When Jesus was questioned about the order and importance of the commandments and the Law by the Pharisees, it was an effort to test him. They had made the classification and ordering of the Laws by importance almost an art form. The response from Jesus stunned them all:
“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 22:36-40)
The idea here was that by loving God in the way He described, the natural result would be that we would love our neighbor just as we love ourselves. Everyone is part of His creation and therefore must be loved. His desire for their salvation is just as strong as it is for ours (see Matthew 5:43). We know that not everyone will be saved, but that is not because God does not want it to be so.
So who is our “neighbor”? The quick answer is that it is everyone other than us. It is the guy next door with the barking dog, the kids who throw rocks at the cars and the man down the street who burns his leaves even though he isn’t supposed to. Our neighbors are also the people on the highway who drive like maniacs, the grocery clerk who is having a bad day, the people we see on the news being arrested, our co-worker who steals our pens and anyone else we come in contact with. Everyone is our “neighbor”.
So what does it mean to “love” them? It does not mean we have to hug them, although it is an expression of affection and caring. Some people just aren’t “huggable”, and that is where we begin our challenge. How do we love the people we don’t really like? Is praying for them enough? The answers here are not easy, but they are clear. Through getting to know Christ, the living Word of God, we emulate Him. And by emulating Christ, we show the love in our hearts, and that is what our neighbor will see.
Love in action
We pray for those people we love, but we should also be praying for those people that cause some discomfort, or irritation in our lives. By praying for our neighbors, we naturally improve the way we see them.
A few years ago we lived next door to a couple who we thought was kind of scary, to be honest. We went for years without speaking to them because of the way they looked. I am not proud of this in hindsight, but the lesson came years later when I decided to walk over and say hello. As I gripped the burly hand of a man twice my size, and illustrated with tattoos, I saw something that changed my life forever… love. This man was one of the kindest human beings I have ever met in my lifetime. While we did not go on to become close friends or “hang out” together, we were friendly from that day forward. We were neighbors. He probably doesn’t know how much that moment changed me, or changed him. I sensed that most people did not approach him in this way, and maybe that was why he was so open to it.
Of course not every story ends that way, there are some people we just can’t like. No matter how hard we try. And these are the most important people to remember when we “love”. When we pray for our loved ones and the people we like, we also pray for those people who are in our orbit that we have issues with, don’t know all that well or are just plain enemies.
Take the Love Thy Neighbor challenge and you will see that it completely changes the way you look at the world… if you commit to it with your whole heart. Remember when you are in the moment of being annoyed with someone that you love them, and your irritation will fade. You won’t necessarily want to spend time with them, but you will not harbor the hatred. You have His Word on it.