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Loving Your Neighbor: It Doesn’t Mean What Most People Think It Means

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Jesus said in Romans Mark 12:30-31 that the greatest of God’s commandments are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” These are powerful words directly from the mouth of Jesus Himself and the sentiment is echoed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 13:9.

There is a belief among some that adhering strictly to God’s commandments is a form of legalism that should be avoided. They argue that the commands to “love God” and “love your neighbor” effectively supersede the Old Testament laws. This perspective can be found in many modern Evangelical churches such as Northpoint led by Andy Stanley and in essentially all of the mainline Protestant denominations. However, what they fail to recognize is that in embracing this belief, they more often than not replace God’s moral laws with their own personal ideas and commandments that they believe fulfill the commandment to “love your neighbor.”

Both inside and outside the church today, we hear the oft-repeated phrase “love your neighbor.” “Loving our neighbor” has become synonymous with getting vaccinated, for example, or supporting a woman’s “right to choose.” It is not considered “loving” to our homosexual neighbors if we “judge” them for their sexual practices and “condemn” them.

“Love your neighbor” has become a catchphrase among certain political and social activists within the professing church, who seek to use it as a means of advancing their own ideological or social agenda. These individuals, often motivated by their own personal beliefs and biases, have co-opted the biblical commandment to love one’s neighbor and manipulated it to suit their own ends.

Is the command to “love our neighbors” wrapped up in this self-affirming interpretation of Jesus’s words or is this a gross misrepresentation of the true meaning and intent of this biblical principle, and is it indicative of a fundamental lack of understanding and appreciation for the deep and meaningful nature of true Christian love?

It is imperative to recognize that the commandment to love one’s neighbor is not a mere platitude to be used for political or social gain, nor is it a call for the Church to engage in social justice activism, but rather, it is a fundamental aspect of the Christian faith that requires a deep and authentic commitment to the truth of God’s word.

There are many verses in the Bible that speak to the relationship between love and keeping the law. Probably the most well-known example is found in John 14:15, where Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Here, Jesus explains that obedience to Him is the primary way that one expresses his love for God.

Similarly, in 1 John 5:3, the Apostle writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” These passages and others like them make it clear that true love for God and true love for fellow man is demonstrated by keeping His commandments. This includes repentance—turning away from sin.

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus teaches about how to deal with a fellow believer who is sinning, and in verse 17, Jesus says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” This passage shows that it is not unloving to confront someone about their sin and call them to repentance, but rather it is an act of love to help them turn away from their sin and back to God. On the other hand, affirming someone in their sin would be unloving because it would enable them to continue in their rebellion against God and put their eternal destiny at risk.

In Ezekiel 33:7-9, God appoints the prophet Ezekiel as a watchman for the Israelites and charges him with the responsibility of warning them of impending judgment if they continue in their sins. Ezekiel, as a prophet of God, had received the word of God and was aware of the impending judgment. As a result, it was his duty to demonstrate his love for God and fellow man by being obedient to God’s command to warn the Israelites of their sins and the consequences they would face if they continued in them.

Similarly, today, all true Christians are considered priests (1 Peter 2:9) and prophets (2 Peter 1:21) because we all have access to the written, infallible, authoritative word of God and knowledge of the impending judgment for sinners. Likewise, it is our duty as Christians to demonstrate our love for God and our neighbors by warning them of the consequences of their actions and encouraging them to turn from their sins and towards God. This is an essential aspect of demonstrating our love for God and others and fulfilling our role as believers.

While it is certainly true that Jesus’s equating love with the law demonstrates that this relationship is not just about following a set of rules or commandments, but about a deeper understanding of what it truly means to love God and love one’s neighbor, we must remember that God’s law is a reflection of God’s character and a guide for how to live a life that is in alignment with God’s will and purpose. It is certainly not unloving to point sinners to God’s law to demonstrate that one is out of alignment with God’s will. By keeping the commandments ourselves, we are not only exemplifying love for God, but we are also becoming more like Him, and by becoming more like Him, we can truly demonstrate our love for our neighbors and in so doing, point others to Christ.

The relationship between pointing others who are in sin to the law of God and true love for one’s neighbor is a vital aspect of the Christian faith. As we have seen throughout this article, Jesus equated love with keeping the law and emphasized the importance of obeying God’s commandments in order to truly love God and love our neighbors.

It is important to remember that when we point others to the law, we are not only showing them that they are out of God’s will but also showing them their need for grace. This is not an act of judgment or condemnation, but an act of compassion and concern for their well-being. In John 8:31-32, Jesus himself said “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This passage underscores that is the truth, not affirmation, not silence toward, and not turning a blind eye to sin, but the truth is what sets people free, and speaking the truth in love is the ultimate act of love.

By remaining silent when someone is in sin, we are not only failing to love our neighbors but also failing to love God. As watchmen, priests, and prophets, it is our duty to speak the truth in love, even if it is uncomfortable or awkward. This is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the loving thing to do, for as we have seen, true love is not merely an emotion but most importantly an action, and the action of speaking the truth in love can change the course of someone’s eternal destiny.

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