WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR?
by Ted Schroder
June 18, 2006
The term 'love' is an elusive quality. It can stand for romance (I love my wife), for passion (I love philosophy and tennis), for friendship (I love my church), for desire (I love books), for appreciation (I love nature, art and music), for protectiveness (I love my children and grandchildren), patriotism (I love my country), as well as for charity (I love the needy), and sacrifice. St. Paul tells us that we have a continuing debt to love one another (Rom.13:8), that we owe it to love one another without any thought of repayment. This debt can never be paid. It continues while we live. There can be no end to it.
What form does this debt take? How do we pay it? By fulfilling the ten commandments. "Love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10) By fulfilling the law we love our neighbor as ourselves. The commandments make explicit in detail what is summed up by love. The commandments spell out what love means. St. Paul lists some of them:
"Do not commit adultery [with all that Jesus interpreted that to mean in terms of our attitude to sexual desire, to lust, to treat people as sexual objects, to define ourselves in terms of our gender, our proclivities],
Do not murder [with all that Jesus interpreted that to mean in terms of our anger, our insulting words, our grievances and resentments],
Do not steal [with all that Jesus interpreted that to mean in terms of our taking advantage of others, enriching ourselves at the expense of the company or the public purse, and being miserly towards God and others by using what he has given us as stewards for our own purposes],
Do not covet [with all that Jesus interpreted that to mean in terms of our desires for possessions to make us feel important, being a taker rather than a giver], and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Romans 13:9)
Love is to be concretely seen in terms of how we treat one another, by what we show is valuable in our lives. Love is to be demonstrated by our actions not just by our words.
Jesus tells the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32). Their father asks them to go and work for him that day in the vineyard. One said he would, but didn't go. The other said he wouldn't go, but later did. The one who did what his father wanted, rather than the one who said what he thought the father wanted to hear, was to be commended. Jesus used the parable to expose the hypocrisy of the religious leaders who said that they were doing God's will but weren't. He claimed that it was the outsiders, the tax collectors and the prostitutes, who repented, and changed their actions, who would enter the kingdom of heaven before the religious leaders.
We can profess our faith, but if we do not practice it, we are not to be commended. We can profess that we love our neighbor as ourselves, but if we do not practice it, we stand condemned. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him...faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." (James 2:14-18)
Just as love is the fulfilling of the law - the keeping of the commandments - Christ is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 10:4) Jesus Christ brought the law to completion by obeying perfectly its expectations, and by fulfilling its types and prophecies. Jesus fulfilled the commandments, and by so doing showed us what a life of love looks like. Do you want to know what love looks like? Do you want to see love in action? Do you want to see the Son who perfectly fulfills the Father's will? Do you want to see the Son who labors in his Father's vineyard? Then look at Christ. Love in him was pure action. There was no moment in his life when love was merely a feeling, a word to please, a mood. His love was pure action.
In his love there was no demand on any other person, or on any other person's time, energy, assistance, service. What Christ asked of others was for their benefit. He loved others more deeply than they loved themselves. In his love there was no compromising, no excusing, no avoidance, no manipulation. He made no distinction between people. He did not put his family before others. He even said that his disciples were his mother and his brothers. "For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 21:49) He did not prefer one disciple over another for his love was for all equally, who would permit themselves to be saved. His life was pure love as he worked and prayed.
As a reward he demanded nothing, for the only purpose of his whole life from birth to death, was to offer himself in service. It was not just what he said that was love, it was what he did: fed the hungry, healed the sick, drove out evil spirits, raised the dead, had compassion on the needy. He was the explanation of the law and the commandments. He was the end, the goal, the fulfillment of the law, which is love.
If to love our neighbor as ourselves is to be like Christ in the fulfilling of the commandments, then the definition of this love requires an intimate relationship with God. Jesus was who he was by virtue of his relationship with his Father. His life was characterized by his desire to do his Father's will. Therefore to love our neighbor is to love God and his will for our lives. Christian love is defined by our belonging to God, as revealed in his written Word: the Holy Scriptures. If love is the fulfilling of the law as seen in Jesus, then it is clear from the Gospels what actions are expected of us by God. It is this sort of clarity and specificity about what constitutes true love that is disputed by the world.
What the unbelieving world understands by love, and what God understands by it, is entirely different. For the world, love is whatever the majority of society believe it to be. For the world, love can change according to popular opinion. For the world, values can change according to human determination. For the world, morality is seen to be an accidental matter which can evolve as time goes by. For the world, when a great number do what the commandments consider wrong, then wrong is declared to be right. But if contemporary men and women decide for themselves what is right and wrong, what they consider love to be, instead of God, Christ, and his written Word, then they are personally guilty of insurrection against God. When loving our neighbor has no relation to the commandments, no relation to Christ, no relation to doing God's will, then a mutiny has occurred against God. Love becomes a relative term.
Love for the unbelieving world is selfishness. It is to look out for number one. It is to seek one's happiness above all else. I received a promotion for a book entitled, "Totally Fulfilled" by Dean Graziosi. He promises that "Whatever it is you desire, I've got a solution for you that can move you in that winning direction! Let me show you how easy it truly can be to live a life that is Totally Fulfilled. Love, confidence, abundance, joy, peace, freedom and happiness beyond anyone's wildest dreams!" With it came bonuses of other self-help resources: "Self-Promotion Secrets of the Super Successful, How To Carve Out and Live Your Ultimate Lifestyle, 101 Ways to Unleash Your Potential, Make Your Life a Masterpiece! What the world honors and loves under the name of love is group-selfishness. Whatever the group may be to which we aspire, we adopt their values, their priorities, their definitions of the will of God, of love. We seek the approval of others in the group.
God, on the other hand, understands love to be sacrificing love - sacrificing love which makes room for God, even at the cost of being rejected by others. Remember that the incarnation of love, Jesus, the Son of God, was rejected and despised of men, and was executed for his life and message. God has given us in Christ and the commandments a holding-on place in existence, a certainty in the midst of confusion. The law of Christ's love gives us substance and truth in the midst of the vague and hazy ideas of what love is marketed by the world.
Love as understood by the world is mutuality: if I love you I expect you to love me back. It is conditional love. "I expect to get something back for my investment." This kind of 'love' is an investment, not the paying of a debt. It is the oil that lubricates the world's agenda. It is, "if I scratch your back, you can scratch my back." You owe me.
Christian love, the love that is explained by Christ, that Christ fulfilled in his person, is a triangular relationship that includes God. Love is of God. To love another person is to help him to love God, and to be loved by God. To love is to do God's will, it is to be like Christ. To love your neighbor as yourself is to love God with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. When you love others for God's sake, you are saved from self-interest, and can devote yourself to loving others without needing anything in return.
Such love comes at a price. The debt that is paid requires the willingness to give, to love, to care, to sacrifice. This willingness comes out of the love which God puts in our hearts by his Spirit. It does not come naturally to us. That is why the world finds it ridiculous, foolish. We can only love our neighbor in this way through the power of the Holy Spirit. For "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." (Galatians 5:22-25)
This is true Total Fulfillment. The Message puts it like this: "But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard - things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.
We find ourselves involved in loyal commitment, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. ...Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads, but work out its implications in every detail in our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original."
An audio version of this presentation is to be found on www.ameliachapel.com
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