Love Your Neighbor

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” Matt 5:33-34  Here we find words of Christ that are easy to understand but sometimes hard to keep. I could focus on how difficult it is to treat our enemies the way Jesus describes in this passage and it would be a needful lesson for us all. But instead I want to focus on the first part of Jesus’ statement, “You shall love your neighbor”. It seems that many have forgotten this part of Jesus’ teaching. Yes, we need to work hard to love our enemies but we must work even harder to make sure we do not show hatred for our neighbors. We must love our enemies and our neighbors, is that what our actions show?

As Christians we can easily divide the two groups Jesus speaks of in this passage. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” The Israelites’ neighbors were their own people. So the saying went that they should love the children of their people (Israelites) and hate all other nations around them. In Christ, all those surrounding nations have the opportunity to become neighbors, citizens of the kingdom – “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” Eph 2:19   Now if the surrounding nations have become neighbors, who is the enemy? In Matthew 12:30 Jesus says, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” Those who are not with Christ are not with us and therefore are our enemies.

If am writing about love then why am I making a distinction between those of the world (our enemies) and our brethren (our neighbors) seeing that we are to love both groups? I make the distinction to show how some have not adhered to Jesus’ teaching. Instead of loving both neighbor and enemy some love their enemy and hate their brethren. I know it’s a bold claim but there is plenty of evidence to support it. Consider the following actions and ask yourself if they are a display of love or hate:

Gossip – Baseball has long been proclaimed “America’s favorite pastime” but I think gossip may have taken the top spot some time ago. You can’t turn on the T.V. news or the radio anymore without hearing the “celebrity scoop” with even a little hometown gossip thrown in every once in a while. The emergence of social media seems to have added to the gossip craze or at least has made what once would have been kept between a few close friends public.

The scriptures speak loudly against such – “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases” Prov 26:20 “A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends” Prov 16:28  In Romans 1:29 whisperers are placed with the likes of murderers and the sexually immoral.

We can turn our T.V.’s off, change the dial on the radio, and log off of facebook to escape some of the gossip that’s being spread today. But sadly, when we get together with brethren we find that we simply can’t escape it. And worst of all (as if gossip itself isn’t bad enough) the tales we hear are often about other Christians, our neighbors, the ones we are supposed to love!

Love does no harm to a neighbor (Rom 13:10) but gossip seeks to bring them harm.  Maybe harm isn’t the intent but it will surely be the result. Some think that as long as their facts are true then they are alright to tell. If I love my brother then he is the one I will tell. If he has sinned love compels me to try to pull him out. If I’m not sure if he has sinned love will lead me to get his side of the story and gather all the facts. If he has sinned and is unrepentant even after two or three have accompanied me to talk to him then I am to tell it to the church, not to three of my closest friends who can surely keep a secret. Let us love our brethren and not gossip about them.

Evil Thoughts – As a bible teacher I try to stress the importance of looking at the context. Without the proper context it is nearly impossible to draw the proper conclusions. Just as the scriptures have context so do our lives. Context: The set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc. ( Actions may be clearly seen and words can be clearly heard, but without the proper context we cannot know the meaning of the words or know the reason for the actions.

John rushed through the door with an angry expression on his face. He walked right past without even looking my way much less speaking to me. And that wasn’t the first time either, it’s been three weeks since he has said so much as hello. He must be mad at me; well two can play this game.

If we are honest with ourselves we’ve all probably ran through this scenario in our minds. We just know that John doesn’t like us and can’t believe that he would treat us that way. 1 Cor 13:5 says love thinks no evil and verse 7 says love believes all things. If we love our brethren then our reaction to the previous scenario would be concern for John’s well-being. Is he sick? Maybe something is going on at work that’s really troubling him. Surely there is a good explanation for his actions. If we knew the whole story maybe we could make a better judgment but without the facts any determination we make would only be speculation. If we are going to be in the business of speculation let’s err on the side of love; think no evil. Matt 5:22 speaks of those who are angry with their brother without cause and likens them to murderers. Many times this anger is a result of thinking evil about our brother.

Doing Nothing – We may take pride in the fact that we do not engage in gossip, neither telling nor listening. Maybe we can honestly say that we try to think the best of everyone and give them the benefit of the doubt so we can’t be accused of thinking evil. In fact there’s not one thing we have done that could be submitted as evidence that we hate our brother. I’m not sure if doing nothing actually counts as an action but it can certainly be considered as evidence of hatred.

“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?1 Jn 3:17 “Shuts up his heart from him”, that’s a pretty strong statement but that’s how Jesus describes those who are unwilling to help a brother in need. In Matt 25:41-43 Jesus says those who fail to assist a brother in need will be told to depart from Him into everlasting fire. Eternal condemnation pronounced on those who did nothing.

It’s obvious that we have a responsibility to help care for our brethren’s physical needs and while I’m sure there are times when this is neglected, there are far more instances of a brother’s spiritual needs being neglected. Consider the Lord’s warning to Ezekiel, “When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.” Eze 3:18  There are many reasons we might give as to why we fail to warn our brethren but the bottom line is, we don’t love them. When we don’t take the actions the Lord has commanded us to try and restore those who are in error, we don’t love them.

We need to follow the Lord’s command to love our enemies but let us not forget to love our brethren as well. Very few have kept themselves from the actions mentioned so there is not much room for finger pointing. I realize I need to love my brethren better and more consistently than I have in the past. Let us all work together and love one another as we should.

Written by Brad Sullivan

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