Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Who is NOT Your Neighbor?

Who is NOT Your Neighbor?

Though we likely do not know each other, we share a mutual love. It is a sentiment that is tough to admit but harder to deny - the evidence is overwhelming. Not only can I “marshal verses” to prove we possess this passion, but our family and closest friends would gladly testify against us confirming this trait.

This pervasive passion? We love ourselves – bunches. No doubt, we all do some serious self-loathing at times– some far more than others. However, on the whole, most of us feed and care for ourselves pretty doggone well. If you are in some measure sitting upright, clothed and in your right mind (see Mark 5:15), you show evidence of healthy, God-given self-love.

Here is a twist for you to consider: even some of our low self-esteem is evidence of self-love. If I did not love me, it would not matter that I thought badly of me at times. Let that soak in. It is my deep concern for me that alerts me to my needs, be they physical, social or emotional.

Good news. This is not meant as a guilt trip, but a sweet hook-setter. When Jesus set the standard of love for us to show towards others – the second greatest commandment – He chose our love for “little old us.” No 10% tithe here. This is an all-out, deep, spare-no-expense love.

When asked which commandment was most important, Jesus answered: “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” As a bonus, He added that the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as you love yourself. There are no other commandments greater than these, said He (see Mark 12:28-31).

If I would love others as much as I love me, and if you would do the same – whoa! Our self-partiality is an incredibly high standard to set for our practical care for others. It is not simply “do others no harm” as lofty as that would be. No, it is do good unto others the way you want them to treat you.

“Yes” we say, “but who is my neighbor? That is a big, broad command.” Great question! A Jewish Law expert already asked it of Jesus. Hearing Jesus’ summary of the Law, he got defensive and felt a need to justify his lack of love for others, especially non-Jews (Luke 10:25-37).

Jesus answered this question with the story of “The Good Samaritan.” Your neighbor is the person in your life that has a need, not just your family, friends and favorites. Jesus did not narrow the scope, but kicked out our safe parameters.

Our neighborhoods are much bigger than we think (or like). It includes many we would rather exclude, be they the wrong - I mean different - race, nationality, economic or educational strata or people pursuing life style choices we find offensive.

The Second Commandment is much simpler than we may like. When God puts someone in your life, tell them “welcome to the ‘hood!” and then love on ‘em, just like you love you. We do not want to be like murderous Cain, who smugly asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). Able’s blood answers, “Yes,” as do the unmet needs of many we encounter but ignore. Here is a dare: Read James 2 and 1 John 3:11-24.

A fully developed neighbor-love-to-the-max includes not just the lovable. It is a love in “3 – D” that includes Distant People (Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 10:12-17), Different People (Acts 1:8; Rom. 16; Rev. 5:9-13) and Difficult People (Matt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-38; John 13:1-17).

Whom do you find it hard to love: the poor, the rich, minorities, majorities, Muslims, homosexuals, men, women, family, next door neighbors? God controls who is part of your neighborhood. He brings people across our paths for a purpose. Remember Ephesians 2:8-10? (See also Romans 12:9-13; Hebrews 6:10-12; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:3-9.)

The Christians in Rome were exhorted: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments… are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10 – NIV). See also 1 Samuel 15:22; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Matt. 9:13; 12:7.

To a church that was already great at loving people – something churches strive for and many pride themselves in - Paul wrote: “And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more” (1 Thess. 4:10 - NIV).

Ironically, it is your love for yourselves that gets in the way of your love for others, as mine does me. In a sentence, Jesus made it clear that if I love me and you love you – and we do – then we are to also love each other in like manner.


Rich said...

This is so timely. At no other time in my life do we need to be loving on folks more than now.

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