Jesus said, “The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22: 34 

What does Jesus really mean when He quotes this Old Testament passage? He had just responded to a question that was intended to trick Him, and the first half of the answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” makes sense. It may be a very challenging thing to do, for it is an impossibility without Christ. Without His ongoing presence in my life, I don’t even come close to living out this command. Still, this second command that Jesus gives to us is in some ways even more challenging. 

If love my neighbor is expressed in kind acts such as clearing snow from their walks or picking up trash from their front yards, that is no real problem. If it looks like greeting them when I see them, this is fairly easy, too. If my neighbor is defined as the people who live close to me, this is also relatively easy. They are mostly just like me; therefore, they are rather safe people to engage with, at least at this outward level. I am absolutely certain that this was not Jesus’ definition of neighbor, for none of this applied to Him. He had no permanent house, He didn’t stay on the same well known street of the same town, and He interacted with a wide range of people, none of them exactly like Him. 

What Jesus is commanding us to do is a lot bigger and contains a lot more risk than any of this casual neighborhood interaction. He is telling us to redefine our concept of neighborhood to include the entire world around us. Christ came to love all of the people of this world in a manner that would bring them back to an intimate and a personal relationship with God. Jesus loved people by engaging with them in their lives, by hearing their sorrows, and by healing their wounds and soothing their greatest fears. He met the soul-deep needs of dying people. That is what He commands us to do. So, as Christ is in us, we are called upon to give away His love to the people that live in our neighborhood. This is not an optional part of our lives as Christians, and it is not something that others who are called to be evangelists or missionaries are to do for us. This is the second great commandment from God to each of us. Loving others is the actual expression of the first commandment. This is how the Lord wants us to demonstrate our love for Him. Today is the day to ask someone about their life, to be interested in the pain in their heart. This is the perfect time to join a new friend in the journey of life, and today is the day to tell that person about the real, the tangible answer to your own needs that you have received through Jesus.  

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Leviticus 19: 18

 

Neighbors can be wonderful. They can also be challenging or even terrible to be around. They can also be people who we barely know at all. Like other people who we come into some form of close contact with during our days, we enter into the lives of neighbors with a wide range of levels of involvement and relationship. The individualistic and self-contained nature of our world has pushed us farther into our own space and away from those around us, too. We don’t need to form the sorts of alliances and mutual care arrangements that people in the days of Moses found necessary for protection, supply, and basic care. Now, we can just go on-line to find what we need, and we hire someone when we want protection from a marauding wild beast. So, following God’s directive regarding neighbors could be life altering for us today.

 

God sees the role of neighbor as something far more elevated and important than just convenience or than a practical necessity. The Lord seems to view neighbors as people who are owed special attention, care, and concern. They are people who we are to reach out to and to embrace with a form of deep love that is gracious and long-lasting. The only way for most of us to do this is to actually get to know our neighbors. This requires us to leave our houses, knock on doors, and share life with others. Getting to know our neighbors makes us leave the safety of our own world and the people who we have developed long-standing relationships with and enter into the uncertainty of less well-known ground and uncertain relationships. This is the sort of thing that Christ did continually, and it is the sort of thing that takes us into places where our relationship with Christ can be demonstrated and shared in a natural, life-on-life manner.

 

The relational standard that is stated here and that Jesus firmly restates later is a very high one. It goes well beyond toleration or that of nodding acquaintance. God wants us to truly love our neighbors and to do so with the same intent and engagement that we do love ourselves. This requires us to be concerned and to reach out to them. It also leads us to tender grace when we might naturally think in terms of offense against us, and it demands that we seek to accept differences as a part of the other person’s God-given nature and as an essential aspect of that person’s story of life. Jesus cared for and about everyone that He encountered. In very real and tangible ways He lived as if He viewed everyone as His neighbor. I don’t think that it is too great a stretch of the concept to say that Christ desires for His followers to do the same with the people who surround us in the world where we live.

“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”

Ezekiel 18: 23

 

A lot of people think that God simply does not like them. They believe that He is angry with their life choices, with their attitudes, or simply with them. They stay as far away from God and from anything that is related to Him as is possible. This is understandable for people who don’t know God. It is easy and often natural to have an unclear and a distorted view of the Lord’s character and intent toward people when He is only known about and not known in an intimate way.

 

Sadly, God’s own don’t always help the cause of understanding, either. We lash out in angry words and actions against people who can’t be held to a standard of righteous behavior since they don’t hold the key to righteousness. We approach a discussion about life and lifestyle in a manner that points to the bad behaviors of others and heaps guilt upon their heads. This is not how God does the same things. Behaving as if we are angry with people does not show them the face of God; instead, it pushes them away from Him.

 

The Lord is very concerned with the way that we live, and He sets very clear standards for people’s behavior. Still, He knows that living up to His standards is impossible for people who don’t know Him. God cares about the relationship that people have with Him. He wants all people to know Him personally. The Lord directs His children to show others the truth about Him and His character and to help them understand the reality of the love that God has for everyone. The answer to the evil that is rampant in our world is not anger, and it is not separation leading to isolation. Rather, it is found in loving those who don’t know Christ; it is found in connecting with them and in understanding their needs. God’s response to lost people is demonstrated by his attitude of sadness at their lack of hope, and He commands us to share this concern and to act upon it by sharing the love of Christ with others. The evil of this world needs to be confronted with the soul saving truth of God’s grace, restoration, and love.

 

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5: 14

 

The laws of our society are an interesting aspect of the way that people bring order to our world. We create them so that there are rules to live by for ourselves and for the other people in our community. Generally we support and uphold them. Certainly there are laws that our governing bodies pass that we like far less than others, and there are laws going down today that bring about almost violent disagreement for at least some of us. Yet, at the end of the day, the law is still there, and we must follow it until it is changed or repealed.

 

However, there is law that predates all of the codes that humans have devised. There is an ordering of society that should establish the foundation for all other attempts at bringing civility to our conduct of life, and that is God’s law. God knew that we humans would not do a very good job of living in peace and harmony with each other. So, He gave us a basic and fundamental set of directives to follow if we desired to conduct our lives in a manner that would honor and be pleasing to Him. Then, Christ came into our world to take it all to a very different place. Christ redirected the old order of the means by which we were made right with God from one of external discipline to the more intimate and personal one of individual internal acceptance and submission.

 

This new order is both liberating and more challenging to follow. It frees us from a form of bondage that ridged systems of performance-oriented laws create. However, it makes each of us accountable to a standard of living that requires us to open up our hearts and minds to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit. Christ calls upon His people to live as if grace, peace, and love were our primary reasons for existence. He makes caring about and for our neighbors at the deepest of levels the new primary commandment to follow in ordering our communities, and Christ defines neighbors in the broadest of terms possible. So, Christ wants to make each of us into people who now see others as objects of His love and people who we can do nothing less than cherish as God’s beloved children.

 

Encourage the exhausted, strengthen the feeble.

Isaiah 35: 3

 

The water is rough and the shore is far away; the darkness is oppressive, and coldness has soaked the soul. This is a picture of exhaustion. In these times life is relentless and nothing provides relief; everything is hard to accomplish, even the most familiar task is too intricate to understand. This is a picture of people who were once strong, now weak; once mighty and confident, now feeble. Time and process and frustration and defeat come to influence us all; for, no one is spared from their inevitability. None of us remain strong forever or in all ways.

 

The Lord has promised to stay with us through everything that comes. As the breath seems to be leaving us, He breathes in new life. As the muscles tie into useless knots, He takes us on his back and swims us to shore. So, as Christ does, he calls upon His people to do. Christ was quick and ready to step into the lives of people, and He was willing to go to the least desirable in society, and He would reach out to touch the most unclean. How can we who know Him and who have been saved by His blood do less?

 

We are to be the ones who cheer on our worry worn brothers and sisters. We are to be the ones who lift up the load of life when its weight becomes too much to handle. None of us can make it through this life alone; all of us need help and assistance; and everyone needs to be a helper. The Lord tells us that we are to accept support when we need it, and we are to be strong when others are weak. Christ wants each of us to open our hearts to the weariness of others. He wants each of us to be receptive to the life struggles around us. A warm smile, an encouraging word, an ear that hears, a genuine offer of help; these are among the ways that we become the face of Jesus that brings light out of darkness to the people around us.