Learning To Love Your Neighbor, Without Being Like Your Neighbor
As the Pharisees advanced their agenda they said: “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Jesus responded: “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect,” (Matt. 5:43-48).
We should willingly embrace this obligation for the good of our neighbor/enemy/brethren/all people, for the sake of our character, and to the glory of God: Love your neighbor. Paul said, “Owe no one anything except to love one another,” and Peter said, “honor all people,” (Rom. 13:3, 1 Pet. 2:17).
What does it mean to love your neighbor? It means you seek what is best for them and help them in every legitimate way you are able to respond. It involves an attitude of honor and respect in keeping with the example of Christ. This love should keep us from the kind of partiality James condemned (Jas. 2:1-13). It should work in us a measure of patience, kindness and mercy toward others, “for judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy,” (Jas. 2:13). Let us speak the truth in love to others (Eph. 4:15), and treat people as we desire to be treated (Matt. 7:12). In every respect love is shown by God, we should seek to develop our love for others (Matt. 5:43-48).
While all of the above is relatively simple and commonly recognized, there is a matter we should attend to. Within our purpose to love our neighbor, we must not become so accommodating and pleasing that we become like him! Let’s admit that pressure and face it. It is not some imaginary hypothetical. If we are the least uninformed about the true nature of biblical love, and we become overly occupied with “loving” our neighbor, we can reach a place of compromise, where there is an unhealthy submission to someone’s influence. We sometimes describe this as peer pressure, but we think of group influence in that regard. I’m talking about, seeking to please some individual to the point you imitate the object of your love! In the extreme, you dress like them, talk like them, join them in their pursuits of pleasure and seek their approval in that conformity. In more subtle means, we may begin to act like the people we love.
Love, as taught in the Bible and captured by the word “agape,” does not require that we imitate our neighbor, and we are forbidden to follow any but Christ (Matt. 10:38). In point of eternal truth, the best way to love your neighbor is to show them Christ in you! If you become a mirror or double of your neighbor, you have fallen short of mature discipleship and you have failed to truly love your neighbor. Moral/spiritual compromise can creep into our lives in so many understated ways.
We do not value our neighbor by accepting all they do! We value them by conveying to them – through the influence of our friendship, words and deeds – the praiseworthiness of the Lamb, the love of the Father and the truth of the Word. We adore others in the highest sense, when we adore Him who first loved us.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God,” (Rom. 12:1,2).
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 12.10; October 2005