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Finding Jesus Loving Neighbors and Enemies

June 27, 2012

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” – G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton was a prolific Christian author who was known for funny sayings like this. He’s also the guy who said “Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car”. But there’s a very real and profound truth inside of what Chesterton said. Now, not all our neighbors are our enemies (if yours are, you might want to re-evaluate a few things), but we’re going to look at how Jesus looked at who our neighbors are, and what He taught about that; and also what He taught about our enemies.

In the Gospels we see Jesus saying “love your neighbor as yourself”. This is a very very good command, and it’s a great way to live our lives. Imagine if everybody lived that way. No war. No murder. No stealing. No rape. Even things that aren’t legally crimes: spiteful comments. Dirty looks. Apathy. Imagine if we lived that way all the time–loving our neighbor as ourselves.

When Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself” He wasn’t saying anything new or something that the Israelites of His time weren’t familiar with. Jesus did speak those words and mean them in a way that nobody else ever meant them, and we’re going to come back to that later.

When Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself” He was quoting a well-known verse from scripture, Leviticus 19:18. We see that this verse was well known and taught to the people of Israel in Jesus time. In Luke 10 we see this conversation, where another Israelite quotes Deuteronomy and this verse in reply to a question from Jesus. We’ll come back to this conversation later, too.

Luke 10:25-27 TNIV

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
26 ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’
27 He answered, “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,’ Love your neighbor as yourself.”

When Jesus said the words “love your neighbor as yourself”, which was typically preceded by the words of Deuteronomy 6:5, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind”, He was affirming the truth of ancient scripture written centuries before He was born in Bethlehem. This was a very important and common teaching of the Israelites of Jesus time. Jesus affirmed the importance of these commandments by saying “all the law and prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40).

This teaching was in fact not even exclusive to the Israelites of Jesus time. Several centuries before Jesus was born (but long after Leviticus was written) Mo-tzu, a contemporary of Confucius, proclaimed what was called the doctrine of universal love: that we should love all men as we love self. Roughly four and a half centuries before Jesus was born, K’ung Ch’iu, the man we know as Confucius, taught a similar “universal truth” about how to live with the rest of mankind when he said “what you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others”.

But Mo-Tzu, also called “Mozi” was known for manipulating people into his doctrines, which were more about doing good rather than being good; it was all about the actions, and not about the heart. See, anybody can “do a good act”, but Jesus main concern was what inspired that good act. Someone may commit what looks like a “good act” for all the wrong reasons. Fear of punishment. Public image. A desire for control. A desire to get something back later.

Mozi taught that people should be persuaded to accept his doctrines with the promise of rewards for accepting them, and the promise of punishment for rejecting his way of living, which also included a mercenary-like military lifestyle, being part of an “army for hire”. Nobody ever spread a message of unconditional love by conquering a people to do it. There’s been times in the past that people have tried to spread Christianity that way, and although you may say it was more political than evangelical, it still does not work; you can’t conquer somebody and say you love them as yourself.

Confucius taught that “what you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others”. While this is not in itself a bad thing, it doesn’t go very far as far as compassion for others. It’s one thing to not want to do a bad thing to someone else; it’s entirely different to want to do a good thing for someone simply because you love them. You can live your whole life without doing a bad thing to someone, and also ignore them all your life. Love calls for more than that, and this is what Jesus taught. In fact, Jesus gives us a much better take in Luke 6:31 when He says “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. We’d much rather be shown love than to merely not want people to do bad things to us.

Mozi and Confucius also were not well known for having or sharing love with everybody. Mozi and his followers couldn’t stand Confucius and his followers and often ridiculed them. Confucius followers were sometimes not very gracious to Mozi’s followers.

It’s also very important to recognize that Jesus view of who our “neighbor” is is much different from what anybody else–including the religious leaders of His time–taught. Mozi’s teaching was one of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”, and were to be treated accordingly. Confucius was more concerned with family than outsiders. The religious leaders of Jesus time, who taught the scripture from Leviticus 19:18, “love your neighbor as yourself” also taught the exclusion and avoidance of anyone outside the people of Israel. But Jesus had a different idea of who our “neighbor” is. We talked about this in the last post, “Finding Jesus… Loving Pagans and Pig Farmers”; where Jesus showed His disciples that people on “the other side”, people that His disciples had grown up being taught to avoid, if not have contempt for, were people that Jesus loved dearly, and He loved them no less than the children of Israel. Paul forwarded this radical-for-the-time (and unfortunately our time) teaching when he said in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. All are equally loved by God.

Now let’s pick up the conversation in Luke 10 we looked at earlier, where Jesus again “breaks the rules” about who our neighbor is and who we are to love: (This is, by the way, where the term “Good Samaritan” comes from)

Luke 10:28-37
28 ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’
30 In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper.’ Look after him, ‘he said,’ and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have. ‘
36’ Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? ‘
37 The expert in the law replied,’ The one who had mercy on him. ‘
Jesus told him,’ Go and do likewise. ‘

What’s striking in Jesus parable, and would have had a very big impact on anyone in Jesus time who heard it, was that the two men who showed no concern for the traveler were religious leaders, and the one who showed compassion for the traveler was someone who those same religious leaders taught to avoid. These “righteous men” showed no compassion for a fellow Israelite who had become a helpless victim–they ignored him and walked away; but this Samaritan, who knew how Israelites felt about and thought about him (and none of it was good) was the one who showed love to someone who, if the roles were reversed, might not act the same way. This Samaritan went out of his way to help the man. This Samaritan saw this helpless victim as his neighbor, someone to be loved.

See, Jesus taught that love doesn’t play favorites. This race, that race, wealthy, poor; every man, woman and child is equally precious in Jesus eyes and heart. John Ortberg had a great line: “You will never look into the eyes of any man, woman or child that is not deeply loved by God”.

And Jesus teaching of “love your neighbor as yourself” goes even deeper. As a matter of historical record, Jesus of Nazareth is the first person in the history of world literature to say “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). No one else had ever taught such a radical way of living. In fact, when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, he was telling a story about someone loving a person, who, by typical cultural leanings, was that persons enemy. In Jesus famous Sermon on The Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus starts to teach us how to respond to our enemies in 5:38. In 5:42 Jesus tells us how to respond when someone who is our enemy is in need: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you”. Jesus is saying that even though someone may have acted spitefully or with hate towards us, we’re called to a higher and better standard, and are called to help our enemies when they’re in need, and not to sit by and gleefully enjoy their suffering. Jesus calls His followers to love, even enemies. No one else had taught loving your enemies, much less lived it; but Jesus did, and his teaching had wide-ranging effects that are still felt today, especially when people today live it.

Think about this: We all know stories of someone giving their life, sacrificing themselves for someone they loved, and who loved them back. How many people do you know that willingly, out of pure love, sacrificed themselves, gave their life for people they were hated by? Jesus did that.

There’s a fantastic book called “Jesus Freaks” (don’t let the title scare you–you’re better than to “judge a book by it’s cover”, whether metaphorically with people or with actual books) that details the stories of many martyrs throughout history, beginning with Jesus disciples, and on through the 20th century. There’s many stories of people being persecuted for following Jesus. And by “persecuted” I don’t just mean “people said bad stuff to and about them”. Beatings. Mutilation. Torture. Now think about this: if someone was violently, and with obvious great contempt and joy, whipping you bloody every day, would you feel love for that person? Would you show love to that person?

As an example of showing or not showing love, I have a sister who became not just an atheist, but an anti-theist, someone who not only doesn’t believe in God, but despises and actively seeks to eradicate all belief in God. And quite often on Facebook, she would post a status update or a picture that was decisively and purposely insulting to Christianity. And I of course knew that she knew how important, and how much my faith is a part of my life, and so I took it very personally. And I would become hurt by these posts, but more importantly I would become angry. And I would retaliate. I would make fun of atheism. More importantly, I knew that by making fun of atheism in the same way my sisters posts made fun of Christianity, I was making fun of her. It was personal, and meant to be so. This caused a great rift in my family that over a year later still has not been repaired. What if I had followed Jesus teaching and instead of retaliating had showed love?

See, there’s great wisdom in Jesus teaching. If I had instead acted in love, would my sister have stopped her “anti-theist” posts? Maybe not. Probably not. Then again, maybe. Did I show my sister the love of Jesus by being an example? Not even close. It’s something I greatly regret to this day.

In “Jesus Freaks” we see stories of people being tortured, being led to their execution–all because they refused to stop following Jesus–and still showing love for their persecutors, their executioners, their enemies. And sometimes, that love changed their “enemies” lives forever, or the lives of those who witnessed that love in the face of persecution. When I read those stories of courage and love in the face of extreme persecution, I’m ashamed of my response to mere Facebook posts.

So will you love your neighbor as yourself? Will you share and follow the example of Jesus and love every man, woman and child as Jesus loves them? Even harder, will you love your enemies? Because, you know, as Jesus and G.K. Chesterton point out, your enemies are your neighbors, and Jesus calls us to love them.

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From → Christianity, Jesus, Love

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