Loving Neighbors (1)
For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6.8-10
The love imperative
If we asked Jesus to explain the primary message of the Old Testament, He would say the Old Testament is about Him, and the love He has for God and people (cf. Jn. 5.39; Matt. 22.34-40). He has shown us to seek Him in all the Scriptures of the Old Testament (Lk. 24.27), and to learn from those Scriptures the imperative of loving God with all our soul and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
It is unwise, therefore, for us to set apart any aspect of the Bible – the Old Testament included – as no longer relevant to our calling as followers of Christ. Yet today it is not uncommon for Christians and even pastors to relegate the Old Testament to a secondary status in the revelation of God, or even to dismiss its importance or value for our lives in Christ.
This is particularly the case where the Law of God is concerned, and that despite the fact that the two great commandments Jesus lived and taught both make their first appearance in Scripture within the pages of God’s Law (cf. Deut. 6.4, 56; Lev. 19.18). Thus, as we turn to the Law of God – and all His holy Word – to help us in learning how to grow in love for God, we do likewise when it comes to the question of what it means to love our neighbors. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works, beginning with the good works God ordained beforehand in His Law.
To be sure, Jesus sharpens the focus of the second great commandment by telling His disciples that when it comes to loving their neighbors, they must love their brethren in the household of faith as Christ Himself loved them (Jn. 13.34, 35). Christlike love for our fellow believers is not a substitute for loving our neighbors as ourselves; it is rather the training ground where love that leads us to “do good to all” people is principally learned and most consistently practiced.
Let’s take a closer look.
Why other believers especially?
Paul agrees with Jesus that the love we bear for our neighbors should be especially directed to our fellow believers. Especially, but not exclusively.
We have plenty of opportunities to work out our salvation by loving those who are closest to us in the body of Christ. In our homes, our marriages, with Christian friends, in our church, and with Christians throughout the local community and around the world, we can express the love of Jesus to in ways that help us grow in the Lord and in His grace. We should be especially diligent to do so with other believers, because thus we strengthen the ties that bind us together (Ps. 133), and we exercise our souls for the many opportunities God will give us to love our neighbors beyond these circles.
Further, because we as believers spend most of our time with our fellow believers, we have more opportunities for showing the love of Christ more consistently and constantly. So we need to learn and practice the skills of loving like Jesus loved, “especially” among “those who are of the household of faith”, for in doing so, we develop disciplines and patterns of loving our neighbor that will serve us well in doing good to all people.
What’s more, as we concentrate our neighbor-love energies first of all on our fellow believers – not just our fellow church members, but believers throughout our community and around the world – we demonstrate that unity of the Spirit and oneness of the Body of Christ that is foundational and indispensable to a credible witness for the Lord (cf. Eph. 4.3; Jn. 17.21).
So it makes sense to work harder and even to pursue heightened expressions of love for those who share our faith in Jesus. Such a workout of our love muscles will prepare us well to love all our neighbors and to “do good to all people.”
Who is our neighbor?
In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus made it plain that a neighbor is someone who cares and provides for those who are in need (Lk. 10.25-27). The Samaritan’s only concern, as he attended to the needs of the injured man, were to use his time, strength, and resources to care for one who was in need. They were not even of the same faith; indeed, Jesus’ choice of a Samaritan as the good neighbor would surely have evoked sneers on the faces of many who heard Him, since Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with one another in those days (Jn. 4.9).
Thus we are showing love as a neighbor when we “do good to all” people, beginning with those to whom we are closest and see most frequently, the members of our faith community.
Everyone has needs. Most people don’t require bandaging and lodging at your expense; but everyone requires something that we can give them that will show the love of Jesus. A welcoming greeting, a smile, an offer of a helping hand, a listening ear, a simple gesture of consideration – we must be ready with these and more for “all” whom we encounter throughout the course of our lives. This is not merely the teaching of the new Testament. Even in the Law of God we are commanded to love the strangers and sojourners among us – people of different race, ethnicity, or social standing, even people we will only encounter for a brief moment (cf. Deut. 10.19).
We do well to remember that the love we are called to employ in loving our neighbors is but a refraction of the love God has for us. God loves the entire vast cosmos – all its creatures – enough to have sent His Son for its reconciliation and restoration (Jn. 3.16). God loves His enemies (Matt. 5.43-45); and Jesus warns us against some narrow-cast approach to loving others, lest we fail in our calling to be like our heavenly Father (Matt. 5.46-48; cf. Ex. 23.4, 5; Rom. 12.20). God the Father loves us even when we were His enemies (Rom. 5.8-10); thus it would be unloving of us not to love even those who today rage against the Lord and His Church. How else will they know God’s love except through those who are called to be channels of that love unto His praise and thanks (2 Cor. 4.7-15)?
Everyone in your Personal Mission Field is your neighbor. People who cross your path, if only for a brief moment, are your neighbor. We are called to love our neighbors with the love of God our Father, which is the love of Jesus Christ. Therefore, in this part of our study on “Which Works?”, we will look to Jesus to see what loving one another and our neighbors requires, and to learn how we may better prepare for this high and joy-filled calling.
1. Why should we look to Jesus as the model and example for how to love our neighbors?
2. How can working harder to love our fellow believers help us to be more consistently loving with all our neighbors?
3. What opportunities do you anticipate today for showing the love of Jesus to your neighbors?
Next steps – Transformation: Pray for yourself and the people you will meet today, that God will empower you to love them with His love.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.