Briefly Noted: God's People Love Their Neighbor Like Jesus

A religious leader came up to Jesus. He had a question and called him teacher. But his invisible motives are made clear through Scripture's inspiration--he was coming to test Jesus. He asked, what's the greatest commandment? Jesus quoted part of Deuteronomy 6, saying to love God with our whole self is the first and greatest commandment. Then Jesus said "and" ... apparently the greatest commandment has an inherent implication. Jesus said, the second is like it, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." 

This conversation in Matthew 22 was the primary text of a recent sermon. Knowing that I often read my Bible too quickly, I found it helpful to walk through this verse word by word. By God's grace I trust you will find it helpful as well ... 

YOU

Jesus' command is very personal. As with the first and greatest commandment to love God, this command is not private matter though it is personal. Meaning our spiritual formation is a matter of individual habits, will, affections, and thoughts. Therefore we should consider Jesus' words a personal invitation or even command for all who follow Jesus to take care to respond personally. This is not about a faith you've grown up in, nor a faith you can borrow from your parents or grandparents. At the end of the day holiness and obedience come down to the individual. We cannot opt out because someone from the group has covered the bases for us. We each have God-given obligation to love those around us. In fact Joshua makes this personal calling clear ... 

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:24-25)

SHALL

Jesus' command is a command. Loving neighbor is not a gift entrusted to some believers. It is a law for all who love God to follow. Let’s not miss this, loving our neighbors is not a gift some people have and others don't, loving our neighbors is a mark of who is obeying Jesus as Lord and who is not. And regularly we are caught in disobedience in this regard and many others. We don’t obey for many reasons … 

  • We don’t obey because we don’t know (product of immaturity). 
  • We don’t obey because we don’t feel equipped (pattern of disregard). 
  • We don’t obey because we willfully refuse (rejecting the authority of God). 
  • We don’t obey because we are lazy (choosing comfort).

But no matter the reason it is still disobedience. We must acknowledge this personal ailment and condition which (if you notice) stems from a disbelieve and rejection of the first commandment, loving God. After all no one loves God and hates their neighbor. It is impossible because God commands us to love our neighbor, and our love is revealed in our obedience. That’s why John writes ...

"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” (1 John 5:2)

And again in Deuteronomy it says ... 

"Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 12:28)

LOVE

Jesus call is love. Love is the centrally binding commandment Jesus articulates here—first for God, then for others or neighbor. Therefore love is the summary of the two greatest commandments. In other words Jesus is directly commanding your heart. He is giving authoritative direction to your affections, loves, and even emotions. The utter lordship of Jesus is revealed in his commanding of the invisible inclinations of your heart and mine. And he commands a long-suffering affection. Jesus demands a love which is demonstrated through humble actions and endures in the face of negative action from the other. It is a love that loves despite love not being returned in equal fashion. This kind of love is without condition. The exact type of love necessary between neighbor. True love costs us something precious, but always gives something more precious. This is why Jesus said elsewhere …

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you." (John 15:12-14)

YOUR

Jesus invites us to take ownership. It is not a broad sweeping call to love the idea of neighbors and a neighborhood. Rather Jesus writes, love your neighbor. This adds a level of intentionality to the command. After all, there is a power when we take ownership of one another. It confronts the temptations to simply be tourists in our cities. Tourists love the beauty and own the moments (usually displayed Instagram). Neighbors love the people and own the problem (things impossible to capture in a single picture). That’s why Paul wrote in Romans …

"We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up." (Romans 15:1-2)

NEIGHBOR

Jesus could have said love people. But instead he says neighbor. This was a familiar way in which Jesus addressed or rather directed the outward display of affection for his followers—to neighbor. Inwardly love God. Upwardly worship God. And outwardly followers of Jesus demonstrate their love for God by loving their neighbors. Usually when we think about neighbor we think about those with whom we are close, by chance and boundaries. In other words our understanding of neighbor is bound by neighborhoods or blocks or doors. It's often about proximity. We think are neighbors are those who are close to us. But Jesus' teaching on neighbor is just the opposite--it's about bridging gaps to draw close to those we are (for whatever reason) far from. To Jesus neighbors are not those who happen to be close to us, neighbors are those with whom we choose to draw near. Being a good neighbor is not about our proximity and city limits, it's about our posture and Christ-like love.

This is why when a rich young man asks Jesus who he neighbor was, Jesus told him a story. After which he asked, “who in this story was a neighbor.” The point was not proximity but posture. The gospel transforms us into good neighbors, no matter who our neighbors happen to be. After telling that story Jesus said …

"Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

AS

Jesus illustrates his point. Loving our neighbors is the command. However wanting to make sure he was understood and the idea was clarified and inescapable, Jesus illustrated through a quick comparison. Jesus made this a habit. He would describe the relationship of one thing by pointing to a more familiar or more easily accessible relationship. And so this is about being clear. How gracious that Jesus didn’t just want to be heard, but wanted us to understand! It’s a principle Jesus clearly displayed in John 17 …

"The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me." (John 17:22-23)

YOURSELF

Jesus makes it even more personal. At first this comparison is alarming. After all, isn’t love of self our problem? Why didn’t Jesus say love your neighbor and not yourself? It’s counterintuitive for sure. But think about it. Who do you care for the most? Who do you think about the most? Whose heart, soul, and mind are you considering with the most depth and regularity? Yours. There is an innate responsibility we have for self. And it is healthy to nourish and care for ourselves. It is healthy to take good care of one whom God has said is so precious—his image bearing creation. We should take good and loving care of ourselves. And to the detail with which we care for ourselves, Jesus says that is a great illustration of how I want you to be in tune, consider, and care for neighbor. The grounding for this appropriate self-love is clear in Ephesians …

"In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church ..." (Ephesians 5:28-29)

 

 

After Jesus' response, the ones who came to question and test Jesus were silent. So in our lives may we not test Jesus' word, but rather take him at his word and cultivate a love for God that flows into a love for our neighbors. After all these were not merely Jesus' word, he also fulfilled this command by closing the gap between us and God. He took ownership of our sinful ailment and loved us to the point of dying for us. So in Jesus we do not simply have a command to be loving neighbor, he himself is the truest and most loving neighbor who made us his very own family.

Jason Helveston