“And He 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 great and foremost commandment.The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.'”
— Matthew 22:37-40, NASB
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the concept of loving God. In the time since I posted those reflections, I’ve found myself mulling over how to love my neighbor as myself. And I’ve come to realize that I’m not sure loving our neighbors is always what we’ve been led to believe.
We are taught to love our neighbors in material ways, and I do not disagree with this. Indeed, two of the greatest joys Mr. P and I have are regular giving to benevolence charities and performing random acts of anonymous kindness to those who aren’t as financially comfortable as we are. We believe it is our obligation, duty, and privilege to help those who are genuinely in need. These are tangible ways to love our neighbors.
I also believe we are taught to treat others with dignity and respect. All humans are created in the likeness of God, and as image-bearers of the Almighty, they are entitled to basic human rights. Inherent in those rights is an expectation that we will speak with respect and leave dignity intact whenever we leave a conversation.
The problem as I see it is that the concept of loving our neighbor has been perverted. Now, loving our neighbor is often used as an indictment of Christians: “If you really love your neighbor, you’ll just give financial help and look the other way when that neighbor spends it on meth.” “If you really want to do unto others as you would have done unto you, you won’t say anything about moral choices that don’t align with your beliefs.”
My friends, are we really loving our neighbor by refusing to speak? By refusing to confront? By accepting and even celebrating behaviors that don’t align with God’s Word?
I have not loved my neighbor as myself.
If I had cancer, would I not want my doctor to prescribe chemotherapy, even though it’s really uncomfortable and painful? Likewise, if my eternal soul were in danger–if I believed something that might put my eternal life in jeopardy–would I not consider it the height of insult if someone did not tell me?
We are all suffering from cancer–the cancer of sin. Jesus offers a cure–chemotherapy for the soul. It’s not fun. It’s not pretty. We have to confront our cancer. We have to confess that we have not lived in accordance with God’s Word. And it’s really, really painful sometimes.
We are very much like the doctor who delivers bad news. And we have to speak out of love to our neighbors and tell them about their cancer.
This is where loving our neighbor gets hard. This is where the rubber meets the road.
It’s hard to risk being labelled a bigot, a hater, old-fashioned, prudish, out of touch, or worse. It’s painful to know that we might lose acquaintances, jobs, clients, friends, or family if we speak the truth.
Love is not always pretty. It’s not a feeling. It’s not the tingly glow of satisfaction we feel in giving an anonymous gift or engaging in the joyful give and take of a morning conversation over coffee with a next-door neighbor. It’s a choice. It’s a matter of saying, “because I love my neighbor as myself, I choose to tell my friend about his sin. That’s what I would want him to do for me.” It’s an understanding that doing unto others as you would have them do to you means that occasionally, you have to deliver bad news, difficult news, because that’s what you would want someone to do for you.
Giving money and food and household items to charity, doing random acts of kindness, representing Jesus well by approaching people with gentleness and respect–those are all ways in which we love our neighbor. But if we stop there, we stop short of fully loving others the way we should–the way Christ loved people. He confronted, but left dignity intact. He became angry and even called names, but one might call those interactions “tough love,” because perhaps calling the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” was necessary to get their attention. In the course of loving His neighbor, Christ did not shirk confrontation or avoid the topic of sin. Indeed, He came for that very purpose–to confront sin and offer humanity a way out of its grip.
How can we do less?
God does not desire that anyone should perish. And my friends, if we really love our neighbors–in fact, if we really love God–we cannot shirk our obligation to gently and respectfully confront the topic of sin in the lives of those around us.
Loving our neighbor? It’s not easy sometimes. It’s painful. It’s risky. It’s always a choice. But we have the prescription for a world dying of cancer. We have an obligation to offer it.
We would not want our neighbors to do any less for us.
Till next we meet . . .