Sunday, October 25, 2009

Love Your Neighbor or Hate Your Neighbor?

"Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. " Mt 22:36-39 (KJV).

Many are familiar with this passage. The latter half of Jesus' saying, "Love thy neighbor," is so non-threatening you find parallels in other religions and even secularists can nod in agreement. However, this completely misunderstands, trivializes, and tramples the meaning and impact of what is intended. I don't know of a higher or more exacting standard of love for our neighbor than in the Bible, but this high standard can't be understood apart from the whole of Jesus' statement.

First, there is a clear precedence, first and second, 1) Love God with your whole being and then 2) love your neighbor. This implies you cannot really do #2 without doing #1 first, just as you can't stretch a single into a double in baseball by running from home plate across the pitcher's mound to second base bypassing first base.

Then Jesus says the second is "like" the first. How are the first and second alike? Both use the same Greek word for love - agape. The highest example of agape is Jesus' giving Himself to die in our place on a cross that we might obtain God's mercy rather than the judgment we all deserve. That's the kind of "love" we are commanded to love our neighbor with. A high love indeed. Imagine what that would be like.

But, unless we know that kind of agape love first expressed by God toward us, what example of love have we to share with our brothers? I have used the following to try to convey what I believe to be the enormous contrast between agape and the kind of love we settle for when we jump to #2 without knowing the love of #1 - "Compared to God's love shown to us through the cross, the highest love of natural man is but a better hate" ... so, without the high Biblical standard and with the dumbing down of love, there's little wonder there is real "hate" expressed in this world - even by some who can quote Mt 22:36-39.

Taking God, and God first, out of the picture leaves a pathetic, cheap, imitation love. So, do you love your neighbor or hate him?

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