My parents will tell you that until roughly the age of 18, I did not eat a vegetable unless it was slathered with cheese sauce or wrapped in bacon. I don’t think that’s particularly unusual, nor do i think it’s unusual that around that age I did indeed not only start eating veggies, but actually began to like them. Tastes change over time.
I have not always liked coffee. Now I’m on my second cup of the day as I write this.
I have not always like sushi. Now I like California rolls (I know I still have room for growth here).
I still don’t like curry, but my wife is hopeful there is still time.
We grow, we mature, and we change. And that change doesn’t just happen in terms of food. Our appetite for other things change as well. We grow in our love for books, for quiet and silence, for responsibility, and a host of other things. In fact, for many of these things, we don’t just grow to tolerate them; we grow to love them. And while this is the natural course of things, there is something supernatural when we consider the same dynamic for Christians. That’s because we aren’t just changing because we are growing older and more mature; we are changing because the Holy Spirit is changing us. As He is, there are certain things that we, as Christians, are growing to love. The amazing thing about these things in particular is how unnatural they are; they are things that, in the eyes of the world, we ought not to love. Here are three examples:
1. Our enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matt. 5:43-46).
Jesus Himself acknowledged how illogical this is. According to Him, of course we will love those who love us. Everyone does that, and they should. But what separates Christians is not their love for those who treat them nicely, but the fact that they have somehow grown to love those who hate them. But in this, we also see a model of the gospel that has wrought this change in us, for this is precisely what God has done for us. When we were His enemies, He loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. As His children, we must follow in the example He has given to us.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Heb. 12:11).
Just as Jesus acknowledged the counterintuitive truth of loving our enemies, so also the writer of Hebrews acknowledged the nonsensical way the Christian should feel about discipline. By its nature, discipline is painful. It’s difficult. It’s uncomfortable. That’s why it’s discipline. But the Christian must grow to love the discipline that comes from the Lord.
If we read earlier in Hebrews 12, we see the reason why. It’s because the Lord’s willingness to discipline us as His children is one of the reasons that we know He loves us. Therefore, we learn to love the discipline of the Lord because it is evidence that we are His true children.
3. The truth.
We all have room here because we are living in a time when most of us do not love the truth. In fact, many of us won’t even tolerate the truth. That’s because, in my view, we refuse to believe anything from anyone that doesn’t fall in line with what we perceive the truth to be. We are constantly writing off statements – and people – if what they tell us challenges our personal version of reality. But it cannot be so for the Christian:
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses (Prov. 27:6).
The truth challenges us. Convicts us. Pains us. But we must love it. And we must especially love it when it comes from our friend who is closer than a brother, for Jesus loves us enough to tell us the truth about God, about the world, and about our own hearts.
Some things are easy to love, but others are not. Thank goodness, though, that God in Christ is indeed changing us. And one of the most apparent ways we see that change is when we start to grow in these particular areas. When we start to truly love our enemies, love the discipline from the Lord, and love the hard truth, then by God’s grace, we know we are growing.