I Can’t Pick and Choose: Love Your Neighbor As Yourself
Last week, we talked about being compassionate like Jesus is compassionate. He saw need, he felt compassion, and he acted.
This week: A story we teach children a lot, but don’t talk about as much as adults. But we need to.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “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.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied,
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” — Luke 10:25-37, ESV
Some people are easier to love than others. We know a certain person, or a certain kind of person, who rubs us the wrong way, and is harder to be compassionate toward.
But we don’t get to pick and choose who we demonstrate the love of God to.
“The litmus test for our love for god is our love for our neighbor.” — Brennan Manning
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. — 1 John 4:20-21, ESV
If those things are true, then what it boils down to is this: I love God only as much as I love the person I dislike the most.
Who Is My Neighbor?
The Samaritan and the Jew couldn’t have been more different. In order to be a neighbor, the Samaritan had to cross an incredible social barrier.
Your neighbor is anyone—everyone—in need.
It is natural for us to help those who are like us, those we identify with. But Jesus’ teaching tells us to love everyone:
- The person you barely know.
- The person on the other side of the political aisle.
- The person you feel is suffering because of his/her own mistakes or choices.
- The ungrateful person.
- The boss who has taken advantage of you.
- The people who practice other religions.
- The illegal immigrant.
When Do We Help?
Our knee-jerk reaction is, “When it’s convenient.” But that’s not Jesus’ answer. Jesus’ answer is we help whenever there is a need.
As Christians, we come up with a lot of excuses to not help. But the Samaritan would have had plenty of reasons to believe this man deserved what he got, etc.,
Jonathan Edwards lists several of these poor excuses in The Duty of Charity:
- Excuse: We only help people when they’re in dire need.
But his violates “loving neighbor as ourselves,” because we come to our own aid long before our situation is dire.
- Excuse: They brought their trouble on themselves.
But Christ relieved the misery you brought on yourself.
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. — John 13:34, NLT
How Much Do We Help?
In a way that takes their burden onto yourself. The Samaritan put himself at great personal risk—he even opened a line of credit on behalf of this stranger.
We sometimes argue, “I can’t afford to help.” But Galatians 6:2 says to, “bear one another’s burdens,” and that means we get involved to a point that their burdens, burden us.
“The only safe rule when it comes to giving is to give more than you think you can spare.” — C.S. Lewis
Why We Love Our Neighbors
The deeper truth to this story is that Jesus turns the question on its head. The Samaritan is the hero of this story, but the lawyer would not have related to the Samaritan, he would have related to the man laying on the side of the road.
What if the person we are supposed to identify with is not the Samaritan, but the victim? What if someone who had every reason to be our enemy, chose to put himself in danger to help us? Jesus is not giving the lawyer a new rule, as much as he’s making him aware of a new reality.
If we understand that we are the ones beat up and bruised, left for dead, and someone came and rescued us when we didn’t deserve it—then we become givers of radical grace. We become compassionate.
The “golden rule” tell us to do unto others as we’d have them do unto us. Paul gives us a “platinum rule” – do unto others as Jesus has done unto you.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. — Ephesians 4:32, ESV
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. — 2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV
How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Two things to keep in mind:
- Keep your eyes open on your daily journey, because people need help everywhere. Not everyone is your brother or sister in Christ, but everyone is your neighbor.
- Have courage. It takes courage to cross social divides and barriers.
“Our home was our castle. It was our personal space that ought not be intruded upon. While we had people in our home on a regular basis, it was almost always at our convenience. I assumed the greatest need of my family is safety. I learned that the greatest need is the experience of loving and serving as Jesus did.” — Lance Ford, Next Door As It Is In Heaven
“Do not waste your time bothering whether you love your neighbor, act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” — C.S. Lewis
Photo credit: Nina Strehl