This verse from the Bible that we’re going to look at today contains in it what many would consider “core Christianity”. They feel that this is what Christianity is all about – “love your neighbour”. Away with all those “don’ts” – “don’t do this and don’t do that”. Let there just be this rule of love for others.
That’s the sort of talk you will hear from many, especially from people from outside the church – people who might call themselves Christians because they believe in this principle, but who show no real interest in and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well, this is “core Christianity”. “Love your neighbour as yourself” are words found on the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But it’s not “core Christianity” in the sense that many think it is.
It’s not “core” in the sense that here is the way of salvation. “If only you love your neighbour, you will be right with God – He will be pleased with you.”
Of course, that’s true enough, but whoever does love their neighbour – constantly and completely and perfectly? Whoever does do it with an undivided heart of love for others? Do you? Because you must remember that God’s standard is perfection, not 50% or 51%. As I said last week, rule-keeping will never get you to heaven. The commandments are fences, not shepherds. So don’t think of this second commandment outlined here by the Lord Jesus as the way to heaven. But it is the way of heaven for those who are its citizens – those who are true followers of the Lord Jesus.
Let every Christian hear these words of the Lord Jesus and seek grace to obey. And let every unconverted sinner be condemned by their failure to obey this commandment, and flee in repentance to the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can save you.
In order that the commandment can have full effect, whichever camp you belong to, I want to make its teaching plain to you.
1. Firstly, I want to speak of the meaning or nature of the command.
2. Secondly, I want to show you something of the extent of the command.
3. Thirdly, I will speak briefly of a particular application of the command.
1. The Meaning or Nature of the Command.
Although Jesus was only asked which is the most important command of all (Mark 12:28), He answers with two commands. And the reason for this is that they are inseparable. John makes this clear in his first letter when he writes: “How can you truly love God whom you don’t see, if you fail to love men whom you do?” (1 John 4:20, 21 paraphrase) And so Jesus adds this second command because a necessary way that your professed love for God will reveal itself is in your selfless love for other people. The two commandments go hand in hand.
But what exactly are you being commanded to do here. Well, that seems simple enough – love others. But this is more than just not hurting others. I remember a man proudly telling me that if someone did him some wrong or hurt him, he didn’t retaliate. He didn’t try to get even. He just wouldn’t speak to them again! He avoided them.
Well, that clearly falls short of what Jesus is telling you to do here. The commandment isn’t negative; it’s positive. It’s calling on you to do something positive – love. And love in its fullest and best sense is giving or self-giving. The best and greatest example, of course, is God Himself – “For God so loved the world that He . . . “ – what? Didn’t speak to us again? Left us to stew in our own juice? Had warm, fuzzy feelings for unrepentant sinners – traitors and rebels? No! God so loved the world that He gave . . . gave that which was most precious to Him, His one and only Son, Jesus, to die in our place so that we might inherit heaven.
That’s the kind of love that Jesus is speaking about here. It’s an action word. It’s doing good to others – caring for them, helping them, giving yourself for their welfare. And to make this clearer, Jesus tells you to love others “as you love yourself”.
Some people find this teaching hard. They struggle with the idea of “self-love”. But Jesus isn’t laying down here a foundation for an industry of “self-love” – “go on out there and love yourself and do some good to yourself.” No; Jesus is addressing sinners whose basic outlook is to “look after Number 1”. By and large, people care about their own pleasures and well-being. They try to avoid harmful and hurtful situations; and eat food that they like; and do what they can to advance their financial interests. We go to the doctor when we are sick because we want to be well again. We pull splinters out of our skin because they hurt. And we protect ourselves in all sorts of ways.
Jesus isn’t commanding you to love yourself; it’s just what you do. And just as you do all that – just as you love yourself – so you are to love others.
What about those people who struggle to love themselves – and perhaps that’s you? It’s what is usually called “low self esteem”. While Jesus isn’t addressing this problem here, and you need to look elsewhere in the Bible to find the cure for this, I want to point you to the following encouragements. Firstly, let me remind you of the truth that all people have dignity and worth because they are made in the image and likeness of the living God. And secondly, if you are a Christian, then you are a person of such worth that Christ died for you. Remember these 2 truths. Hide them in your heart as pearls of the greatest worth.
To sum up then, this command from the Lord Jesus is that you should love others by giving of yourself for their welfare – something we have seen of late in bucketloads with healthcare workers during this COVID-19 pandemic, and firefighters during the last fire season. You are to give of yourself to others to meet their needs; to care for them; to make them the objects of your prayers and practical help.
2. The Extent of the Command.
I want to move on now to say something of the extent of this command. You are to “love your neighbour”; but as Jesus was asked by an expert in the Jewish law, “Who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29)
As is the case with the most important of all commandments – “Love God wholeheartedly” – this second commandment is also found in the Old Testament. On this occasion, the quote is from Leviticus 19:18. There, the context primarily shows that “neighbour” refers to “fellow Israelites”, though not exclusively. But the Jews of Jesus day certainly understood the command in terms of fellow Jews. They felt that there was no obligation under this law to love non-Jews like the Roman conquerors, nor people from neighbouring countries, nor those hated Samaritans.
In the parable which Jesus tells to that expert in the Law – the Parable of the Good Samaritan – Jesus widens the application of “neighbour” to include anyone in need. It was a startling teaching – Jews were to consider Gentiles as neighbours. Hated Samaritans and tax-collectors and Roman soldiers were neighbours to be loved – to be helped and done good to and served in their times of need.
It’s an extraordinary teaching really. And it’s made very specific – no wriggle-room here – when Jesus teaches, “Love your enemies, and do good to those who persecute you.” It’s tempting to exclaim: “Are you serious, Lord? Love that person who hates me and has wronged me time and time again?”
But, yes, that’s exactly what Jesus means. And your fellow Christians who are living under extreme persecution often give the lead. In the Middle East, Christians share resources sent to them in their dire need with their Muslim neighbours. Such love is only possible through the indwelling Holy Spirit, who changes us so that we become more loving and merciful, just like our Heavenly Father. We show that we are His children by our love for others.
The extent of this command includes church and family. Now you may be thinking that this is fairly safe ground, but sadly that’s not the case. Churches can be riddled with divisions and animosities and unresolved conflicts.
“Love one another” is Jesus command to His disciples and His church. Don’t gossip about one another. Don’t put one another down. Don’t be cliquey. Don’t turn your back on that rather irritating and even unpleasant fellow believer. But instead, humbly serve one another and look out for one another’s interests. Your fellow Christian is your neighbour.
And then there’s the family. If you think this is safe ground, think again. The command is clear: “Husbands, love your wives.” But we live in communities and a society where husbands bash, abuse, and belittle their wives – and then say, “Oh, but you know that I love you.” That’s not love; that’s a crime. And it happens amongst professing believers.
A few years ago, my town of Cowra led the State in having AVOs – Apprehended Violence Orders. And this is in a community which prides itself on being a centre of World Friendship, and having a Peace Bell. There’s not a lot of friendship and love in many families.
What’s it like in Tamworth? Are husbands giving themselves in self-sacrificing love for their wives? Are you husbands here doing that? Will you young men do that if you get married?
This commandment to “love your neighbour” embraces all your relationships. It’s a summation of Commandments 5 – 10 of the 10 Commandments – putting the commandments not to lie, steal, murder, covet and commit adultery in a positive way – to love others.
3. An Application of the Command.
Thirdly, I now want to make a particular point of application – something already hinted at, but which I think would be good to underline.
In the community at large and the church, the sad truth is that broken relationships are the order of the day. We treat one another badly. And far too few are prepared to own up to the wrong they’ve done someone else, or to take the initiative in righting wrongs. “No; they’re the one at fault. They need to come to me apologise.” Or worse still: “What they’ve done is unforgiveable! I never want to see or speak to them again.”
I’m sure you know the sort of thing I’m talking about. You possibly know what I’m talking about from personal experience. No-one acts; no-one is prepared to make the first move; no-one is prepared to humble themselves; no-one is prepared to accept responsibility for their own part in the breakdown of relationship. Wounds fester; positions harden; and there is no peace or reconciliation.
Is this “loving your neighbour as yourself?” Of course not. It’s a lack of love and charity. And for today, I’ll leave it at that.
Is any of this easy – this loving your neighbour and forgiving wrongs done? Of course not! It’s not only not easy; it’s impossible. Impossible, that is, unaided. Impossible, that is, without the enabling and power of God by His Spirit. You need to humble yourself and pray and ask God to help you to love your neighbour, no matter how unlovely they might be – it’s the only way.
Christ calls and commands you to love your neighbour as yourself. What a difference it would make to church and community – to your relationships, and the attractiveness of Christ and the church – if only each one here followed the path and duty of obedience spelled out by our Lord Jesus in the command. May God grant you to do so.