No one can hate you as much as they hated Christ.
No one will ever be mistreated as unfairly as was our Lord.
He was stricken, smitten and afflicted. He was despised and rejected by men—his own creatures. He was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, like one from whom me hide their faces. He was despised and we esteemed him not. When reviled, Jesus did not revile in return. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. When he rode in on that donkey on Palm Sunday, he did so knowing that he would bear the punishment to bring us peace and that by his wounds we would be healed.
In other words, he showed his great love for us in this: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
So we will not know what love is like unless we know Jesus.
The world will not know what love is truly like until it sees it in Christ. Everything else is a pale imitation, maybe even a deceptive imitation. Christ is our substitute and our example. And with Christ as our example, our command is this: we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. This is why love is so much more difficult than the bumper stickers make it out to be. It requires so much more than a general sentiment of good will. It is so much deeper and better than unconditional affirmation.
What does unconditional affirmation require of you by way of sacrifice? Nothing. All it requires is a wave of the hand–“Whatever you do, I’m fine. However you live, that’s fine.” The problem with unconditional affirmation is not that it is too lavishly loving, but that it is not nearly loving enough. When God tells us to love our brothers he means more than saying, “I’m okay. You’re okay. Whatever you do is fine and I don’t judge.” To really love your brother is to lay down your life for him. It requires you to die to yourself, which may mean a sacrifice of your time, a sacrifice of your reputation, and a sacrifice of your comfort. Unconditional affirmation only asks that you sacrifice your principles.
Love is harder than we think. Of course we love our kids and grandkids and those who treat us well. We love nice people. But Jesus says even the pagans do this. That’s not hard. People love people who love them. But will we keep on loving when it means bearing burdens we would rather not be bothered with? Will we love when the people we love do not love us in return? Will we lay down our lives for those who are unlovely, undeserving, ungrateful?
Isn’t that what Christ did for us? When we were unlovely and undeserving and ungrateful, Christ died for us. He loved us not because we were holy, but so that we might be holy. His love was self-sacrificing, sin-atoning, and life-transforming.
He loves us with a love that the world does not understand. And it is so much better than unconditional affirmation.