The Sort Of Backwards, God-Appointed Way To Grow In Love

In Luke 7, Simon the Pharisee looked with disgust upon a prostitute who wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears. Jesus told Simon a story of a moneylender who forgave two debtors who couldn’t repay him, one owing ten times more than the other. When he asked Simon which would love the moneylender more he answered the one with the larger debt. Can you imagine Simon’s shock when Jesus said,

Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. LK 7:44-47

Here’s how to grow in love for Jesus and others: contemplate your sins and failures. Contemplate your sins before Jesus saved you. Contemplate your recent failures. Think about your willful sins and your many weaknesses. Not for the purpose of becoming depressed or condemned but for the purpose of cultivating gratitude, love and mercy.

The woman in the Gospel had been forgiven much – she was a prostitute. She’d committed adultery and fornication probably hundreds of times. But her realization of being forgiven every one of her sins caused her to overflow with love for Jesus. Self-righteous Simon had little awareness of his sinfulness and need of a savior, so he had little or no love for Jesus. He didn’t even extend to him the common courtesies one would extend to any guest.

This is why we should welcome the worst of sinners to our churches – because Jesus welcomed us. He didn’t look down on us, but loved, forgave and embraced us. If he has been so accepting and welcoming to us, shouldn’t we do the same for others?

But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, willfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility — they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ; Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much, because much has been forgiven them!”

“They dare not, they will not ascribe anything to themselves — but are glad to acknowledge, that they must have perished a thousand times over — if Jesus had not been their Savior, their Shepherd, and their Shield! When they were wandering — He brought them back. When they were fallen — He raised them. When they were wounded — He healed them. When they were fainting — He revived them. By him, out of weakness, they have been made strong. He has taught their hands to battle, and covered their heads in the day of battle. In a word, some of the clearest proofs they have had of his excellence — have been occasioned by the mortifying proofs they have had of their own vileness. They would not have known so much of him — if they had not known so much of themselves! –John Newton

How much more quickly would we forgive those who sin against us if we thought often about God’s mercy to us. How much more gentle would we be in restoring those ensnared in sin if we remembered Christ’s tenderness to us. How much more loving would husbands be to their wives (and vice versa) if they regularly contemplated God’s patience with them. How much more forbearing would parents be with their children’s failures. How much more welcoming would churches be.

A few months ago a woman asked me, “Does your church welcome anyone?” Two weeks ago, a young man asked me, “Does your church welcome misfits?” People are hesitant to come to churches because they fear being looked down upon for one reason or another.

Let us love much for we have been forgiven much.

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.