Sunday, May 19, 2013

Love Your Neighbor

An expert in the law asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was.  Jesus told him, "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."

We're supposed to love our neighbors.  Okay, so who are they?  Everyone around us it seems - even those people that we aren't that fond of.  And what exactly does it mean to love them?  We can get a pretty good picture from Paul's letter to the Corinthians.  In his letter he says,

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  

"If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  

"If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

"Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

"Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

"Love never fails."

With these words in mind, how can we integrate them and let them affect how we live and interact with our neighbors (spouse, kids, family, friends, actual neighbors, strangers, coworkers, political figures, religious figures, widows, orphans, the poor, and so on and so forth)?  We often hear these words when someone gets married, but they don't just apply to those joined in marriage.  Here's what I'm thinking.

We have to be patient with those around us - when we're driving, when we're waiting in line, when our neighbor's dog is barking, when somebody's music is too loud, when someone close to you makes the same stupid choice for the nth time, when somebody does something that really pisses you off...

We must be kind.  This seems to go hand-in-hand with patience because it's not easy to be kind when we have no patience with someone.  This means that we just need to be nice.  Smile at people.  Give them a kind word.  Help them.  Be the person that brings joy instead of hurt.  Keep those mean thoughts to yourself.  Encourage someone instead of tearing them down.

Don't envy what someone else has or does.  What profit is that?  It's just poison in your heart.  It's okay to want things and to work for things, but it's not okay to let that consume us.  Envy brings jealously and hatred, but not much else.  You're still in the same position.  And in the same vein, don't let pridefulness drive you to boasting about what you have or do.  What is the point of boasting?  Isn't it to cause people to envy your position in life?  We shouldn't desire to cause something in someone else that will grow jealously and hatred in their hearts.  Jeez, what an awful thing to do if we really think about it!

We shouldn't be rude to all those people around us.  This takes us back to being patient and kind.  It's so easy to be rude because so often we are very focused on ourselves.  But imagine how it feels when someone is rude to us.  It hurts, and it makes us mad.  In not being rude, we can save someone else from experiencing those feelings.

Don't be self-seeking in your relationships with others.  We shouldn't use people.  Instead, we should seek to benefit them.  We should ask ourselves, "How can I make this person's life better by my interactions with them?"

Inevitably, people are going to make us upset.  That really goes without saying.  My father always says that relationships are messy, and it's true. However, we should not go easily to that place of anger with people.  Christ tells us that we should forgive, and forgive, and forgive.  Again and again.  If we love someone, we can't run around being angry with them all the time.  And hand-in-hand with forgiveness of those things they do to us is not keeping a record of those wrongs they do against us.  Just like envy, keeping that record of wrongs only festers a feeling of bitterness and hurt within us.  We can't let go, and we can't move on.  We are stuck in the past and in a dark place.  In love, we have to release those things.

Lastly, we must seek to protect our neighbors by keeping them from evil and lies.  We should protect them by not gossiping about them or telling untruths.  We should protect them by trying to see the best in them and seeking to give our best to them.

No matter what, we must persevere in our love for our neighbors.  No matter what obstacle because this is what Christ calls us to do.  This is the second greatest commandment - to love our neighbors - and Paul tells us what that means.  It's hard.  It seems impossible.  Yet, we have to try and try and try.  We have to ask God for his mercy because people suck sometimes, and the last thing we want to do is love them.  I really think it's only through Christ that we can love others in this way.  We know that man has no greater love for another than to lay down his life for that person.  To love others in this way is really to lay down your die to your sinful nature and only to love.

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