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  • Tabitha Caplinger

Loving Your Neighbor

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

In the gospels of Matthew and Mark we find Jesus, when asked what is the greatest commandment, to say, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Over the last year, this statement has come up a lot for me in conversations, sermons, posts, Bible studies. In God's Kingdom loving Him and loving our neighbor are necessary and connected. (Like all the way back to Leviticus. So OT and NT.) We have to love God with our whole self. We have to do the work of loving God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. (Hint: loving God looks a lot like obedience. And not our idea of obedience but what He lays out in His Word.) The more we love God, the easier it becomes to love our neighbor, and the love we have for our neighbor looks more like God's love.

That's important. I've posted about it. What does love look like? In our culture, we disqualify loving people like Jesus tells us to do because we don't understand what God's kind of love looks like. We get it wrong. (Not always, but too often.)

Sometimes we think love looks like ego-stroking and telling someone everything is fine and they are fine and accepting everything they do as fine. Sometimes we think love looks like yelling at them and shouting all the things they are doing wrong in the name of truth and slippery slopes.

Neither of those are really love. Why? Because both are fueled by selfishness. If it's more about us than them, is it love?

The former wants to please people and stay friends more than lead someone out of the darkness and pain of sin into the freedom of obedience to Christ. The latter is either motivated by fear or pride, acting like their salvation completely hinges on us telling them all the ways they are slipping up. Neither really portray a trust in God and the work of the Holy Spirit in a person's life. (We don't do the saving after all.)

Real love is somewhere in the between.

Real love speaks truth. It first and foremost speaks the Truth of the Gospel, of the person of Jesus and His work on the cross for us. It also speaks the truth of sin. But it is a truth tempered by agape. It isn't spoken so I can be right. It isn't spoken out of fear. It isn't spoken so I can be the one to change them. It is spoken because I truly care about the best interest of the person to whom I am speaking. Now, can I be afraid and still care about them? Sure! But I think it is worth pausing before we speak to check our motives because our motives matter, and they will affect our impact. If my main motive is fear or pride then maybe I need to hit pause and wait for the humility to speak in God's way and timing. If my fear or pride are the loudest motivators my message likely won't be received.

Real love also loves a person in spite of their sin. We don't wait for them to get cleaned up before we serve them. Our serving them with love leads them to the One who can clean them up. Just like we weren't clean before His saving grace was offered to us. But that love doesn't ignore sin either. It doesn't brush it off or justify it. It confronts it. Here's the thing though, that confrontation needs to be in the context of relationship. It is not my job to be the Holy Spirit for anyone and everyone. (Despite what social media culture leads me to believe, my voice isn't always necessary, and access does not equal relationship.) If I am shouting at people I haven't spent time with, I haven't listened to, I haven't served, then perhaps I should pause, and ask Jesus what I actually need to say and do in that moment. If I am in relationship with someone I also need to be asking Jesus to open opportunities to speak the truth of His Word into areas of their life where it is needed. (I also better be asking Jesus to speak His truth into my life too. First. If we aren't worried about our own sin, then why are we so worried about their's? Think about it. I know I have been. A lot.)

It's all very simple and very complicated. I know there is nuance. I know fear and pride can coexist with humility because we are complex beings who struggle in the tension. We have not arrived. We are not perfect. I think that is also the point. We are not Jesus. We can't be Jesus. (Though we should be growing to be more like Him each day.) We can't do what only Jesus can do. We can, however, make His job easier or harder. When loving our neighbor looks like fear, pride, or selfishness, we add bricks to the wall keeping someone from Jesus. When our love looks like humility, sacrifice and grace, perhaps we build bridges from their heart to Jesus. (And speaking as someone who can be super sassy and even appreciate that in others, this is why I also have to be careful that my sass doesn't do more harm than help. How we say a thing matters as much as why we are saying it. It all contributes to our impact. While I can't fully control my impact I should care about it.)

We won't get it right all the time. Sometimes we will have to go back and apologize. Sometimes we will have to have uncomfortable conversations we've been putting off. Sometimes love will ask us to be quiet. Sometimes love will remind us to value the person over our opinion. (Because Kingdom first, y'all.) We will have to check our motives all the time because our flesh is selfish.

“I’m realizing that modern day loving your neighbor looks like a willingness to contend to find and honor the human underneath the opinion.”

- Charaia Callabrass

We will have to look different than the world around us. (In it, not of it right?) We can't live in the extremes of accepting everything or yelling at everyone. We live in the uncomfortable between, the place where love meets truth in glorious grace and freedom.

In Luke 11 starting in verse 25, Jesus had another conversation about loving God and loving our neighbor. When asked "who is my neighbor?" He responded with a parable, the story of the Good Samaritan. It's a story that teaches us who love is for, and what love looks like. It looks like honoring. It looks like healing. We get to give that to people. But we can't do it without receiving it from Jesus.

Love God. With all that you are. Seek Him. Go to His Word and discover what He values, what His love looks like because He is love. (Dig deep here.) Love your neighbor. No matter what they look like, or how they voted, or where they come from. That human under the opinion is an image-bearer of God. Love them well. Love them selflessly. Love them to Jesus, and let Jesus do the saving, transforming, and freeing. Let Him do it in your life too, because you are also loved.

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