What comes to mind with the phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself?” What does that mean? Sure, the parable of the Good Samaritan is helpful, but there aren’t many folks beaten up and left for dead on the side of the road in my neighborhood. I like to think I’d stop to help. So, what’s it look like today? And, why is it so important?
Love your neighbor as yourself is actually a command from Jesus. It’s not a suggestion, or a life tip, or a self-help strategy. It’s a command (also found in Leviticus) from the same guy who said, “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.” So it’s kinda important.
Jesus uses this command (along with loving God) to sum up the entire Law and the Prophets – the super thick book of the Old Testament with its 600+ laws.
Here’s what Matthew tells us in his account of Jesus. In an effort to trip Jesus up, the religious leaders send in some hard-hitting Pharisees (the kind of obnoxious zealots like Paul before his conversion). They ask,
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Is it really that simple? Love God and love people? Yes. It’s that simple. And, it’s that demanding – to borrow from Andy Stanley series, Brand: New.
Even John, Jesus’ close friend, in his gospel reminds us of this from Jesus – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Love? Okay, sure. Love God, of course! But love one another? Love my neighbor? How does this fit?
Stanley does a great job making clear that loving others is the way we love God. He leans on Matthew, chapter 25:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’…’The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
In other words, loving others is how we love God – the two go together. If you’re mean to my kids, you’re mean to me. If you love my kids, you love me. Same with our Creator.
Now, this can quickly turn into feeding the poor and charities…etc. These are great and important efforts, but there’s lots more. C.S. Lewis does a great job describing, Love your neighbor as yourself. In his book, Mere Christianity, he talks about the one person we love, and are very quick to forgive, repeatedly – ourselves.
I’m not referring to the “don’t beat yourself up” type of forgiveness when we make a stupid mistake. Rather, the toxic thoughts and actions that occupy us daily that we keep secret. How do we love ourselves with hearts and minds full of garbage? “What garbage,?” you protest. What about our lusts that we’re so quick to ignore? Or our hate-filled thoughts of the many whom we deem inferior? How about the secret idolatry of money, power, or prestige? There are even poisonous thoughts and actions against family, friends, and co-workers. Of all these and many more, we’d have a hard time loving and forgiving if we noticed them in others. But ourselves….well, that’s different…
Perhaps forgive isn’t appropriate in all the cases. Justify may be more fitting. We justify our thoughts and actions, knowing (consciously or not) the deeper triggers that drive us. Thus, we give ourselves leeway, patience – we practice a sort of blind grace – never fully understanding the true nature of our disease. It’s a blissfully, ignorant sort of love we have for ourselves.
Now, in our day, few of us will admit such sin – or even call it sin. Even fewer are open to discuss the nastiness inside us. Instead, we try to ignore it, but end up working hard to quietly bear it. We hope for change, freedom, longing for something better, searching for unconditional love, failing to see the futility of our own efforts.
This is our state. How do we, in such a state, “love our neighbor,” who is filled with this same wretchedness?
Perhaps that’s the answer. Perhaps a willingness to recognize this same wretchedness in our own hearts. That we, just like our neighbor, are far more similar than we care to think. We may not be beating our wife, but we may be abusing a co-worker with slander, or wishing for their demise. We may not be addicted to drugs, but we simply can’t go without our morning coffee….oh, wait.
Perhaps recognizing our sinfulness allows us to have grace and forgiveness and gentleness and love for our neighbor.
To fellow Christians, we can boast only that we’re sinners saved by a gracious and loving God who is busy fixing stuff in His great restoration project of New Creation. In fact, it’s often during moments of profound failure and disappointment that we feel the love of God and His forgiveness wash over us, picking us back up with a new confidence combined with a fresh humility.
Our forgiveness, our understanding of God’s graciousness toward us, His incredible love for us, despite our wickedness, allows us to love our neighbor. The deeper we understand the cross (God’s furious love for us), the easier the yoke of loving others will be – we might even be glad to put it on.
Thanks for reading,