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Loving Your Neighbor: What The Bible Says
So many Christians today are getting it wrong when it comes to loving their neighbor. They're getting it extremely wrong, and that's unfortunate. In Mark chapter 12, Jesus laid down the greatest of the commandments that Christians needed to adhere to in order to live a good Christian life, "30AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ 31“The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
There seems to be some debate as to what the definition of love actually is. Many Christians hold to the belief, despite being explicitly told not to, that passing judgment on sinners is how a Christian shows love to them. "We're just trying to save them from Hell, after all." They use the words of James to justify doing exactly what they were commanded not to. Another favorite verse often used to justify the judgment of others is in John 7. These fundamentalists will quote verse 24, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." According to these modern day Pharisees, and make no mistake, that is what they are, this verse doesn't command not to judge at all, it simply gives instructions on how to judge. Make sure we judge righteously.
Well, that's cute. Unfortunately, it ignores all of the context of what is actually happening in that passage, and who Jesus was talking to. When you go back and read the entire section, you realize that Jesus is being rebuked by the church leaders for having healed a man on the Sabbath. It was required - and still is in Jewish tradition - that no work can be performed on the Sabbath, so Jesus' healing of a man was a sin punishable by death. Jesus, however, reminded these leaders that circumcisions are performed on the Sabbath and asked them why it was ok to heal a man's soul - through circumcision - on the Sabbath, but not his entire body, with a miracle? Verse 24 was Jesus pointing out that they didn't truly understand the law with which they were trying to use to convict him. This takes us directly back to Matthew and removing the log from our own eyes before we even remotely attempt to help our neighbor remove the speck from his.
If we don't have a full understanding of what the Bible is actually teaching us - and when we cherry pick verses and exclude all context, we have no understanding - then how can we effectively help our brothers and sisters to gain understanding?
It actually should really boggle the mind of anyone who truly understands the Bible and what it teaches that there could be any debate on what the Bible means, exactly, when it tells us that we should love our neighbor. What is love? Does the Bible even define love? It does, actually.
"4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
1 Corinthians 13: 4-7
This is the New Testament definition of love. Nowhere does it concern itself with the trespasses of others, or when we as Christians should be pointing them out with our own "righteous judgment." In fact, to attack someone else and pass judgment on them seems to be contradictory to this very definition. St. Paul tells us that love doesn't boast, yet we boast of our own righteousness when we try to point out the sinfulness of others. Love keeps no record of wrongs, yet when we pass judgment on our brothers and sisters we are doing exactly that. Love does not dishonor others, yet our judgment has dishonored them already, because of the way most fundamentalists go about passing that judgment. It is impossible to pass judgment on our brothers without being arrogant, and arrogance is a sin in and of itself.
I am a sinner. Everyone reading this right now is a sinner. We have all sinned and fallen short of God's glory, so what makes the sin of the adulterer, or the homosexual, or the murderer any worse than our own sins? It is impossible to judge our brothers and sisters without first being a hypocrite, and Jesus decried the hypocrites at every turn in the Gospels. This is why God has reserved judgment for himself.
1 Corinthians is not, by any means, the only place in the Bible where love is defined. There is an Old Testament definition which can be found in Leviticus.
9 'Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 'Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.11 'You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. 12 'You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.13 'You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. 14 'You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. 15 'You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial *to the poor nor defer * to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. 16'You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. 17 'You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. 18 'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD."
While much of this passage seems to just reinforce the Ten Commandments, there is one particularly interesting verse, which is of extreme importance to the subject of judging our neighbor. Verse 17, in addition to commanding that we not hate our fellow man in our hearts, says that surely we may reprove our neighbor. Some translations use the word "rebuke," but there is also a caveat: "But you shall not incur sin because of him." That last bit is the important part. If you are going to rebuke a fellow follower, it must be done with a pure heart so as we will not incur sin ourselves while trying to educate another on their sins. This again is a command against passing judgment. We are to instruct, to guide, and to be helpful - always with a pure heart and always with love and never with judgment.
We live in a time when the government of the United States of America has decided that members of the LGBT community are deserving of having their marriages legally recognized all across the country. It has been absolutely disgusting seeing the Christian response to this development. We do not show love to our neighbor by trying to tell him how to live his own life. God has given every man free will to govern his own life. We can choose to do good or we can choose to do evil, but we get to choose. Why do Christians feel they have the authority to take that choice away from our LGBT neighbors?
In your school life, or your work life, or your personal life, if you see someone doing something wrong, do you condemn them? Do you come to them with judgment? If someone is having trouble working the new copier, do you dishonor him and call him names and tell him that he is going to get fired if he doesn't learn to use the copier and then walk away? Or do you help him, teach him with love and compassion how to use the copier? So if you don't behave that way in other aspects of your life, what would you behave that way in your spiritual life?
St. Augustine tells us that we are to love the sinner, but hate the sins they commit. Taking a stand against homosexuality is one thing. If you own a business, and you feel that it isn't proper to serve a homosexual person or to cater their wedding, take that stand and take it righteously. If you feel it is acceptable to do business with them, take that stand righteously. God has given you those freedoms, and no one can take them away. But that doesn't mean that you will always be exempt from punishment or persecution for taking these stands. Jesus said that we will be hated because of him, and because we take a stand for him. Of course, that doesn't make it right for others to persecute you, but we know it will happen because Jesus told us it would. But if you don't want to be persecuted for your faith, why do you persecute the Atheist or the homosexual for their lack of faith?
Jesus has commanded us to love our neighbor as our self. Of course, how you choose to interpret this is entirely up to you, and God alone will judge you at the end. Would you rather go to your judgment thinking you have judged righteously, and be prepared to be judged by the same measure you used against others, or would you rather go to your judgment able to tell God, "I have not always agreed with my neighbor, but I have always shown him love and welcomed him in friendship?" You have free will. You get to make that choice, and God will judge you by the choice you make.