Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40 (MEV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor. Hate your enemy.’ But here is what I tell you. Love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. Then you will be children of your Father who is in heaven. He causes his sun to shine on evil people and good people. He sends rain on those who do right and those who don’t. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Even the tax collectors do that. If you greet only your own people, what more are you doing than others? Even people who are ungodly do that. Matthew 5:43-47 (NIRV)
Jesus said to love our neighbor AND love our enemies. There are two implications here. The first is that our neighbors might BE our enemies. The second, is that what Jesus is really saying is to love everybody, that way you don’t miss one.
You all remember the story of the Good Samaritan, right?
But do you remember the story behind the story? Here’s how it went down:
A lawyer got up and put Jesus on the spot.
‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what should I do to inherit the life of the coming age?’
‘Well,’ replied Jesus, ‘what is written in the law? What’s your interpretation of it?’
‘You shall love the Lord your God’, he replied, ‘with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your understanding; and your neighbour as yourself.’
‘Well said!’ replied Jesus. ‘Do that and you will live.’
‘Ah,’ said the lawyer, wanting to win the point, ‘but who is my neighbour?’
Jesus rose to the challenge. ‘Once upon a time,’ he said, ‘a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and was set upon by brigands. They stripped him and beat him and ran off leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, and when he saw him he went past on the opposite side. So too a Levite came by the place; he saw him too, and went past on the opposite side.
‘But a travelling Samaritan came to where he was. When he saw him he was filled with pity. He came over to him and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine. Then he put him on his own beast, took him to an inn, and looked after him. The next morning, as he was going on his way, he gave the innkeeper two dinars. “Take care of him,” he said, “and on my way back I’ll pay you whatever else you need to spend on him.”
‘Which of these three do you think turned out to be the neighbour of the man who was set upon by the brigands?’
‘The one who showed mercy on him,’ came the reply.
‘Well,’ Jesus said to him, ‘you go and do the same.’ Luke 10:25-37 (NTE)
With this parable, Jesus answered two questions—”Who is my neighbor?” and “What does love really look like?”
A neighbor is anyone you come into contact with, not just those you would PREFER to come into contact with.
Agape, the Greek word for “love” in this example, is not an emotion, but an action. It is kindness in motion, having an unselfish concern for others, seeking the best for them, and doing everything in your power to make that happen.
The Samaritan had no incentive to help the Jewish man in the story, as Jews and Samaritans hated each other with a passion. Nevertheless, he was motivated by love for God to show compassion to this man, who on any other day would just as soon have spit on him as looked at him.
Love involves sacrifice in any context, but much more so when it involves our enemies. It’s easier to step on someone’s neck than lift them up, especially if they don’t like you either.
Love of this nature can only come from a posture of humility. To seek the best for others, you must already be in the habit of having a mindset that the welfare of others takes priority over your own.
Now that does not mean to never look after your own interests. Just consider the needs of others first, THEN yours. Have the heart of a servant, just like Jesus did. He set us a clear example of what that looks like, throughout His entire ministry, and explicitly at the Last Supper. So why do we have such a tough time following that example?
Rights or Responsibilities?
Freedom is a word that gets thrown around a lot here in the US! Especially in an election year. Vote for (fill in the blank) because OUR FREEDOM IS AT STAKE!!! Another word that gets used interchangeably with this kind of freedom is “rights.” Our Constitution has a Bill of Rights. We have the right to do this, or not to do that. “Don’t you dare violate my rights!”
But Christians are called to a different, I would even say higher, form of freedom. While American freedom is preoccupied with individual rights, Christian freedom is about communal responsibilities.
Loving your neighbor calls for the realization that you are part of something bigger, a member of a larger body. Within the Church, we refer to ourselves as the Body of Christ. However, any community inside or outside of the Church is also a body, whether it is a household, neighborhood, city, state, or country.
No one lives in a vacuum.
What we do affects others, whether we can see it or not. A HUGE problem in our society is that people have forgotten the basic principle that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Paul addressed this problem in the church at Corinth in this way:
There’s a slogan often quoted on matters like this: “All things are permitted.” Yes, but not all things are beneficial. “All things are permitted,” they say. Yes, but not all things build up and strengthen others in the body. We should stop looking out for our own interests and instead focus on the people living and breathing around us. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (The VOICE)
Yes, we have rights. Yes, we have freedom of speech; therefore, yes, we ought to be able to speak truth, whenever and wherever and amongst whomever we find ourselves. Technically. But just because we can doesn’t always mean that we should.
Here is something you might not have considered.
Even if you’re right in what you say, someone hearing it may not have a full understanding of the issue at hand. If someone questions you out of simple ignorance, you can gently educate them to build them up to where you are. However, if you argue, shout them down or otherwise dig in your heels to assert your rightness, not only are you failing to get your own point across effectively, but you are also making it less likely that the other person will ask other significant questions in the future.
Furthermore, they may develop a closed-off or hostile attitude about you as a person, and by extension any group with which you are affiliated. Can you see how potentially devastating it can be when Christians behave this way?
Great job Ace, you won an argument that you never should have been in (slow hand clap), and you lost a soul for the Kingdom in the process. You exercised your Constitutional right to voice your opinion, but you broke God’s commandment to love your neighbor.
It all comes down to the question of rights.
If you’re only focused on your own, eventually you’re going to be depriving someone else of theirs. Rights are about exercising your freedom. However, responsibility is the freedom to lay aside your rights for the greater good, just as Jesus laid aside His divinity to come down here with us, not to mention His LIFE.
Freedom of speech is great until you say something that isn’t true, and it spreads like COVID on the Internet. By that point (and it only takes hours in this age of technology), it’s too late for an apology or retraction. The damage is done and is not likely to be undone.
For this reason, love dictates that the freedom of speech should be in submission to the responsibility to speak truthfully, and to lift others up instead of tearing them down. As Paul directed the Ephesians:
Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. Ephesians 4:29 (GNT)
This is useful advice in any context, but especially on social media. Here are some questions every Truthseeker should ask themselves before posting:
- Is what I am saying building up orders according to their needs?
- Do I even know what those needs are? (I.e., Did I really listen to what they were saying?)
- Have I tested my own perceptions and beliefs before questioning theirs?
- Do I for sure know what I’m talking about, or am I about to spout an opinion based on emotion rather than reasoning?
- What effect might my words have for those lurking on this post or page that aren’t directly involved in the conversation?
- What is my motivation for making this post? Am I trying to illuminate Truth or win an argument?
- If a non-believer reads this post, is it going to make them more curious to see what this God thing is all about, or will it make them say, “See, I told you those people were all ignorant douchebags.”
The best practice we can all learn is to do everything we can to widen the gap between stimulus and response. It’s easy to feel anger. It’s harder, but more beneficial, to take a breath, think things through, and respond constructively. It requires wisdom to understand that sometimes the most constructive and loving response is no response at all.
I hope you are enjoying National Good Neighbor Day. Lots more coming from Truth Mission in October. Click the Free Newsletter link to make sure you don’t miss anything potentially life-changing!