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Love Thy Neighbor

by Richard Nichols

Published in
The Christian Informer
January, 1999

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Last updated:
December 23, 1998.

JESUS SAID: "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.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). The responsibility that a Christian owes to his neighbor and to himself are intertwined.  Jesus taught that if a man works at his own finest and best interests, he will find himself inseparably involved in the interests of his neighbor.

Christ taught his disciples to consider the thoughts and motives which prompt men's actions.  He emphasized the deadly sins of wrong ideas, motives and feelings.  It seems that the Lord cried out more against the ruin of the soul which harbors envy and hatred than even the wicked deeds which might result from this evil in the heart.  Evil passions will deplete, if not destroy, a man's spiritual, mental and physical abilities.  If, however, they are cast out, and replaced with wholesome, kindly thoughts and emotions, the man can then do those things that are pleasing to God and be of benefit to other men.  Keeping one's heart faithful to God inevitably will lead to right conduct.  Does not God's word say of a man, "as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7)?  This great principle is expressed by the Lord in these words: "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit" (Matthew 7:17).  Jesus directs his teaching to the purpose of making the tree good, for when that is accomplished the good fruit will follow.

We live in a world full of "lovers of their own selves," people who have very little regard for the welfare of others (2 Timothy 3:2).  The Lord taught his disciples to each have a proper respect and regard for his neighbor.  In Matthew 5:22-25 Jesus refers to the Sixth Commandment which condemned murder. To keep that law, an Israelite only needed to refrain from the outward act of killing another.  The attitude of his heart toward his neighbor was not considered here.

But Jesus goes to the very seat of murder; he goes to the seed, its cause--anger.  He said, "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire" (Matthew 5:22).  He condemns selfish and spiteful anger, the cause of murder.

He goes on to show that reconciliation with a brother is necessary before worship to God can be acceptable.  He said, "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matthew 5:23,24).

The New Testament teaches that hate is equal to murder in God's sight, because hate leads to murder.  "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15).

The inspired apostle wrote: "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.  For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 10:8-10).  This passage infers that to commit a wicked deed against another clearly demonstrates a lack of love.

It is obvious from New Testament teaching that the remedy, for the evil passions that lead to both murder and adultery, is to cultivate and practice a deep respect and regard for the person of another.  The person of each human is sacred to the Lord because of its divine origin and purpose of its creation. Throughout the teaching of Jesus and his apostles the stress is on high ideals of personal purity, equally applicable in both sexes.  Major social sins today have been reduced to merely pesky questions about certain activities which lead to some irritating results.  Today's "authorities" are constantly trying to devise solutions to allow the sins to continue with fewer consequences.

If they had any degree of understanding about God and his views of these things, they would realize these activities must simply cease to be able to live a truly happy, productive and rewarding life.  Jesus' method of dealing with these sins is preventative.  In the place of hatred and lust, He would inspire in his disciple to manifest a deep respect and regard for his neighbor prompted by genuine love and concern for his well-being.

Even in the cases of personal offence this same principle must prevail.  The Lord taught that forgiveness is a duty both of the offender and the offended (Luke 17:3,4).  Resentment and bitterness are deadly menaces to an individual's own well-being, both spiritually and physically. Bitterness and hatred injure the person who hold them in his heart far more than the one toward whom they are aimed.  Love allows no room in the heart for ill-will or a grudge to be held (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?"  Jesus replied, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but until seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21,22).  The Lord's answer shows that there is no limit to one's forgiving his brother.  He tells of a servant who himself was forgiven a large debt by his master; it was the tremendous amount of ten thousand talents [possibly $10,000,000].  When he was unable to pay this terrible debt, "the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt."  "But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence [maybe $30]; and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest" (Matthew 18:27,28).  He then had this debtor cast into prison until he should pay.  When the lord of those servants discovered what the unforgiving and merciless servant did, he had him delivered to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.  Jesus now tells us, "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" (Matthew 18:34,35). Clearly, forgiveness is an essential element of the Christian relationship with others.  With it the disciple manifests the love which his Father has shown.

The famous John 3:16 teaches: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  In turn we are taught: "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:44,45).

When a new Christian reads Jesus' sermon in Matthew 5 he may think that following the law of love and non-resistance presents too many difficulties. Offering the other cheek to an oppressor may encourage him in his cruelty; giving your cloak to a thief, who seeks to steal it, seems to make his vice that much easier; generosity to the beggar may tend to entrench him in his trade. But no one ever tried harder to turn men from greed, graft, and oppression than the Master.

His primary purpose was to develop right motives.  You see, Jesus guards the best interest of the neighbor as well as the individual.  The Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31 teaches that in right treatment of others each man is guided by his enlightened judgment of what is best for his neighbor and people in general.  No matter what situation arises, the disciple not only considers himself in view of judgment, but considers his neighbor as well, and chooses a course which will influence and stimulate in his neighbor a respect and finally a love for the Lord.  In this way, the disciple may cause his hateful neighbor to consider his own responsibility toward God.

We read in Romans 12:21, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."  Whatever befalls a Christian, he must realize that the best antidote for hate is love, sincere love, which in the heart will drive out hate--not only his own but that of his enemy, for he can "overcome evil with good."