"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'
"He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' (Matthew 25:40,45; TNIV)
He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. (Acts 9:4-5; TNIV)
In our relationships among those who name the name of Jesus, there is often someone, or even some people who get "under our skin". They are annoying to us in some way. Perhaps in their propensity to want to talk about and laugh at others. Perhaps in their incessant judgmental attitude and critical spirit. Maybe in just their overly easy, "live and let live" attitude that seems to us not to take life that seriously. But usually we can easily find things to like in another; though that becomes more difficult when we sense that this brother or sister does not really like or accept us.
There are surely a host of reasons why people, and here we're thinking about those who profess faith in Jesus, are impossible in some ways for us to like and difficult for us to love as God calls us to love them. What are we to do?
Often what is done is a kind of "stiff arm" spirit in which we keep them at bay. It can end up being a kind of "fire fighting fire" attitude. The other will pick up our true spirit towards them. And that spirit corrupts us as well.
The passages quoted above, as always should be read and considered in their context. But at the risk of violating this, I want to kind of pull them out for a secondary application to help us in our problem.
How are we to love that difficult brother or sister in Jesus? As if they were Jesus. But one might protest, "Well, they're certainly not Jesus!" But in reply we must say, "Neither are you nor I." While we who say we live in Jesus must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:6) that certainly doesn't mean that we'll arrive in this life to be completely like him. That awaits Jesus' return (1 John 3:2).
So do we think that this difficult brother or sister could not possibly be among those who Jesus named in either Matthew 25 or Acts 9? Though Jesus identifies himself with them to the point that he says actions towards such are actions towards him, that in no way means that these people are always likeable.
We might say, "I don't like this form of Jesus." That's fine. God calls us to love them. This means we're to act in love, regardless of our feelings. As we do we can in God's grace come to really love them from the heart.
But in the meantime we need to love them as if they were Jesus himself. Think of them as Jesus. Use this trial to express your love and devotion to the Lord.
They will pick up your spirit, in this case a good spirit. Not ruffled by their "put offs" and "put downs".
And keep at it. Then your life can speak into their lives volumes. And maybe even a needed word spoken in love at a point in time will go straight to their hearts.
May God help us to live in this way, in his grace. Amen.