Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Love Thy _____________ Neighbor

Perhaps you have seen the viral pic going around Facebook:

I don't disagree with the pic at all.

It's true.

I mean, Jesus didn't put any qualifications on His definition of neighbor.

So, why do so many Christians seemingly come across as intolerant and nasty toward their neighbors?

I've heard several basic reasons:

1. "I am showing them love by helping them see how sinful they are and how much they need to repent.  They must be convicted by the Law!"

2. "They must be repentant first.  They receive God's love when they repent.  (And, then I will love them once they repent.)"

3. "It is not loving to allow someone to continue to live in sin.  They must be confronted."

I'd like to offer another reason. 

The shirt is quoting Jesus who quoted a part of Leviticus 19:18, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Love your neighbor AS YOURSELF.

Some might argue that Christians who aren't loving one's neighbor are guilty of loving one's self too much.  I won't belabor that point because sin is often seen as a curving in toward one's self.  So why would Jesus quote Leviticus 19:18 then?  If loving one's self leads to curving in towards one's self, why quote it?

I think there is a profound difference between a narcissistic love of self (sin) and a love of self because one is loved purely by the grace of God.

Let me try and explain as best as I can.

If I believe I am saved by my works--works/righteousness, then I build my own ego up.  I am repentant.  I put God first in my life.  I strive to love the Lord my God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength.  I have to do this, so everyone else has to do what I do!  If they don't do the things I do, then they aren't doing it right!

If I am saved purely by the grace of God, my ego is shattered.  I cannot follow Christ's commands.  I cannot fulfill the Law.  I cannot be righteous.  Only Christ's righteousness can save me.  Only Christ's death can atone for my failure.  I can't love my neighbor because I am unlovable.

And it is in the midst of my being unlovable that God acts and has acted.  "For God so loved the world..."

When I realize Christ has died for me in my unrighteousness--that He died for me when I was unlovable, I find compassion.  I realize my deep need for Him to save me, and I realize that my neighbor has that same need.  I realize that it wasn't the Law that brought me to faith but Christ's compassion.  I realize that I am still broken and in need of healing--a healing only Christ can bring.  I am broken.  My neighbor is broken.  Christ loves me.  Christ loves my neighbor.  Christ loves me in my brokenness.  I can love me in my brokenness and realize God can still use my brokenness to accomplish His purposes.  I do not need to grovel on the ground like a worm--for God's grace has been bestowed upon me.  No longer am I narcissistic, but I marvel that God has redeemed me, and I have confidence in God's grace.  This confidence allows me to love myself in humility.

Narcissistic, self-righteous love is not capable of loving one's neighbor. 

Love of a self that has undergone transformation through the grace of God is.

In my estimation, there is too much of the first kind of love, and a great need for the second.

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