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Faith Bible Church, NY
November 27, 1994
Loving Our Neighbor
We have been spending the last several weeks looking at what Jesus called the “great and foremost commandment”, which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This morning we are coming to what Jesus calls in Matthew 22:39 the “second” commandment which is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says that this command, is the “great and foremost” commandment. They are like each other not because both talk about love, but because both are brief and yet comprehensive summations of what is commanded throughout the rest of the Scriptures.
We must be sure and remember that to love God in this way is the priority commandment, and that if we would follow it then all other commandments, including this second in priority, would be fulfilled. Jesus says in verse 40 that “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and Prophets.”
Their first commandment covers our vertical relationship with God and the second covers our horizontal relationship with other men. If you wanted to relate them to the 10 Commandments of Exodus 20, the first covers 1-4 and the second 5-10. But again, the priority is and must be on the first, to Love the LORD God with all you heart, soul, and mind. If we love God in this way then we will naturally fulfill all the commandments related to our relationship with God. If we love God with all our heart we will have no desire or interest to have any other God. If we love God with all our soul we will find the making and worship of graven images as repulsive. Idolatry becomes repugnant whether it is the openly displayed type of paganism or that of our modern society where materialistic man for all practical purposes continues to worship the work of his hands. Cars, houses, bank accounts, hobbies, and the like. If we love God with all our mind then we will continually seek to magnify the name of the Lord and so would never take His name in vain by using it in any way with less respect that what He deserves.
One of the practical outworking of loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind is what I pointed out last week. We seek to obey all of His commands from the heart. We are specifically directed in several places in the Bible to give God praise and thanksgiving. With such a love for God that task is undertaken with joy and the sacrifice of praise seems as no sacrifice at all but a blessed privilege, which it is.
But again, I must point out that loving God is the priority. If my vertical relationship with God is not right, then it is impossible for my horizontal relationships with others to be right. In fact, these are so closely tied together that the outward evidence of my love for God is my love for others. Turn to 1 John 4:7f.
The Apostle John begins with the admonishment for us to love one another. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who doe snot love does not know God, for God is love. In the next several verses John explains the love of God and that our love is only a response to His great love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not hat we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has beheld God at anytime; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgement; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts our fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first love us.
We went over this passage a couple of weeks ago and stressed the point that your love is a response to this wonderful love that God has demonstrated for us in Jesus Christ, and what He has done for us to bring us salvation from sin and reconciliation with the Father. If you lack in love, there will be a correlation between that and your lack of coming to grips with God’s great love. If you lack love you still lack in your understanding of who God is, what He has done and who you are before Him.
But the major stress I want to make out of this passage this morning starts in verse 20, If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe (do) His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
If you really love God there is a very practical and visible proof of that you also love other people that love God, and as John points out, to say that you love God and hate your brother only proves you are a liar. You don’t really love God regardless of how much you claim too. And if that is a problem that you are facing in your life right now, you are not going to overcome your hatred until you get your relationship with God right and begin to love Him properly. Then you will have a basis on which to change your hatred into love.
Loving the LORD God with all our hearts, souls and minds is the priority and as we begin to start loving God then we can fulfill this second command to love our neighbor as ourselves if for no other reason than God says so and we want to please Him.
But what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Tragically, we find that psychology’s influence on the church has led some to turn this command from one that is other centered into one that is self-centered. There are people caught up in the self-esteem movement that have used this very verse to teach that you have to love yourself first in order to love others. That idea is not what Jesus is talking about and it’s not even a true statement. The truth is that you do not have to feel good about yourself by loving yourself in order to carry out God’s commandments. You simply have to love God. Those who have the kind of self-esteem advocated by popuplar psychology do not love other people because they are too self-centered to notice them. Pride is a horrible sin and the self-esteem movement promotes pride. The scriptures tell us that we are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment (Rom. 12:3). When we think of ourselves with sound judgement we know of our true wretchedness which brings humility and a seeking after God’s grace. The humble person then extends that grace to those around him. The Apostle Paul referred to himself as a “wretched man” and the “chief of sinners” yet few have loved their neighbors as much as he did.
Jesus’ statement is based on the truth that no one hates themselves, granted, there are those that have become so perverted that they can be self-destructive, but that is not because they hate themselves but a twisted selfishness. Paul put it plainly in Ephesians 6 in his admonition for husbands to love their wives as their own bodies for “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it…”. The directive here is that in the same way you care for yourself, you are to care for others. Jesus stated this same principle in a different way in Matthew 7:12, “however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
It is not hard to see why this is a summation of all the laws concerning man’s relationships with other men. If I was as thoughtful, caring, and giving to others as I am to myself and treated other people the same way I want them to treat me, then I would naturally fulfill God’s commandments concerning how I should treat others.
Some of you may feel you are doing pretty good in this area because you are fulfilling the last five of the Ten commandments. You do not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against your neighbor, or covet what your neighbor has. Whether you are or not could be debatable. Remember that Jesus said in Matt. 5 that calling someone names in anger would bring about the same punishment as murder, and 1 John 3:15 says that “whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” Jesus also told us in the Sermon on the Mount that adultery is committed when you lust after someone who is not your spouse. Stealing is stealing whether it is robbing the bank or pilfering pens from work. False witness does not have to take place in the court room, it happens every time you spread gossip. Also, covetousness is largely a matter of the heart. Are you jealous when your neighbors have something that you do not?
But regardless of whether you are refraining from doing these evil things, loving your neighbor also involves doing good things like giving respect and honor to others, honesty, graciousness, and being a blessing to the poor. All these things are done with the care and thoughtfulness with which you care for yourself. You treat others the same way that you want them to treat you. You are to love your neighbor as yourself.
The implications of this are far reaching because the only way to fulfill the command is to become “other centered”. However, that is against our self-centered natures. It is not that we always purpose to do evil or be inconsiderate. Often it is simply a matter of not thinking about the other person. We see the world and the events around us in terms of how it affects us without much thought or consideration of how things affect other people. It is that because we do not love others as ourselves we often are impolite and even rude to those around us.
As the implications of this sink in, we want to find some way to limit our responsibility and so we ask, “Who then is our neighbor?” This is not the first time that Jesus has talked about these two commandments. In Luke 10 Jesus had a very revealing discussion about it with a Scribe who did not like the implication it had for him, so in an effort to justify himself he asked Jesus that very questionm, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then went on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan.
Most of you are familiar with the story, but in brief, a Jewish man is robbed and beaten as he travelled to Jericho. A Priest walked by him and so did a Levite. Both were men that were supposed to love God and their neighbors, but they really did not, and would only do their acts of righteousness when trying to impress others or when convenient. There was no one around to impress and it was not convenient to help this man who had been beaten so badly. Finally, a Samaritan came along. Samaritan were considered inferior by the Jews as half-breeds that could not love God. Yet this man not only stopped and helped the beaten man, but carried him to an inn and paid for his continued care by the innkeeper. The Samaritan proved to the be one who loved his neighbor.
Who is your neighbor? It is not just those who live next to you. It is not just those with whom you share something in common, like common ancestry, common culture, or common interests. Your neighbor is anyone you come in contact with. Jesus even added in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us. So even are enemies are to be considered neighbors, and we are to love each of them in the same way we love ourselves. We are to treat them in the same manner we would want to be treated by them. We are to become other centered and give them consideration and thoughtfulness and no longer remain in our selfishness.
There is another aspect of this love for others that is often missed because we put so much stress on doing something for others. Tragically, we find that many Christians try to love their neighbors only out of a sense of duty and obligation. There certainly is a duty and obligation to obey God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves, and the particular word for love here, agape, is largely word of choice and action, but this love also has to have the correct motivation. Being other centered is not just duty and obligation. Refraining from evil against your neighbor and doing acts of righteousness for them is not enough. To fulfill what Jesus is saying here, we must do these things because we are looking out for their best interest. We are, as it says in Philippians 2, esteeming them as more important than ourselves. We love our neighbors with graciousness and joy.
The difference is illustrated in the story of a old Scotch lady who was a sincere Christian who had two daughters. She said of them, “I have two daughters who take turns coming in to clean my wee house. Jean comes, and leaves everything shining, but she makes me feel I’m an awful burden to her. But when Mary comes, no matter how dull the day, or how low in spirit I’m feeling, she makes everything so cheery, and makes me feel she loves to be with me. The are both Christian women, but aye there’s a great difference. Mary has what this puir-world sadly needs, the Christian with the loving heart.”
Do you see the difference? This is the model of love that Jesus left for us. He did not come from heaven and become a man and do all that He did out of duty and obligation. He did it because He loved us and He loved us when we were still His enemies. Think through all the stories of Jesus acts of kindness. He was filled with compassion for people and gave consideration for their needs and feelings. His actions of love were always given with an attitude of love.
But Jesus’ example brings up a higher standard for Christians. The general command is for everyone to love their neighbors as themselves, but there is a different command for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and have entered into a personal relationship with God through that. Jesus gave a new commandment to true Christians in John 13:34 to “love one another; as I have loved you, that you love one another.” The standard of love is no longer our own selfish interest in taken care of ourselves, but the completely selfless and sacrificial love of Christ.
Again we find that Jesus’ love was not just cold acts of mercy but warm acts of loving compassion, maybe exhibited best when while hanging on the cross and dying for the sins of mankind, Jesus pleaded with God the Father to forgive the very ones that had put Him on that cross. That is a mindset that is not only other centered, but willingly and joyfully sacrifices themselves for the benefit of others.
One such story of that kind of sacrifice occurred in one of the journeys of Sir Ernest Shackleton who was an arctic and antarctic explorer at the turn of the century. The book, The Incredible Journey of Sir Ernest Shackleton details his shipwreck in the Antarctic and his extraordinary journey to a village on an Island off of South America. Sir Shackleton describes one of his most terrible moments when lying one night in an emergency hut and wondering what would happen to them because he had handed out the last ration biscuit to each of his remaining crew members. He was lying slightly away from the crew when he sensed movement among the men and saw one of his men turning to see if everyone else was asleep. Confident that they were the man reached over the man next to him and took his biscuit bag. Shackleton said he would have trusted his life to that man. Was he now turning out to be a thief under the terribly tragic circumstances? Stealing a man’s last biscuit! Then Shackleton noticed him continuing to move around and pick up his own bag and remove the biscuit out of his own bag and put it into his friends, then stealthily put the bag back at the man’s side. Shackleton went on and said, “I dare not tell you that man’s name. I felt that act was a secret between himself and God.”
What an example of love, a sacrificial act of love combined with compassion and done with complete humility. Such an example may seem beyond most of us, but it should not be. It all starts with loving God with all your heart, soul and mind. From that the relationship that springs from is not only deep, abiding gratitude for all that God has done and does do for us, but a confident assurance of our own future in His hands. Then we start seeing people as God sees them, and filled with His love, we start responding to them as He has for us. At first the challenge is to love them as ourselves, but as the Holy Spirit continues to work in our heart we desire to love our neighbors as Christ as loved us, with a perfect love. A love that is slow and quick.
Slow to suspect – quick to trust,
Slow to condemn – quick to absolve
Slow to offend – quick to defend
Slow to expose – quick to shield
Slow to reprimand – quick to forbear
Slow to belittle – quick to appreciate
Slow to demand – quick to give
Slow to provoke – quick to calm
Slow to hinder – quick to help
Slow to resent – quick to forgive
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