Love your neighbor


Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

I’ve been trying to write on this topic for 2 or 3 weeks, but couldn’t find a starting point. The exposure of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder on video this past week – TWO MONTHS AFTER THE FACT – with his killers walking free and uncharged during that time has given me that place to start. I’ve heard several white pastors call racism a sin problem not a skin problem. I agree, but I don’t think it gets to the heart of the problem: what makes an action a sin?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:24 NASB

But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 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.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40 NASB

Humans have been sinning since the Garden of Eden. Much ink has been spent since that time over whose fault it was despite Adam consistently being named throughout the bible as the representative of humanity and from whom we all inherited our sin. Aside from the most extreme patriarchal Christian sects, this is orthodox across denominations. I find it curious that it was not until Adam ate the fruit that “the eyes of both of them were opened.” I once heard someone teaching on this passage who speculated that since Adam “was there with her” when the serpent was doing his thing on Eve, and did not attempt to stop either of them, that perhaps he was also thinking that maybe the serpent was right and let Eve eat to see if she died. When she didn’t, he saw that as proof that God had lied to him and so he ate. Genesis 3 contains no indication of why Adam ate, but God states that the cause of why He was about to curse all the earth was that Adam listened to his wife. It could have been that Eve handed him the fruit she might have said, “See, nothing happened.” Regardless, Adam took no responsibility for his part at all. Eve blame-shifted, but in the process of saying “the serpent deceived me” she confessed (albeit passively) that God had not lied. Of note, while God was handing out the curses, He did not say to Eve “because you have done this.” There were consequences, yes, but He didn’t attribute those to what she had done as he did with the serpent and Adam.

The next sin we see in Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel – which he avoided owning up to – earning him a curse, but also protection due to God’s mercy. Fast forward to the time of Noah. The corruption of mankind on the earth was specified by God as being full of violence. Fast forward to Abraham’s time and you have Sodom and Gomorrah. There were not even 10 righteous people in them, and all the men of Sodom descended on Lot’s house to rape his visitors (the angels of God). Fast forward to the Exodus, when God gave Moses His law for His people who are called by His name (Isra-el) to set them apart from the other nations. They were to be different from all the other nations and the nations be blessed through them. The essence of the law God gave to his people was to love God and love their neighbors without becoming like their neighbors who worshipped other gods. But, alas, they wanted to be like the other nations, and were scattered among the nations.

Now there is a lot of ceremonial law applicable only to Israel prior to Jesus’ crucifixion. The veil separating the Holy of Holies in the Temple was ripped from top to bottom indicating that the place where God dwells was now open to all. Jesus death, burial, and resurrection made the ceremonial laws unnecessary. “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

God loves us so much that he was willing to set aside deity to become one of us through Jesus, showing us what he meant for us to love others, and let us kill him in the most brutal and humiliating way after he had first been whipped and beaten until he was unrecognizable by us as we mocked him. He faced rejection, ridicule, betrayal, and torture without responding though he had the power to destroy us all. As he hung on the cross, he cried out to the Father not for vengeance, not to save him, but to forgive those who put him there and were mocking him. That is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us and his capacity for forgiveness. His resurrection showed his victory over death and provides the hope we have in him that he will raise us up after death as well.

In light of the sacrifice of Jesus, can we really love God if we don’t understand just how much he loves us? If we don’t just love him but also trust him completely (“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”) can we really love our neighbors? If we don’t love our neighbors – including our enemies (real or imagined) – do we really love God?

The law gave Israel a guide for loving God and loving their neighbor. It wasn’t all-encompassing specific, but it was a strong enough framework to build upon how to love. If we get past the letter of the law to understand the spirit of it, we can still be guided somewhat to treat other people well. There are certainly problematic aspects of it especially with sexuality regarding women, but even those provide protection and care that would not otherwise be given. As Israel slid away prophets were sent to warn the people to repent and what was going to happen if they didn’t.

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?” Micha 6:8 NASB

All of the laws about loving our neighbor either seek to prevent harming them, or provide justice to those who have been harmed. Even the commands to love God provide protection and justice to others because idol worship always leads to oppression. Hence, Jesus fulfilled the law’s intended purpose to show us who God really is, and how to live out paying forward God’s love to us to our neighbors whether they are friend or foe, family or stranger, without exception.

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Jesus, Matthew 7:12 NASB

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