What Does It Mean To Love Your Neighbor
People today are far more interested in the manner in which they are loved than the manner in which they give love. People cry out, “You’re supposed to love your neighbor!” I typically see that when their goal (the reason they’re throwing that commandment in someone’s face) is to actually say, “Just let me do what I want!” The next most common reason for throwing that verse in someone’s face (observationally) is when there is a disagreement about some course of action or lifestyle choice.
Before we look up to Christ for his example on neighborly love, let’s just take a look at where these paths would lead if we take them to their logical conclusions.
Is love letting people do whatever they want? If the answer is yes, then any parent who ever denied their child a single thing is unloving. If this is true, then any manner of crime is really nothing more than an opportunity to love criminals because everyone (an absolute term) should be able to do whatever they want (another absolute term). This means that any act, no matter how despicable or detestable is permissible because it’s what the person wants to do, and it’s “unloving” to deny someone something they want.
I hope that when you see it put this way, you can see how utterly ridiculous that notion is. Love is not, nor has it ever been, letting people do what they want. It can’t be. So the idea that one should, “live and let live” falls apart on its face because some people are ignorant of the harm their actions could lead to (children) or simply uncaring about the consequences of their actions (criminals).
Naturally, some would would argue, “You know that’s not what I mean!” They argue that one should indeed be allowed to do whatever they want, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.”
That’s all fine and good, except what people don’t understand is that sin always hurts. We can’t try to live in a world where “hurt” is only evaluated by visible effects. After all, I am fully capable of doing whatever I want and be willfully ignorant of the consequences of those actions. That again wouldn’t make me loving, it would make me a psychopath.
There is no situation in which love can in any way be defined as the act of just letting people do what they want.
Some reading this may then say, “But you’ve said several times (even in this book) that you’re not telling anyone what to do.”
I’m not. I’m not however condoning those actions either. This book is designed to be a cooperative Christian evaluation to better understand Christian living. The fact that I don’t feel the need to repeatedly argue over every commandment every moment of my life doesn’t make me unloving or unChristian. If we define love by the manner in which we perceive love, we don’t actually understand what love is. Love is an action verb. One can be loved, but grammatically that person is the object of the love. The only way everyone can love is by loving, so we can not be loving by demanding to be the object of it.
Those reading this have the choice to accept what I am saying or deny it, and I’m not the judge to determine their righteousness. Christ is the righteous judge, the rest of us folk are just folk. With this in mind, I share my thoughts, using the truth of scripture as well as I know how to form those ideas and admitting that my human mind can never perfectly comprehend God’s sovereign design.
This leads me to that second commonly implied phrase: Some people believe that they should be able to say what they want to say and be left alone.
This nation has a freedom of speech that we must defend. This nation has a freedom of protest that we must also defend. But the right to speak and protest do not come with the requirement of the hearers to agree. Some would even say something to the effect of, “everyone has a right to his or her opinion.”
I don’t really want to debate that phrase (but it would be interesting to discuss), but even if it is true (I’m not sure either way) that still doesn’t actually imply that everyone must therefore agree with those opinions. In fact, that’s impossible. If we grant each person their right to an individual opinion we must, therefore, recognize that those opinions can’t en-mass agree with each other. The idea that everyone has a right to his or her individual opinion demands that people recognize that not everyone will agree.
Then I look at social media. I can’t look at social media for very long. Sure, there is some beautiful conversation, and exchange of beliefs and ideals, but more often than not, I see something like the following:
“I have an opinion! If you don’t share my opinion, unfriend me now because you’re a horrible human being! This is the opinion, and those who disagree with me aren’t worth knowing.”
Now how, exactly, is anyone supposed to be allowed to express their opinion with a blanket statement like that? People who post comments like that have already established that they’re God, and none who disagree with them are worthy of being in their presence. Ironically, some of those individuals then deny the existence of God even while acting like they are God. A comment like the one above is a beautiful example of how to be unloving. Only a perfect and Holy God could make laws for people to follow and then justly deny His presence to those who don’t follow those commands. Ironically, people balk at God’s laws, but feel perfectly justified establishing their own laws. People debate the existence of God, but have no problem denying other people into their circle.
I don’t see how that makes sense. If God must be one who’s tolerant of everything and would allow anyone to do anything, how then is that person justified denying anyone of anything? If God is just, and He can make commandments and then justly deny His presence to those who don’t obey those commands, then we must follow God and obey His commandments, careful to be sure we don’t try to overthrow God by establishing our own laws. In neither case can any human justify a stance like the one above.
Of course there are those who aren’t that oppositional in a post.
“I have an opinion,” they say.
Maybe the first reply is something completely rational.
“I disagree,” they may say. “Here is my contrary opinion.”
But that’s when all pretense of polite society vanish. Further replies are full of vitriol and anger. The discussion withers away from an exchange of ideas and beliefs (the beautiful marketplace of ideas) to personal attacks and accusations that sometimes have nothing at all to do with the original opinion.
If love is the right of people to share their opinions, you must then allow everyone to share those opinions.
Our very freedom of speech and protest in America is a perfect example of that. I hear things I vehemently disagree with. I see protests for things (or against things) I stand against (or for). The beauty of this nation’s freedoms is that they allow for people to be heard. It still doesn’t demand others listen, nor does it require such. The marketplace of ideas (a phrase coined by Justice William O. Douglas in the Supreme Court decision United States v. Rumley in 1953), only ensures that ideas can reach the market. This puts the onus on people to accept or reject them.
This chapter has reached the 1,300 word mark, and some may be thinking, “I thought we were talking about love.”
Welcome to my point of view. People who want love to be about what others allow them to do or what others allow them to say are not talking about love. This is because love isn’t defined by the recipient.
“But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).”
There is the definition of love. Love is sacrifice. Love is a gift. Love is not a requirement. Love is not based on the person receiving it. Love is an action.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).”
So how then do we obey God’s second command an love our neighbor. Christ gave us an example of this during one of His debates.
“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live (Luke 10:25-28).’”
He were see Christ affirming the importance of the great commandments. If we do just those things, all will be well, but that doesn’t actually show us how. The Lawyer saw that gap and challenged it.
“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay when I come back.” Which of theses three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise (Luke 10:29-37).’”
There is so much more to pick apart here than just the application of love. However, I don’t want to get caught in debates on whether this is an endorsement of socialism or universal healthcare or any other political distraction. Christ wasn’t talking to a ruler about how a nation should be run. Nor was he talking about how a country should be led. He was answering a direct question about who a man’s neighbor is. Using that as context, we can look at this for what it essentially is.
We love our neighbor by caring and providing for them. Note that Jews and Samaritans were bitter rivals. Jews had such distain for Samaritans that they would walk around the land just to avoid it even if going through would help them reach their destination more quickly.
Love is sacrifice. Love is a man using his own supplies to help someone beaten and robbed. Love is sacrifice. Love is a man using his own money to provide someone a place to rest and heal.
Again some may want to distract from the message to pursue another message. We’re talking about a man who was robbed and beaten. We’re not talking about someone who threw himself into debt or a person who hasn’t gained experience to get a better job. We’re talking about a specific event in time and how it shows love.
We show love by treating others how we want to be treated even if they don’t treat us that way. This means love isn’t reciprocal. Love is not dependent on being loved. Romans 5:8 (quoted above) shows us how selfless love is. While we were at enmity with God, he still sacrificed for us. Even as they drove the nails into His hands, Christ did not cry out for justice or vengeance. He did not curse them as the executed him. He didn’t do any of that. Nor did he charge his apostles to seek justice for his name. Instead, while they were driving the nails into His hands, He asked God to forgive them. His great commission was not a campaign against anything, but a command to teach others.
“‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).’”
Too often we demand love and yet are unwilling to offer it. We cry out in general for human rights and equality, but we deny the sick or homeless person we drive by. Even in this, we can fail. We toss out some change to a homeless person, which doesn’t actually help. At best, it only provides a momentary comfort.
But to love our neighbor as ourselves demands persistent action on our part even if we are denied love by everyone else. This can be hard. Even in relationships, people desire reciprocal love rather than offer love.
Does this mean a wife who’s been cheated on 16 times should just “sacrifice” and let her husband cheat? No! Even Christ allowed for divorce in that regard. Love, therefore, is not the willful ignorance of transgression. This means we are allowed rebuke. We are allowed dispute. Love allows for a person to address grievance. But even a lawful divorce of that sort doesn’t demand the husband (who should) repent and stop cheating; it just allows for the wife to leave an unloving marriage (for the reason of sexual immorality).
But more important than relationships where there is an expectation of love is the acknowledgment that “our neighbor” is not limited to “people we like” or “people we associate with.”
Our neighbor is anyone to whom we show mercy. Our neighbor is anyone to whom we show compassion. Our neighbor is anyone.
Does this create a sort of circular paradox in which we must then allow others to do what they wish? No!
That’s because love isn’t tolerance. Love isn’t willful ignorance.
There may be even more to peel back here. On this Earth, God has provided us all things. While we are on this Earth, we are given choices. God, who can justly cast us away, lovingly allows us the choice even if it might cost us eternity with Him. He didn’t do this without caution or warning. He’s provided the truth through His word. He’s provided us salvation through Christ. God has given us every opportunity to love, honor, and serve Him. It’s up to us to do so.
We do that by loving others. We do this by loving our neighbors as we would be loved. And the more we Love as God loves, the better we will be. This means we love with grace and truth. We love with generosity and discernment. We love with integrity and patience. This is a start to loving our neighbors.
For our panel: What other examples of neighborly love can we find in Scripture? Does love obligate tolerance? How do we apply these lessons in our life? Does this lesson on neighborly love apply to a nation’s laws? How do we step away from the desire to receive love and step toward the path to be loving?