Love God; Love Our Neighbor

John 3:16 reports, “For God so loved the world….”  God is so intent upon loving the people of this world that God took on human skin as a baby in a manger on Christmas day.  God is so serious about loving the people of this world that Christ endured the agony of a cross to die for us.  God is so determined to love the people of this world that Jesus declared to his followers, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

If we wish to love God, we will love what God loves, and what God loves is people.  Therefore, anyone who genuinely wishes to love God must also those whom God loves!    

This is why Scripture puts together two commandments as the single greatest command: “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” (Luke 10:27).  We cannot claim to love God if we refuse to love those whom God loves.  If we wish to love God we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

Sometimes, though, we hope this command will include some wiggle room.  In our opinion, some neighbors are not entirely loveable.  We would be glad to love neighbors who are ‘like us,’ or neighbors who are nice.  We would be glad to love the ‘right kind of neighbor.’  When we hear the command “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we want to ask, “But who is my neighbor?”

When Jesus was asked this question he told a story about a man who was beaten by robbers and left half dead along the road going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  This injured and robbed man needs the loving care of a “neighbor,” but who will be a neighbor to him.  A priest—a supposed representative of God—comes along but crosses to the other side of the road, leaving the injured man in his agony.  A Levite—another supposed representative of God—comes along but also crosses to the other side of the road to avoid the hurting man.  Then a Samaritan—one who was perceived as an undesirable neighbor—comes along.  The Samaritan has pity on the man, binds his wounds, takes him to an inn, and pays for his care there.  As he concludes the story, Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  The answer is provided, “The one who showed him mercy.”  To this, Jesus replies, “Go and do likewise.” 

We are called to love our neighbor—no matter who he or she may be—for every neighbor is loved by God, and if we want to love God we must love all whom He loves. 

The story is told about a crippled boy who was hurrying to catch a train.  Carrying packages under his arms, he was struggling with his crutches when a man bumped into him, knocking his packages in different directions.  The man paused only long enough to scold the boy for getting in his way.  Another man hurried over, picked up the scattered packages and slipped a $10 bill into the boy’s pocket, saying, “I hope this makes up for your troubles.”  As the man walked away, the boy called after him, “Thank you, Sir.  And, Mister, are you Jesus?”  The man answered, “No, but I am one of his followers.”

When we ignore (or intensify) the plight of another, we do nothing constructively to reveal Christ to others.  But when we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we make it possible for others to see Christ through us. 

Let’s face it: Loving our neighbor is often not an easy thing to do, but it is the best thing to do.  Albert Schweitzer sums it up: “Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but is also becomes richer and happier.” 

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