Have you ever come to the end of a conversation and all you could say was “Wow?” I do not mean out of excitement. I am talking about sadness or bewilderment. You find that it is the only response you can muster. Lately, I have experienced many of these conversations with Christ-followers living all over these United States. But before I take this any further, please allow me to hang a little backdrop.
As a Jesus-follower, I am called by the Jesus I follow to, well, follow Him. As one of the wonderful senior ladies from our church explained, “I am not called to be impressed by Jesus. I am called to imitate Him.” To say it a different way, I must learn to listen, trust, obey and enjoy Him. Now on to the backdrop.
One day Jesus was asked by a religious expert (ironically), “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. (But for Jesus that wasn’t it. There was something inextricably connected to “loving God.”) Jesus said, “The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (And here is perhaps the most controversial, mind-boggling, worldview-challenging statement of all) “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” All the Law and Prophets? All 613 commands in the Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy), plus the rest of the Old Testament? All of it hangs–rests or places their weight–on these two simple commands? Sure, I could see the “love God” part. But the “love your neighbor” piece? Back to my post.
As a Christ-follower I have been called to embrace both. As a “preacher” I have to teach both. I cannot escape one without the other in my life, much less as a preacher/teacher/pastor in King Jesus’ church. But here is what I find to be true and often leaves me saying “Wow.” Church-folk (that includes me) are almost always fine with conversations that center around loving God. We expect it. It makes sense. But conversations that center around “loving neighbor,” well, lets just say that can cause a bit of trouble.
Love your neighbor. Neighbor. This isn’t about proximity. This is about mercy extended to any fellow human being created in the image of God. So Jesus says, “love your neighbor.” Your loud neighbor. Your rude neighbor. Your enemy neighbor. Your muslim neighbor. Your gay neighbor. Your straight neighbor. Your partying hard neighbor.Your democrat neighbor. Your republican neighbor. Your doesn’t-look-like-me-or-act-like-me neighbor. Your neighbor with a different skin color. Your neighbor who lives half a world away. Your rich neighbor. Your poor neighbor. Your. Neighbor. My neighbor. Remember the story behind the all famous good Samaritan? Remember what made him “good.” He was a good neighbor who loved his neighbor.
But what does “love your neighbor” look like? It can take on many forms. Regardless of how you or I decide what loving our neighbor looks like, one thing is sure: love is a verb. It requires action. It requires me to put skin on the compassion I feel in my heart. It requires me to be a good neighbor by doing good for and to my neighbor, even if they didn’t merit or “deserve” it. It is exactly what God Himself did in the Incarnation (God becoming man in Jesus). Nonetheless many often balk at this whole “love your neighbor” idea. Not at the command itself, but rather when we begin talking about specifics.
Proverbs 3:28-29 “Don’t say to your neighbor, “Go away! Come back later. I’ll give it tomorrow”—when it is there with you. Don’t plan any harm against your neighbor, for he trusts you and lives near you.”
Proverbs 14:31 “The one who oppresses the poor insults their Maker, but one who is kind to the needy honors Him.”
Proverbs 25:18 “A man giving false testimony against his neighbor is like a club, a sword, or a sharp arrow.”
This blog does not have the space to list all the Proverbs, Psalms and other Hebrew Scriptures (especially Deuteronomy and the “minor” Prophets) that speak to this idea. And for those of us who need New Testament references I cannot forget Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46 (just to give one of many discourses). Or Paul’s words in Romans 13:8-10 or Galatians 6:10 (just to give a couple of his many thoughts on the subject). Then there is James’ understanding of what true “religion” is in James 1:26-27.
So this is what I have (re)learned: everyone is okay to talk about what it means to “love God.” But when it comes to talking about what it means to “love your neighbor,” sometimes people’s responses just leave you saying, “Wow.” Sometimes it even gets you in trouble. But when I think about Jesus, its worth it. I hope you find it worth it too.