Updated: May 29, 2020
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself
We find ourselves pinned in the middle of Matthew 22:34-40 after my last post. Here we find a lawyer asking Jesus a question in order to test his knowledge on the greatest commandment. Jesus responded to him and others listening with with two commandments instead. The first being, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. The second commandment, he said, was like the first - like it, but not it: To love your neighbor as yourself. He finishes by saying, "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Why these two commandments, you may be asking? What about murdering, lying, stealing, and committing adultery? Why is loving the Lord first, and your neighbor as yourself second? It is upon these two commandments that the way we both react and sometimes deliberately act towards the world around us is seen either in action or inaction. These two commandments are the pillars upon which all other things we do as Christians stand.
As we read in my post prior, loving the Lord with all of ourselves is not a task we can ever do perfectly. Similarly, loving our neighbors as ourselves is like it in that way. What then? Are we to throw out these commandments from anything we do? Absolutely not. Jesus's words were said and commands given not for us to just simply read them. Rather, the Bible is the living, breathing word of God. It is not given to us so that we as finite men and women can transform it to our likeness, but so that it transforms us to Christ's. Transformation happens not through works, merit, or ability to be perfect in all that you do.Transformation is through Christ alone; through both accepting him as your savior and rightly placing him of Lord over your whole life - even over the part where we are to love our neighbors. All neighbors. Even the ones that seem unloveable to you. Loving them is not something we do because are 'good' people but only because He loved us first. (1 John 4:19). His love is not something we earn nor deserve. How much more than should we love others out of an overflow of that?
In a time where the impacts of a global pandemic are touching almost everyone in the entire world, loving your neighbor seems to be a common discussion point in both the secular and Christian communities. Whether through donating money, making masks, respecting social distances, rallying for American freedom, speaking against economic-impacting decisions, checking in on your lonely friends, and everything in between, everyone seems to be trying to love their neighbor in whatever way they feel lead to do so. In reference to the desire to come together as a humanity, an article in Equality Now referred to the era of COVID-19 as a time for "strength, humanity, and kindness." (Equality Now, 2020) In another article, 8 year old twins donated their allowance to help those in need during the virus. (Grande, 2020) In the midst of the difficult or argumentative news, we are still infiltrated with both the discussion of loving others and acts of doing it. If the secular world is stressing the importance of loving others during this time, how much more should we as Christians aim to be doing it for both the glory of God and goodness of others? Furthermore, as both Christians and non-Christians find at least some common ground in the need for loving our neighbors, what then does the Bible provide as a distinction on both who the neighbor is and how to love them as Jesus loves us?
A neighbor is predominantly thought of as someone who lives in close proximity to you. Many would extend the idea of a neighbor to those that live in your city or closer community. For those that take it even deeper, a neighbor might be family members or friends. An important distinction in the teachings of Jesus is that the neighbor we are to love.. well, they are actually everyone. Everyone are our neighbors. Whether we know them personally or never remember their faces. We are all on the same playing field when it comes to those that are considered neighbors. I am yours and you are mine. Those in the prison system and those in government. Those in America the free and China the totalitarian state. Those that pick up arms for good causes and those that choose to use them for harm. Those that stay in their homes fearful of the virus and those that protest against social distancing. We. Are. All. Neighbors. Does that mean that we agree and condone all that each other are doing? Nope. Loving what someone does and loving them are not the same thing. We are not commanded by Jesus in Matthew 22 to love the actions of a man. We are called to love him. The human. The one who was also made in the image of God like you and I.
Do we love those that only love God? Do we love those that look and act like us? Do we love those that are difficult to love? Charles Spurgeon says it like this, "Is not a man still a man whether dressed in rags or riches? Is not a man still a man whether he believes in God, practices another religion, or believes in nothing at all?" We as Christians should be at the forefront of loving others expecting nothing in return. Why? Because Jesus commands it and even more, because he loved us when we were unloveable first. We are not to love with an agenda or because we want to be the ones to convert others to believing in God the way we do. Of course we want and desire for them to know God and have a relationship with him. That is good. But we are not their savior. You are to love them because you want to show them Christ's love for them. Don't love them so you can check off your box of converting someone to Christianity. Instead, we are to say, "I will love you, whoever you are, simply because." No secret agenda, no self-seeking motive, but because it is he who is love that loved me first.
Many in the world would say they are being loving to all others, but I would argue many of us are just simply not hating them, trying not to annoy them, or keeping out of their way. In Matthew 22, Jesus does not say to simply not hate your neighbors. He makes an important distinction in saying love them. I want you to imagine in your mind someone you have a hard time loving. Maybe it is someone that hurt you, someone of a different race or religion, those that commit crimes and make money from illegal actions, or maybe it's all the above or something else entirely. This person (or people) may have done something considered illegal in the laws of the government or based upon your own personal convictions. Regardless of what they have done, we are called to love them. How? We are not to condemn vindictively based upon our own personal agendas. We are to love them in a way that is for the glory of God. It is not to serve our own selfish motives but as Charles Spurgeon says, so that they may be lead to repent in anything they have done that is sinful - not just the thing we feel they have done to us. We are to love them in our hearts not to hand out what we deem as punishment but rather to to teach them the evil of it and induce them to forsake it themselves. This is what a love that comes from an overflow of loving God looks like. It does not seek punishment, but it aims to draw them to God. God is the ultimate authority in justice for all things. He knows perfectly what is right and wrong. Therefore, our aim of loving someone should never be to seek revenge based upon our ideals, but to trust God whom we love with our hearts, souls, and minds. We are called even as we don't want to, to stoop to them wherever they are; meeting them there to love them and lift them up to see the kingdom of God. We don't look at their lack of ability to live a perfect life as a means to negate their ability to be loved. We are commanded to love them. We don't have to love what they do or how they do things. We are commanded to love them because they bear the image of God and identity of sinner just like you and me. This does not mean you welcome every person that has hurt or harmed you and others into your home every night as if they are family. Instead, this means we are not to let our hearts turn hardened towards them. Loving them is just as much through action as it is through heart posture. For we can even give charity to others without even loving them at all. For where our hands can say one thing, our hearts speak something entirely of another. Don't let your hearts be hardened to those you deem unloveable or even unlikeable. Rather, love them because He loved you first.
As you've read now over and over that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, many of you then might be saying, "I don't even love myself." I pray we all see ourselves as God sees us. I pray we don't speak unkindly of ourselves and treat our bodies and souls instead as the temples they are, but I want to say a hard truth to us all (me included). How we live, what we do each day, and even what we read and listen to is more often than not, centered around ourselves. Maybe you don't like how you look. I've been there. Maybe you want a different job or to be able to pay your bills on time. I've been there too. But how much more do our daily actions point towards our love for money, jobs, material things, pets, and whatever else we look to that shows a love to ourselves? Moreover, take a walk down some aisles at your local Barnes & Noble when quarantine is done. There are shelves filled with "self-help" books. All of them point towards us. How to lose weight, how to be the best entrepreneur, how to gain followers on social media, how to make yourself more attractive for a potential partner... and on and on. I'm not saying these are bad things, but if we spend this much time aiming to love ourselves, how much more should we be putting effort towards loving our neighbors? Loving ourselves does not have to mean we lose the effort and desire to love others. One does not have to exist so that the other goes away. They exist together as Jesus said. We are to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. I ask myself and you this,
"As we keep our gaze focused down on ourselves so much that we don't lift our eyes even for a second, how many neighbors do we miss who need our love?"
I don't write this to shame you or make you feel guilty. Rather, I write it so that instead of condemning ourselves in our inability to do any of these things perfectly, we seek to lean on the strength and guidance from God. Seek Him daily on who the neighbors are in our lives that He has called us to love everyday. If your path upon loving others is rough, tread stronger; Dig into the strength of the Lord who is endless in endurance and steadfast love. (Psalm 117)
Don't seek revenge and don't neglect those who you don't inherently want to love. Instead, choose to love them. Not because you are a good person but because the Creator of the universe, in his mighty and perfect grace, chose to love you first. He looked at all who were unloveable and sent part of himself in Jesus not just for eternal life but so that we could experience the most perfect act of love that ever was. For those that know Christ as your savior I pray you don't hold so tightly onto the undeserved grace and love that he gives you, that you don't allow for it to flow through you and out onto your neighbors. All the neighbors. We don't love because they love us. We love because he who is himself love, loved us first.
" And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this:‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”