Love Thy Neighbor

My wife, Dorothy, is reading a book entitled “Supernatural Relationships: How to get closer to people you care for” written by Ed Gungor.[1] She recently read the following excerpt to me from this book: “Recently I read of a young University of Miami student who was found dead in his apartment off campus. He was last seen alive before the Thanksgiving break — they found his body in January!  No one even missed him over Christmas!  They found two eviction notices on his door and the TV was still on.  He needed someone to care.  We need to learn how.  If the Church will rise to meet the needs of those within her scope of influence, there will be great revival in our land.”  As she read this passage to me I felt my stomach tighten and my throat close as I thought about this young man being alone and no one caring enough to even check and see if he was okay.  While we think of the death of a young person as tragic, I found it significantly more tragic that the world around this young man, some I am sure who professed to be followers of Jesus Christ, was so disconnected, so distant, so absorbed with other things that he existed in isolation, died in isolation and no one cared enough to even find out what was going on with him.

As this story haunted me I immediately began to think about what Jesus said when the lawyer asked him the question regarding the greatest commandment.  Matthew 22 tells us “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’  Jesus replied:  ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.    And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”[2]  As my thoughts wondered to the question of why it is so hard for men to love their neighbors, I arrived at the conclusion that we fail to meet the first commandment so how can we possibly meet the second.  Men in our society are taught to “look out for Number 1”, Take care of yourself first and always”, “If you don’t take care of you nobody else will”, and many other similar statements that lead to a society of self-centered, self-absorbed men that are so focused on self that they have missed the point.  On January 23, 1996 Pastor Joe Wright was asked to perform the opening prayer for the Kansas House of Representatives.  I believe his prayer gets at the heart of what is going on and what has gone on in our country.  Pastor Wright prayed “Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance.  We know Your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.  We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it moral pluralism.  We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.  We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.  We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.  We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.  We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem.  We have abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbors’ possessions and called it ambition.  We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.  We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. Search us O God and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.  Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by you, to govern this great state.  Grant them your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the name of your Son, the living savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

So what does it take for men to love their neighbors?  You see if we love our Heavenly Father with all our heart, soul, and mind then loving our neighbor is a natural and logical result.  Don’t confuse loving your neighbor with “liking” your neighbor.  So how is it that I can love someone that I don’t even like? Scripture tells us “God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.”[3]  We are called to be His ambassadors and we cannot pick and choose who He sends our way.  I sincerely mean it when I say to you, you may be the only Jesus some people will ever meet this side of eternity!  To accomplish this lofty objective then men must not only talk about the love of God but they must demonstrate the love of God.  The most powerful way for us to do that is to demonstrate that love on a daily basis.  Our entire life and lifestyle must be built around loving the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind and soul (body, intellect, emotion, and spirit).  The truth is, for most of us men to come close to accomplishing this objective will require supernatural intervention and that is reliance upon the Holy Spirit.  I can assure you that I share similar if not the same life experiences where I wanted to do anything but love the person involved in a situation I was dealing with.  It takes the first commandment Jesus gave to lead to accomplishing the second commandment.  When I recognize the tremendous love God has expressed to me, so undeservedly, then it doesn’t seem so difficult to display that same love, Agape love (no strings attached), to those around me.

So how do I accomplish loving my neighbor?  Paul gives us a pretty good set of directions when he said “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, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, 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.”[4]  Perhaps a key ingredient of accomplishing this commandment is to recognize that everyone, whether they are to our liking or not, deserves to know the Love of God and His plan of salvation.  When we love the Lord with all that we have, body, mind and soul then we can exemplify what is described by John when he said “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”[5]  Brian Littrell sings a beautiful song entitled “In Christ Alone and one of the verses and the chorus says:

In Christ alone do I glory
For only by His grace I am redeemed
For only His tender mercy
Could reach beyond my weakness to my need
And now I seek no greater honor in just to know Him more
And to count my gains but losses to the glory of my Lord
In Christ alone
I place my trust
And find my glory in the power of the cross
In every victory
Let it be said of me
My source of strength
My source of hope

Is Christ alone Is this your testimony?  Is this your heart’s desire?  If we put ourselves in Christ alone 24/7 then we can truly love our neighbor in such a way that brings glory and honor to the One that first loved us!

[1] Gungor, Ed, Supernatural Relationships: How to get closer to people you care for, Harrison House, Tulsa, OK, 1991, page 13.

[2] Matthew 22:34-40 All scripture use in this article is taken from the NIV translation of the Holy Bible unless otherwise noted.

[3] 1 Timothy 2:3b-6a

[4] Romans 13:8-10

[5] John 1:14 taken from The Message

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