Thursday, January 19, 2006

Loving Our Neighbor as Ourselves

This is number twelve (12) in the "Back to Basics Series": this link leads to an index post that will direct you to the rest of the series. The first six mainly had to do with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in our lives and the ways the Spirit enables us to live out the Great Commandment. The seventh examined why love is the Great Command. Now, Carl examines the Great Commandment itself in detail.

Once again, the "Jesus Creed":

Mark 12:30 " '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’ "[Deuteronomy 6:5] 31 "The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' [Leviticus 19:18]. There is no other commandment greater than these."
That is the "This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it":

How to Love Our Neighbor as Ourselves
Carl Palmer, Pastor-Teacher; Mark 12:31; December 11, 2005

This is going to be our focus in the New Year - how to love our neighbors as our self. Our love for ourselves is to be our measure for loving others. Jesus assumed something here: that we love ourselves. Carl points out that there are a few people in our church who are counselors and when this comes up they all do the same thing - because there is a danger here. Those counselors talk to so many people who honestly do not love themselves.

In fact some people hate themselves. Therefore, people at this point stumble over this because they really do think of themselves badly. These counselors spend time with these folk trying to convince them that God deeply loves them; and that they have value and worth because of God's love for them. Really, everyone's value and worth is because of God's immense love for us. Incidentally, being created in God's image and His love for us are the reasons why it is alright for us to love ourselves in the right way. There is no judgment in loving yourself.

When scripture talks about loving ourselves this is not about feeling good about ourselves. Our problem is that we relate the word "love" to the word "feeling". We think they are equivalent and they are not. Love often involves feeling; but many times love is more about commitment - some of us are married and we know that. We sometimes do not feel good about our spouses but we are committed to them. If the feelings then come - praise God. Some people when the "feeling" of love is gone from their marriage want to end that marriage. God has a different concept of the word "love".

One of the primary ways we love ourselves is that we just "take care of me". Even the people who think badly about themselves - perhaps they have been abused or told they are worthless - have some of this normative relationship with themselves. Every single day:
  • If we are hungry, we get something to eat;
  • If we need clothes, we put them on.
  • If we have a need, we try to meet them (go shopping for ourselves, etc)
  • If someone treats us badly, we feel bad and think that is unfair and we try to fix it as best we can.
because we are thinking about ourselves. We just do this naturally: we walk around and we are the center of the universe. Psychologically and mentally, that is natural. When we walked into the church today (or our job, etc) we were the center: everything happened around us or at least that is what our consciousness said.

Jesus wants us to learn from this love for ourselves:
  • When we start to feel hungry, realize other people are hungry.
  • When you need to put clothes on, realize others need clothes
  • When we have a need, realize that others have needs
  • If we feel wronged because we have been treated badly, realize others also have been wronged and feel badly
  • If we are warm in our house with a roof on it, realize that others have no houses or roofs
Realize this, and then perhaps do something about it.

God wants us to simply learn how much we are concerned about ourselves; and to learn from that that what we feel others feel! Do a little self-analysis: go through the day and note how much you think about yourself. It is not wrong that we think about ourselves throughout the day - it is human. It is extending that same concern to others that God wants.

A person who understands that others have feelings just like theirs is a different person. They are great to be around: they actually care about you. For instance, they are not just waiting for you to stop talking so they can start - they are really listening to you.
Matthew 7:12 "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
Some call this the "Golden Rule": in everything take the initiative (act!) and do for others as you would want them to do for you. If everybody lived like that, this would be one different planet.

Our love for people is evidence we truly love God. This is one of the primary ways we know this.
1 John 3:14 "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death" [Shakti: here is that destruction/renewal thing again]
We know we have been truly converted because we love our brothers. If you want to know about loving others read 1 John. He comes after this again and again: that we receive love from God, it passes through us, and we love people because of this in a new way. Jesus said:
John 13:34 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
"Love one another" is repeated three times in this command - this is one of the primary way we know we are Jesus' disciples. Christians have gotten away from this a little bit. Now many Christians think the way we show we are disciples of Jesus is by
  • what we say;
  • our persuasive ability;
  • our ability to argue someone down; or
  • our stuffing the Bible down someone's throat.
Witnessing has now become a primarily verbal thing; and the world needs love. Carl wants to tell us that a primary attraction to Jesus is God's people loving each other - that is what Jesus meant. This is so much more attractive than verbal arguments. Now when someone needs an answer we need to be able to tell the truth. We do use our minds; and we do pursue truth - but what is attractive to others is that we love each other.

So, it is primarily in showing love for people that love for God is confirmed as real. One of our problems is that we do not know if our love for God is real. We think it is; and one of the things that will help us is if we become persuaded that our own love for God is real. How do we know that? If we have doubts about our love for Jesus, one of the ways God will put certainty in our life is if we love people.
1 John 4:20 If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
John is real clear here: you cannot really love an unseen God if you cannot love a seen brother or sister. Jesus said it like this:
Matthew 5:44 "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. [Carl stopped here - I cannot] 46 "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Jesus tells us to even love our enemies so that we can be "sons of our Father" - because that is what Jesus does. How do you know the sons and daughters of God? They love enemies. One of the primary evidences of our love for God is that we love our brother, our sister, our neighbor, and our enemy - because God does. This begins to become powerful; life-changing; and even radical.

Notice the order: First love God - then love people. The first commandment is not love people, it is love God. The order is important because we live in a world where people say things like "He's not very religious, but he loves people - so certainly he is going to heaven". This is actually a difficult statement to respond to. You respond by pointing out the commandment: first God, then people. Loving people may impress people but it doesn't impress God that much.

That is because God looks at the heart and knows we love people for all kinds of reasons: we want to feel good about ourselves; we feel it is ethical and right; or perhaps it is a way of earning something. All of those ways are rejected by God as ways of being right in his sight. So, it is not primarily love of man first; but love of God first.

Again, you must ask the question: "Why does God have to be loved first?". The answer to that is that God deserves exclusive place. He is worthy of that place because it is truth and consistent with reality. So, to reject that is to reject what is true and real. One day this is going to be crystal clear: God is going to obliterate all human systems and we are going to be left with God.

It will be clear then but now God wants us to live by faith and understand what He says to us and accept it as true. What God says to us is that He is our Creator, our Sustainer, our Savior, and the One we will spend eternity with - and He deserves first place in our lives. God tells us we do not get right with Him by loving people; but by responding to the truth in faith and obedience.

God also knows that we cannot adequately love people without Him. Carl wants to say that humanitarians do great things: they can sacrifice; they do sacrifice; and they are wonderful, ethical, moral people. Sometimes Christians are mystified by that because some unbelievers are more loving than we are. This is personally convicting to Carl; and it makes him think about what motivates them.

Carl knows in himself, and knows that it is true, that he cannot fully and adequately love someone without God in him. Without the love of God in him he is primarily going to think of them as a "body" and not in an eternal way at all. He will be concerned with their food and shelter, as we should be, but not with their eternal salvation. If you deeply love somebody, you cannot just be concerned about their physical nature - you have to be concerned with their life. You have to be concerned with their whole life; including that part that is going to go right on through the doorway of death and into eternity. If you really love someone you have to be concerned with this part of their life. Sometimes what people most desperately need is not the physical stuff at all; but giving the physical things opens up their heart to the truth about Jesus.

They need Jesus; and food, shelter, clothing, etc - all the things we need and want because we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we want to go to heaven; to have our sins forgiven; and to be clean before God - if this is want we want for ourselves - then we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is the motivation for witnessing; and for evangelism. Evangelism has never been about compulsion or guilt - it has always been about love.

When we love people - because we love God – we can give to them out of what God gives to us! As Carl said last week: we are receivers of God's love so that we can be givers of God's love: God gives us everything that He expects us to give to our neighbor. If God wants us to give money, or time, or food, or affection, or service, or whatever to our neighbor then we will receive it from God; it will pass through our life; and we will send it on to others.

It works in reverse. If someone is mean and nasty to you it passes into to your heart. If you leave it there you will be grow into a nasty old person. So, you receive nastiness, it passes through your life, and then you send your burdens on to God. We get blessings from God that pass through our life and on to others; and problems from the world pass through our life (hopefully for a short period of time) and are given to God.

We demonstrate our love for God by our love for people. We often talk about returning to God the love He has given us; and people will even talk about blessing God or ministering to God. We, in doing this, are certainly not meeting a need of God - He has none. What we are doing is giving to God what He rightfully deserves. However, God has no needs - He is perfect and complete - so what He says to us is that one (if not the primary) way we are going to love God is when we take what He has given us and, instead of giving it back to Him, we meet the needs in the lives of others. God desires that because He loves our neighbors. We show love for God by listening to Him; and obeying Him; and then be used by God to meet the needs of other people.

That is authentic love. Authentic love acts. Authentic love does something. Real love for God can only be expressed in certain ways. Carl says so many of us (including him) have reached the place that is too mental; and love is not mental. Love is not even primarily an emotional thing. You know someone is a great lover by what they do. You can not know their thoughts; or feel their emotions - it is what they do that reveals what they feel and think.

Jesus showed us how to love God: He obeyed His Father’s will and acted in sacrificial love for people. Jesus acted and gave His life. We must show our love in the same way. We are not to die on cross, but Jesus said we had a cross that we were to take up and follow Him. Something about our lives then will be sacrificial and giving; and we must understand that love is not primarily mental or emotional - but active and doing. Love acts.

Love shows up. Love doesn't just think about them. Love doesn't just feel for them. Love shows up:
  • when someone across the room is hurting
  • when someone is in the hospital
  • when someone's home has been devastated
Love showed up 2000 years ago, and because of that everything is different. So what do we do:
We love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. And we love our neighbor as ourselves
That is what Jesus did; and is still doing. Here are the questions:
  • Have you received God's love?
  • Do you see His love at work in you?
  • Do others receive the love of God through you?

No comments:

Post a Comment

How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly