For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
Following Jesus is about being different than the typical, the normal, the status quo, the worldly. It is easy to love those who love us. It is hard to love those who hate us. But we are imitating God when we do that. His calling is a higher calling because it pulls us up out of the ordinary, the muck, the fleshly way to do things and go about life and causes us to see from a different perspective, and it challenges us to go above and beyond. His way is a better way because, though it may not always be easy, it is what conforms us to His image, builds up a righteousness in us, cultivates a love in our hearts where one had not dwelt before.
Why were the publicans, the token sinners, able to love those who loved them? Because that kind of love doesn’t require anything outside of what we already have within ourselves. Why couldn’t they love those who didn’t love them? Because they didn’t have the love of God in their hearts, which is what enables us to love those who won’t ever love us back, because that’s the way He loves. We know that God loved us while we were still sinners, but He also loves the sinners who never choose to love Him back. And that’s the way we are to love those around us.
Once we become children of God, let’s not stay in that ordinary, worldly mind-set. We’re to be like Christ, not the sinful people around us. We’re to follow His example, not blend in with the world’s attitudes. In fact, the world’s way is the opposite of God’s way in most situations. And when we cultivate the right kinds of attitudes and behaviors in our hearts, we come out looking more like God and less like the world.
God’s love is beyond the reach of our understanding. And often it is hard to love like He does. But fortunately we don’t have to do it without His help. His Spirit can work in our hearts to allow us to love unselfishly, to change our attitude toward someone else, to offer kindness and compassion to even those who choose to hurt us. Loving others like that introduces them to the love of God, the concept of unconditional love, and can open their hearts to receive Him and experience that kind of love for themselves.