, everyone should think that he owes himself to his neighbors, and that the only limit to his generosity is the end of his resources.

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