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Loving Our Neighbor

image credit: One Year Bible

By Benjamin H. Liles

          Jesus answered, “The most important command is this: ‘Listen, people of Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength’ [Deut. 6:4–5; C these are the opening words of the Shema, the prayer said by pious Jews twice a day, they were reverent towards God, in other words]. The second command is this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’ [Lev. 19:18]. There are no commands more important than these.” ~ Mark 12:29-31, Expanded Bible

          I have to admit I find it truly hard to follow Jesus on this. It means I have to put and lay down my pride, my ego and live selflessly towards others, even if it means they may hurt me. Why is that such a hard thing? And if I don't give of myself in the way the Messiah Jesus did, am I dishonoring Him? I don't expect this to be an easy message today, but then which of God's words are ever easy?

          Ever since Cain uttered the words, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" (see Genesis 4:9) to God for asking him, "Where is your brother Abel?" we have all had the problem of loving our neighbor the way God loves us. We have an extremely hard time mastering sin, its effects in our lives, and to do the selfless thing, which is to fall on our own brandished sword and to keep someone else from being hurt.

          I imagine Jesus had this in mind when He said, "I do that which I see my Father doing" (see John 5:19). After all, He was able to love others without malice, without sin, without an ulterior motive of "What's in it for me?" God's word tells us, "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth, and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:21-23, New American Standard and Berean Literal combined).

          Jesus had many chances to judge others, even when confronted by the Pharisees who caught the adulterous woman and brought her before him. What did Jesus say? "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" (see John 8:7, paraphrased). Love does no harm. It rejoices in doing right. It upholds the center of God's law. It does so by saying, "I put God first. I will love Him regardless the cost to myself." Jesus did this. He lived God's word fully.

          Much more than this Jesus lived without using trickery, fraud, or even had a tainted heart. How many men can you say never hurled one insult while they were being cut off from their own people, to be lifted up on the branches of a cut tree in the shape of a cross, and to be reviled and still do no evil back? I find it difficult to believe other religious works over this One who did no evil, nor returned it when evil was wrought against Him.

          Considering this then, since He has called us to service, to be "fishers of men," to be a light to a dark and dying world, to show the world Jesus as well as God, we ought to also give up our lives as well. Easier said than done. We talk about it our pulpits. I talk about it from behind a computer screen. But am I living this out daily? Usually, and normally, when we feel attacked by others we give it back and almost naturally.

          But Christ Jesus called us to a different standard of living. When others harm us when we have done no wrong we are to extend ourselves in love regardless. If someone takes us needlessly to court over something trivial, even if things don't go our way, we give an extra coat. Whatever is demanded or taken from us by force, God's love is greater still. It's why we read, "No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13, Holman Christian Standard). It's why we read on, "I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world" (John 16:33, Holman Christian Standard).

          Friend, I write this to you all today, not to make you feel worse than you already do. I write these words to encourage, to build you up. We all sin, and Jesus knows, even when we tell Him we have done so. He forgives us anyway. We aren't to keep on sinning, but to recognize it, deal with it, and to live life the way Jesus would if He were us. It means we put off who we believe we are and put on Jesus, His armor, His robes of righteousness. After all, He cleansed us with His blood. Why keep living a sinful life when He's cleansed us from them? We can overcome just as He has.

          As I wrap up writing this I give a sincere call to those who are hurting, to those who believe and feel they have no hope. Don't give in. Don't give up. Look to Jesus. Regardless the trouble you think you're in, Jesus has been through much worse. He tasted death on your behalf. He has tasted the bitterness of sin so we know longer are bound by it. He truly is the Son of God who has taken away the sins of the world. It's just a matter of looking to Him, believing Him and His word, following Him, laying our old lives down, and being His soldiers. We no longer belong to this world or its ways.

          Father, I thank and praise You for what You have done for me. I realize there is nothing within me You found to keep. There is nothing in my heart or in my soul or in my mind that You find worth redeeming. All I know is You forgiven me a great debt. And I know I ought to forgive the debts of others as well. It means that when something comes back to my mind to bring back up I need to keep my mouth silent. You forgave me, so I ought to do the same. I want to be the kind of child of Yours who when forgiven a debt forgives the debts of others. I want You, Father. I want to be with You. I don't want Your gifts. I just want Your word. I just want a relationship with You. I ask this in Jesus. Amen.