About 3,500 years ago, the following words were given to Moses by God:
“…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18b)
In the preceding verses, there is a quite a list of “shall nots”: you shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie; you shall not oppress you neighbor or rob him; you shall not curse the deaf; you shall not put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall not be partial; you shall not slander; you shall not hate your brother; you shall not take vengeance.
And then, at the end of the “shall nots” comes this incredible “shall”: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
So, from this text written 3,500 years ago we come to understand that part of what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves is that we must not intentionally do things to our neighbors that are evil. This is one side of the coin.
About 2,000 years ago, Luke records that Jesus and a lawyer were discussing this text. As the lawyer tries to justify himself under the weight of this incredible command, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, we find the Samaritan being moved with compassion and compelled to action. He helps someone who is unlike himself, who is helpless, and who is unable to provide anything in return. He puts himself in harm’s way and expends his time, resources and money to help someone who society said should be his enemy. And in doing these things, Jesus says that the Samaritan was a neighbor to the man in need.
So, from this text written 2,000 years ago we come to understand that part of what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves is that we must intentionally do things for our neighbors that are good. This is the other side of the coin.
So, don’t intentionally do things to our neighbors that are evil, and do intentionally do things for our neighbors that are good. Seems simple enough.
So what does this look like for us today?
Before we attempt to move on to application, here are a couple of brief comments about the command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
This is the second greatest commandment. The first is to love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and with all of your strength and with all of your mind. It is critical to know that the second commandment is impossible unless you first fulfill the first, and the first is only possible through Jesus. That is an article for another day, but it is of fundamental importance.
This verse is NOT teaching that we all need to go work on loving ourselves more. This is popular theology today, but it is not true. The reality is that we all love ourselves abundantly, and this verse assumes this to be true. Since the assumption is that we are experts at loving ourselves, the challenge is to get that good at loving others. Again, an article for another day.
Those things being said, how do we apply this verse today?
I think the easier part is what we learn from Leviticus 19. If you are intentionally seeking to do evil to your neighbor…be that your neighbor in your neighborhood, your neighbor in the workplace, your neighbor in your family, or your neighbor in the pew…. stop. Stop immediately. This is sin. Call it what it is, beg God to break your heart over it, confess it, and repent.
The harder part is what we learn from Luke 10. What does it look like to intentionally do things for our neighbors that are good?
At a basic level, it means showing kindness and taking the time to know them. In our society, this is a lost art. We must be intentional to fight the cultural trend toward isolationism. Put down the phone. Turn off the TV. Walk across the yard…or across the auditorium…and get to know people. Lots of people. All kinds of people.
Beyond that, we look for needs that we can meet. You might be inclined to think, “Well, the Good Samaritan had it easy. The man obviously needed help. He was in a ditch and bleeding.”
That’s true. But it is not unique. We are surrounded by people with needs that are just as obvious.
The widow who is often alone needs company.
Those in the hospital need to be visited.
The man who just had knee surgery needs his grass mowed.
The single mom needs help with the kids.
Those moving need movers and a truck.
The visitor to church needs fellowship.
The unemployed dad needs work.
The hungry need food and water.
Those in prison need someone to visit them.
The homeless need shelter.
The orphan needs a home.
We are all busy. We are all tired. We all know that getting involved in these things can be complicated and costly. It is inconvenient. It takes us out of our comfort zone.
And there you have it. Loving our neighbor costs us something. It drives us to self-sacrifice. It drives us to love others in the same way that we love ourselves.
So how to do we apply this text? What does it mean for today?
The same thing it has always meant.
Don’t intentionally do things to your neighbors that are evil, and do intentionally do things for your neighbors that are good.
Do you love your neighbor as you love yourself?