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A Valentine's challenge to love your neighbor

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I Thessalonians 3:12 "May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you."

With Valentine's Day right around the corner, our thoughts tend to turn to those we love and the ways we can communicate that we care about them. However, the apostle Paul, in echoing Jesus' command to "love your neighbor", brings this concept of loving "all people" to our attention- presenting a difficulty for most of us.

It is easy for us to love people who are kind to us and who love us, but this command applies not only to those who are easy to love, but to all people as well (Luke 6:31-33). When we love someone, we go out of our way to make their lives more pleasant. We sacrifice time or our own comforts in order to bring them joy. For those who are hard for us to love, the same method applies: small acts of kindness toward them increase our love for them and cause it to abound.

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, says, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

This is essential for living out the Christian precept to love your neighbor as yourself. Our actions shape us: As Christians, though we are not like Christ initially, over time the practice of "copying" Christ as if we really were like Him makes us more Christlike. In the same way, practicing the effects of loving someone as if we really did love them will in turn cause us to have genuine concern and affection for that person.

A few ideas for ways to practice loving your neighbor:

  • Pray for them regularly.
  • Write them an encouraging note or card.
  • Complete a task for them that you know they do not enjoy.
  • Focus on positive character traits, and speak kindly of them to others.

It is easy to focus on the things we do not like about people or situations, and it takes decided willpower to shape our thinking around appreciation and thankfulness, but disciplining the mind in this direction yields happiness, a less critical bent, and the ability to more easily love people.

Loving others is one of the most important commands we have been given, and God has equipped us to follow this command. Take the challenge this Valentine's Day to love not only those you consider friends, but those who seem hard to love. In the process you will be transformed more into the likeness of Christ, who set the example by loving us while we too seemed unlovable (Romans 5:8).

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