The Christian Neighbor

The “got to” command: love

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8–10 ESV).

Here is where Paul is pointing us. Love. Agape in the Greek. This famous word generally describes a much different kind of love than the Beatles memorialized. “All You Need is Love” is to turn love on self; to see love as a means to self-fulfillment. It is to make love all about me.

But we forget the first five commands. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The number one god that competes with the true God is the god of self. When self is on the throne of our hearts, love is turned into a means of self-fulfillment. I’ll serve other people as long as it makes me feel good. I’ll remain faithful to my spouse as long as she satisfies me. I’ll love my neighbor because doing so may advance my standing in society or get me the coveted secretary position in the HOA.

Self-love doesn’t fulfill the law. Selfless love does. That’s the point of this command Jesus said is the second-greatest command. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This isn’t promoting self-love; it is assuming it. Here’s Jesus restatement of it,

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NIV).

Rather than a list of “not to’s” (Romans 13:9), love is the “got to.” Our Bethel definition of love is self-giving for the good and joy of another. The Christian ethic includes the “not to’s,” so murder is still wrong and so is stealing. But just because we don’t commit the “not to” sin doesn’t mean we are a good neighbor.

So, you hear people talk like, are you a good neighbor? Well, I haven’t murdered any of them. OK. Glad to hear what you are not doing, but then what are you doing?

Jesus was asked directly, who is my neighbor that I should love? Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. I don’t have time to get into it. Most of you know the parable but do you know the point? The question isn’t, who is my neighbor? The question is, to whom can I be neighborly? Anyone God brings across the path of my life.

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10 ESV).

You shall love your spouse as yourself. Love does no wrong to a spouse. You shall love your in-laws as yourself. Love does no wrong to an in-law. You shall love your coworker as yourself, love does no wrong to a coworker. You shall love your fellow church member as yourself, love does no wrong to a fellow Christian.

Old Testament Scholar, Bruce Waltke summarizes this well, “The righteous…are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.”[1]

Love disadvantages itself for others. That’s our call. The Christian neighbor self-gives in the day-to-day of life with the real people God puts in our path. It is the posture of servanthood. Selflessness. You are more important than me.

How are you doing being a neighbor online? Is your tone gracious? Are you considering other people more important than yourselves? How about in the culture wars? Are you being neighborly toward people who disagree with you about politics? Debates on race? Pandemic? Masks? Philippians 4:5 (NIV) says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” I suspect we all have some growing to do in this area. Yes, not defrauding, but how about…

“Love is patient, love is kind…. [Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 7-8).

If you say, I’ve never seen that kind of love. I place before you Jesus Christ—the best neighbor we’ve ever had who put our needs ahead of his own. He loved us in spite of so much wrong thinking and wrong living. He took our sins and guilt upon himself and allowed himself to be nailed to a cross and died in our place. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Jesus was that friend. Jesus was that neighbor.

Aren’t we glad Jesus came into our neighborhood? He loved us perfectly and calls us to put that same love on display to the neighbors in our lives.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Additional Scripture quotations taken from Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] Bruce Waltke as quoted by Timothy Keller, Generous Justice (New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2010), page unknown.

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