Love Thy Neighbor
Matthew 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment of the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
As I made my cup of afternoon tea, I noticed the tag on my tea bag had something written on it. It simply said, “The principle ingredient in life is love.” That’s actually a pretty profound nugget of wisdom allotted to the space on a tea bag tag, but it is open to a bit too much interpretation. As I considered it, the scriptures from Matthew quoted above came to mind. Our principle commandments from the Lord are to love God with all our consciousness and will and to love our “neighbor” as ourselves.
It makes sense that the two go hand-in-hand. If we love God completely, it naturally follows that we would love others, for God is love (1 John 4:8) and He loves the world (John 3:16). That led me to begin to wonder who exactly he’s referring to as my “neighbor.”
Who is it that I’m commanded to love? The people at church?
-Certainly! They are your brothers and sisters in Christ.
And my literal neighbors? Do have to love them? I don’t know them that well.
- You still have to love them.
But what about the unsmiling woman that I pass on my daily walk who never acknowledges my greeting? Am I supposed to love her?
-Yes, her, too. She needs kindness.
What about the gruff man who I always hear yelling at his kids?
-Afraid so. He especially needs to be shown love. Perhaps he never received it as a child and doesn’t know how to show it.
Alright Lord, but what about all the random people I’ve never even met and know nothing about?
-Them, too. Many of them are lost. You must shine My light on them.
Okay, Lord, I hear you. But what about some vile criminal or drug addict?
-Of course! How are they supposed to know that I care for them if you don’t?
I fully admit that I took liberties with that conversation, and it may have been wrong of me to put words in the Lord’s mouth, but I think you understand why I did it. As hard as it is for our faulty, judgmental human minds to accept or comprehend, we really do have to show love and compassion for other humans. The ugly ones, the unkind ones, the liberal and conservative ones, the abrasive ones, the criminal ones, and the downright abhorrent ones because in God’s perfect eyes, all sin is equal, and before I came to Christ, I was as filthy with it as the worst criminal sitting in the nearest prison. As Romans 5:8 says, "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
So how do we show love to total strangers in our daily, brief interactions? By being polite, kind, and helpful when we see a need. Assist the lady who’s spilled her purse in the middle of a busy sidewalk when everyone else is stepping around her. Return the $20 bill you saw drop out of the man’s pocket in the checkout line. Help the lady reach the item on the top shelf. Give an encouraging word to the tired young mother with a crying baby and a busy toddler in the store. Befriend your elderly neighbors and offer to run errands for them. It wouldn’t take that much more time to pick up a few things for them while you’re at the store anyway.
These days, a thousand small unexpected kindnesses are surprising and received with gratitude, and those selfless kindnesses could lead to sharing the Gospel and bringing someone to Christ. But how far should we be willing to go to show love to our neighbor?
Jesus answers this very question in Luke 10:29-37 in the parable of the good Samaritan, when He was asked, “And who is my neighbor?” The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable demonstrated selfless and sacrificial kindness and care for a man he did not even know, lying unconscious, beaten and naked on the road. A person who could have been a vile criminal himself, but the Samaritan never hesitated to bind his wounds, take him to an inn, and care for the man.
What would I do if found a person lying bleeding in the middle of the street? My immediate reaction is to say I’d help.
-I’d call 911, try to tend his wounds, and put something over him if I could.
-I’d do the same things.
-Absolutely! No question! I would make the call, tend the wounds, cover him (or her) up, and I’d sit beside him and hold his hand and tell him that everything will be okay and that we’ll find his parents!
If you were bleeding in the street, wouldn’t you want someone, anyone, to help?
What if helping that person was going to inconvenience or burden us for more than the time it would take for an ambulance to arrive? Do we stop ourselves from showing love and compassion to others when it will cause us to be inconvenienced or make us uncomfortable? Do we not help because we would be forced to spend time with someone who we find repugnant in some way?
My family and I have watched The Blind Side countless times. If you don’t know the movie, it’s about a wealthy family who takes in a homeless boy, out of the blue, and makes him part of their family without question or hesitation. Every time I see the part where the mom sees Michael walking down the road in the cold, wearing only shorts and a tee shirt, finds out he has nowhere to go, and tells him to get in the car with her family, my eyes well up with tears. I ask myself if I would go to such lengths to help someone like that if given the opportunity? Would you?
1 John 3:17-18 says, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.” In this scripture, John is speaking to the church about their fellow brothers and sisters, but how do we know that the homeless man sitting on the curb isn't a brother in Christ who's fallen on hard times, or how do we know he won't become one through our help?
It’s a scary thought to put a total stranger in your car and take them to your home and care for them. The world is full of violence and danger. What if that person is dangerous? What if they’re mentally ill? So many things could go wrong in that scenario.
I think the only way to know what to do and when to do it, is to listen to the Lord’s guidance. When I see someone standing on the side of the road begging, and I feel moved with compassion and have the overwhelming urge to help, I know the Lord is guiding me.
I once saw a young man begging at the entrance to a grocery store parking lot. I was immediately moved to help him. I don’t know what made him different from other beggars I’d seen, but something told me he was different.
I had no cash to give him, so I went into the store and bought him a hot chocolate from the Starbucks, and a sandwich and a few other prepared things from the grocery store. When I took them back outside and gave them to him, I’ve never seen such gratitude - or such hunger. He fell on the sandwich so voraciously I felt guilty for not buying him two. Out of a sense of caution, I had gotten in my car and driven up to him and handed the food to him through the window.
I don’t tell you this to seek praise. I simply use it as an example of a time when I knew beyond the shadow of doubt that I should help someone, but looking back on it, I know that I should have done more. I could’ve gotten some cash or a gift card in the grocery store. I could’ve bought more food that he could take with him. I should’ve sat down beside him on the curb and told him about Jesus. But I didn’t. All I can do now is pray for him and try to do better next time.
So, I encourage you, the next time you see a person begging, and you feel the urge to help, do it! Then, go further. Pick up where I left off and buy a little extra, give a little more, share the Gospel with them and pray over them.
The only way we are going to survive such dark days is to be the world’s light - to be kind when others aren’t, to see the ignored when others refuse to look, to share when others hoard, and to treat people as we want to be treated.