Loving the Unlovely :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Loving the Unlovely

Tony Cornelius
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We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).1

When I think about the phrase, “We love,” I am humbled and amazed. We love? I love? Since God made us in His image, love is one of the attributes we attempt to show to our “loved ones.” Yet, even in our best efforts, we taint our love with selfishness, pride, impatience, jealousy, anger, and a host of other non-loving attitudes and emotions. When measured by the love of God, our love does not look like love at all.

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

We can feel love or pity for the underprivileged, poor, needy, etc., but when they use our “love” for their selfish desires, we realize how defective our love really was. The hardest test of our love, however, comes from those who are close to us. Mutual love is wonderful, but when it turns to abuse and slander, our unloving thoughts and feelings in response can astonish and frighten us.

How much more astonishing when Jesus’ love begins ever so small to be ours. We love! Our love is not nearly the quality of His, but it is far better than what ours could ever be without His love to us first. How miraculous it is to love as God does—to have a love that grows amid abuse.

Some come to know Jesus’ love because we loved them with His love first.

My relationship with Ronald began in the most unusual way. I was in my yard, which was on the main road through the village of Atkinson, when a dump truck stopped and a man I had never met began cursing me for being white. He was clearly inflamed by alcohol. When I did not respond to his tirade, he paused, looked at me, and declared, “You’re alright!” As our friendship grew, I attempted to share the Gospel with Ronald, but he responded with hostility every time. All religion was bad in his view, but he never gave me the chance to point him to Jesus, not religion. This went on for over three years.

One day, his son called to tell me Ronald was in the hospital with cirrhosis of the liver. That visit provided me the first opportunity to share the Gospel with him without interruption. Ronald’s response after my eloquent presentation of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our sins was, “No more drinking for me.” From this point forward, Ronald and I spoke freely about Christ. However, he was still skeptical. About seven years after our first encounter, God opened Ronald’s heart to receive Jesus as his Savior.  

Ronald and I had many times of sweet fellowship with Christ through home Bible studies. His heart became very tender toward the Lord. I had the privilege of conducting his funeral a few years ago. I rejoiced in the wonderful Gospel that not only saved Ronald and me from our sins but also infused the very love of God in our hearts. A love experienced, received, and a love that we can call our own. God’s initiating love to us enables us to have an initiating love for others. We can love because he first loved us. Others come to know Jesus’ love because we first love them with his love.

As we love others, God gives us greater love.

Jay (not his real name) asked me to invite him to our church through Facebook. I did not know him previously. He began coming to church and God began working in his heart. He struggled with giving up singing (for the world), which he loved, and trusting Christ as his Savior. Jay knew he could not keep serving the world if he turned to Jesus. One day he called to tell me he had decided to follow Jesus, not his worldly pursuits. I baptized Jay soon after.

Jay became a very clingy person and needed a lot of attention. He was quite willing to serve in the church when he was happy, but his emotions often got the best of him. His happiness increasingly revolved around me. If I did not respond to a text quickly, it broke him down emotionally. When I realized how harmful our relationship had become to his walk with Christ, I had to talk with him firmly but lovingly about the need for us to back off a bit. This only resulted in anger and great sorrow, which further resulted in slander and often complete silence. It hurt me to see how he reacted, but God helped me to keep reaching out to him. God reminded me of the young teenage boy whose parents took him out of homeschool because of extreme anger issues. Their choice helped that 14-year-old boy come to  Jesus and cry out to Him for help. In the same way as He helped those parents, the Lord helped me!

My relationship with Jay is still not all it could be, but God continues to bring him along to trust Him and find in Christ all the joy and fulfillment he needs. In this struggle, God is also teaching me to love a little more as Jesus loves.

Jesus loves only the unlovely.

So, how is it possible to love the unlovely? It is possible because Jesus loves only the unlovely—me and you! When we bask in His love for us, we who are still unlovely in so many ways, He miraculously makes us conduits of His love to others, unlovely as we are.

We love! What a miracle! Because Jesus loved us first!


1 Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), Copyright © 2008 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.