PRIORITIES AND VALUES, Part 3

Loving Others

“Love your neighbor.” Those words are so easy to say, yet so hard to do. Do you really have to love all your neighbors? Can’t you just love the ones you like? Jesus seems to be making a blanket statement: Christians are supposed to love all their neighbors. But we can’t blame Jesus for inventing such a hard thing to do. The concept of “loving your neighbors” is as old as the Old Testament:

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)

In all three Synoptic Gospels, Jesus advised His followers to “Love your neighbor.” This is admonition is found in Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; and Luke 10:27.

The Hebrew word used in the Leviticus reference means “tenderness and fullness of affection.” For the ancient Hebrews, their challenge was to love other people as God loved Israel. In the Gospels, the word Jesus chose to use is agape. Yes, we are to love our neighbors unconditionally. It seems the more we talk about this, the worse it gets! Let’s discover what it really means to “love others.”

1. Love your neighbor as yourself, Matthew 22:37—40; Romans 13:8—10

a. The biblical social ethic, Matthew 22:37—40

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37—40)

In answer to a question about which commandment is the greatest, Jesus gave the perfect answer. However, in giving this simple, yet profound answer, Jesus is really teaching us seven things:

  • The entire duty of man, the whole moral-spiritual law is summed up in a single, all encompassing word: love.

  • This love must be directed both up and over: up to God and over toward our fellow man.

  • All parts of man—heart, soul, and mind—must involved in loving God. The heart is the mainspring of all man’s thoughts, words and deeds. The soul refers to the seat of man’s emotions. And the mind has reference to man’s thoughts, his disposition, and his attitudes. What all this means is that man must love God with all of his being; in his thoughts, his attitudes, and his actions.

  • In loving God, man must not hold back. Note the use of the “all.” We cannot love God in a half-hearted manner. We can’t claim to love God with our words but never think good things about Him, for example. We can’t pay lip service to God. Our actions must flow from our confession of love for God.

  • This commandment is called “the greatest” because if flows from our response to God. Because God loved us so much, we ought to feel compelled to as lest aspire to love Him with the same intensity of love.

  • That “second commandment,” says Jesus resembles the first one because it involves love. This time, it is loving a fellow human being, who has been created in God’s image. Our love for him should be motivated out of our love for God.

  • The two-fold admonition (love God, love your neighbor) is the hook upon which the entire Old Testament hangs. Take away that hook, and the Old Testament falls apart.

b. Paul’s expanded statement, Romans 13:8—10

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Paul had just commanded submission to ruling authorities as part of the believer’s obligation to live at peace with the world around him. Now he turns to another commandment: love one another.

The underlying thought behind all of Paul’s teaching in this chapter is to live submissively as living sacrifices in light of the fact the Jesus could return at any moment. The very concept of “submission” means doing something you’re rather not do. Loving others does not come naturally to most people; it requires a conscious effort to do so. What’s more (or what’s worse, depending on your temperament!) this admonition to love others is much bigger that merely loving fellow believers! The context favors the broader interpretation of loving all our neighbors, even those who are far outside of the Church.

Loving your neighbor as yourself does not suggest a sick infatuation with self! It’s a way of saying: “Look after your neighbor with the same effort with which you look after yourself.” Paul said roughly the same thing to husbands and wives:

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church… (Ephesians 5:28, 29)

2. Brotherly love described, Romans 12:9—21

The essence of Paul’s teaching in Romans 12 is the dedicated Christian life—a life of sacrifice. It is only when believers are living sacrificially that they are able to live according to God’s will. God’s will is not knowable to those who are not living the dedicated, sacrificial life.

But what does “living sacrificially” look like? It is manifested in a million small ways, in the day-to-day relationships we have with each other. Love of other people, including love of enemies!, is the acid test. If one is loving those around them consistently, they they are in reality a “living sacrifice.”

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (vs. 9, 10)

The “love” Paul is writing about is the unconditional, selfless kind of love that only Christians are capable of demonstrating: agape. We are to love all people, especially fellow believes, but all people, with agape love. Why? because that’s how God loves us!

In Romans 8:35, Paul asks a pointed question: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? The answer, of course, is NOBODY. Well, just as nobody and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, so nothing and nobody should keep believers from loving each other or loving the lost. But this love must be “sincere.” The Greek word means “genuine,” not hypocritical. In other words, Christians should like open books; what you see is what you get. And other people, when they look at us, should see love. But what does agape love look like? It looks like verses 9 to 21, with verse 21 acting as a kind of summary:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Christians must do their level best to live like Paul has outlined in verses 9 to 20. The temptation, though, is to meet evil with evil; to hit back and hit back hard. We can’t afford to do that because we are supposed to be “living sacrifices,” meaning since our whole being is dedicated to living for God and living like God, we must always strive act in a way that is usually opposite to our natural inclinations: overcome evil with good. The world’s philosophy is the opposite to God’s; it leads people to treat others as they have been treated. However, to treat other with love when they are expecting something else can sometimes warm the coldest heart!

The foundation of living as sacrifices is that God is ultimately in control of our lives:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

If that can be our attitude, then we learning to leave outcomes in God’s hands should be our goal. Learning to let the Holy Spirit control our behavior, especially during times of contention, allows Him to work not only in our lives but also in the lives of others and He will bring about God’s desired result.

3. Brotherly love in action, Romans 14:1—10

Martin Luther once observed:

A Christian in a most free lord of all, subject to none. a Christian is a most dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

In Romans 14, Paul continues talking about living sacrificially in a most practical manner. Apparently thee was a problem in Rome between Gentile and Jewish converts over the matter of food and holy days.

a. Convictions regarding diet, vs. 1—3

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.

This group of verses concerns believers behavior among themselves, not relationships between believers and unbelievers. The real secret behind Paul’s admonition in verse 1 is a simple one: focus on who, not what. When believers get together and their focus wanders away from the center of their faith, Jesus Christ, and settles on peripheral matters, then pretty soon disunity appears. E. Stanley Jones put it succinctly:

Talk about what you believe and you have disunity. Talk about who you believe and you have unity.

The church in Rome had been around long enough to have some minor problems that were threatening to become major problems. Differences of opinion about what believers should eat and what they shouldn’t eat were pretty common in this era and, as we all know, people love to give their opinions and defend their opinions. Paul describes the believer who was obsessed with diet as “one whose faith is weak” because that person’s faith isn’t strong enough to perceive the extent of the freedom he has in Christ. He thoughts, attitudes, and behavior are still governed by somebody else’s rules and regulations. This kind of believer may be doctrinally sound but full of doubt when it comes what he should have for lunch or whether or not he should wear man-made fabric. The advice to stronger, more mature believers is to “accept” this weak believer. This means that strong believers are not to judge the weaker ones, but to wholeheartedly fellowship with them and do nothing to make them feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.

The issues that the Roman church were encountering were non-essentials and therefore not worth fighting over. Issues not involving Biblical doctrines or theology can often, though not always, be deemed “non-essential.” Oddly enough, these inconsequential things, like what to eat, for example, are things that cause the most problems in a church and lead to disunity. This should never be allowed to happen in a local church because unity among believers is how the world knows that Jesus is our Lord and unity among Christians is an attribute that draws unbelievers to Christ.

This was a real “hot button” issue with Paul; one that he fought against his whole ministry. Here was a man gloriously set free from the shackles of legalism, and Paul wanted all believers to experience the freedom he himself experienced in Christ. So convinced was Paul of this, he once had a rough encounter with Peter over it:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. (Galatians 2:11)

So sometimes even great church leaders, like Peter for instance, who may be full of wisdom and spot-on when it comes theology and doctrine, can be completely out in left field when it comes to matters of inconsequence.

b. Holy days, vs. 4—6

What was true of food was also true of holy feast days. Jewish converts still believed in their special days and thought it was important to observe them even though they had become Christians.

Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

The principle is the same. The church may be full of weak, immature believers, yet genuinely living their faith, but the only person Paul chastises is the one who would look down on or condemn that other person who holds a different view than his own.

c. Be dedicated to the Lord, vs. 7—10

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.

The issue of whether or not believers in Rome should eat certain foods or abstain from them seems like one of those mundane issues that can be quickly settled over a cup of coffee. But in this group of verses, as John Stott noted, Paul “lifts up the very mundane question of our mutual relationships in the Christian community to the high theological level of the death, resurrection, and consequent universal lordship of Jesus.”

So, in fact, these mundane issues are very important to the extent that they have the potential of ripping apart a church. If Christ is going to judge every person some day, why should Christians be doing it now?

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. (vs. 10)

It’s God’s job to judge, not ours. Paul’s observation in verse 7, “none of us lives for ourselves alone” is often thought of in the same sense as John Donne’s famous statement, “No man is an island.” However, that is not what Paul is teaching here. Paul’s point is not a sociological one but a deeply theological one. All Christians live out their lives accountable to God. Decisions about food or holy days should never be made apart from a desire to be faithful to God’s will.

The “weak” or immature Christian needs to stop passing judgment on the other believer who does not share his convictions about disputable matters and the “strong” or mature Christian must stop looking down on his brother who may be clinging to them. Both mature and immature believers will stand before God to give account of how they lived their lives, so let God do the judging.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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