Friday, June 5, 2015

On “Loving your neighbor as yourself”

Whenever we as Christians are speaking out against the sins of this world or are trying to engage in worldview discussions, we often have an attempt to shut us down with a saying of Jesus. A saying that, to be honest, is a wonderful example of how we as believers should try to live our lives.

It is an almost universal attempt to turn the tide of a debate and force the Christian to stumble or not know how to respond. For example, there is a current discussion over how we as society in general (and Christians specifically, for my purposes) should treat and love people who are living their lives in direct opposition to how God “created them male and female”. Specifically, if a man chooses to “identify” himself as a woman the Christian is simply told that “Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself”. That is framed in such a way that if we disagree with the statement we are unloving and do not deserve a seat at the table. End of discussion – the Bible-believing Christian is simply unloving.

While this is an amazing statement of Jesus, there is more to it!

In the 12th chapter of the book of Mark, some religious leaders of the day were asking Jesus what the greatest commandment is. Jesus’ response is where we are often sent during times of pointing out the sins of others’ lifestyles. Jesus said:
Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord;and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (emphasis mine)
We are to love. That’s what Jesus said we should do. Yes! “They will know us by our love” is how the Holy Spirit directed John to write it. Fortunately for us as believers, there is more to this command. We call it “context”. Jesus was was quoting from the single passage in the Old Testament that has this phrase. (He as the “Word” inspired it in the first place and he’s re-quoting it in The Gospels).

This quote from Jesus came from Leviticus 19:18 where we read “you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” However, I still haven’t gotten to the “there’s more” part. This section from Leviticus (specifically chapters 18-20) are, quite frankly, shunned and mocked by today’s society. But this is what Jesus is quoting. This is where His mind was focused. One cannot isolate Jesus’ words in The Gospels from the context of Leviticus 19.

It is actually a wonderful chapter with exhortations to not oppress your neighbor. We’re told not to be unjust or slander, etc… But in the verse right before what is supposedly the most powerful statement that Jesus ever made (at least as it’s often used to shut down discussions) to “love your neighbor as yourself” we read this.
‘You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. (emphasis mine)
Ahh! But there’s the rub. In the same section that we originally read to love our neighbors, we are told that we may surely reprove our neighbors! When the neighbors we love as ourselves are not following the best path that God has for their lives, we may (and should!) reprove them. Correct them. “Rebuke your neighbor frankly” is what we are told.

But why? So that we “shall not incur sin because of him”.

If you are reading this and you are fond to cite Jesus’ citation of Leviticus 19:18 please understand that it must be framed in the context of Leviticus 19:17. You cannot expect that the “conservative” Christian should pick and choose what to believe. The discussion should move beyond cherry-picked Bible verses without considering the context of the verse, chapter, book, and Bible as a whole.

Most of us do try to love our neighbors as ourselves and we understand that along with that comes loving them in such a way that includes reasoning and rebuking them when necessary. With love.