By Michael E. Brooks
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:1-3, English Standard Version).
It may be difficult to feel deep and sincere love for those with whom we have no personal experience or contact. The apostle Paul was remarkable in many ways, one of which was his deep zeal for the lost, whoever they were, wherever they may have lived, even if he had not met them personally.
Most Bible students believe Paul had not yet been to the cities of Colossae or Laodicea when he penned the words quoted above. Yet he worked, prayed, and suffered for the souls there even though he had never seen most of them.
When seeking support among churches and Christians for evangelism in distant countries, the natural apathy of many humans for those who are not personally known is one of the difficulties encountered.
Even John recognized the barrier to love which lack of personal knowledge presents, “. . . for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
It is far more difficult to possess genuine love for strangers than for those with whom one has immediate contact. One who does not practice the latter must be incapable of the former.
How then do Christians learn to love strangers? What can we do to motivate ourselves to struggle for souls whom we have never met, and likely will never meet on this earth? The Bible offers several means to that goal.
First, recognize and appreciate the love of God for us. “Beloved if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). In the letter of First John, the apostle repeatedly demonstrates the connection between love of God and love of fellowman.
We cannot claim to love God if we do not show love for our fellow man. God’s love for us motivates our love for our fellow man. God’s love for all men is demonstrated by the gift of his son, Jesus. The more we realize God’s love for us, and the more we are influenced by that love, the greater must be our love for others, whether or not we have personal relationships with them.
Second, recognize the needs and plight of others, showing compassion upon them. It is easy for us to become frustrated and angry at sinful persons, and even to fear them for the evil they may do to us. Yet the reality is, that their sin is much more harmful to them than it can ever be to God’s people. They are to be pitied.
They are to be rescued from the danger they are in, just as we seek to rescue those in physical peril. It is easy to love the helpless infant whom we must feed, clothe, shelter and protect. So we should show compassion to and love those enslaved in sin, helpless and without God in this world (Ephesians 2:12).
Third, we can learn to love strangers by recognizing our common bond. The more like ourselves others are, the easier it is for us to form relationships. We have the predisposition to love a new-born child in our own family. The baby is our own flesh and blood, one with us in many ways.
As we grow in spirit we come to realize that every human is our brother or sister. We are all children of God who made us. And as others receive the Gospel in obedient trust, we lose all differences between us and become wholly one in Christ (Ephesians 2:19; Colossians 3:11).
There is great reward in love. This includes the love which we acquire for those in other nations whom we have never seen. God loves them as he loves us. We ought also to love one another.
By Michael E. Brooks