Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Mark's thoughts: What does it mean to "Love Your Neighbor"?


Recently there have been signs on lawns around my town that say:


Love Your Neighbor

No matter how they are challenged.

No matter their sexual orientation.

No matter their gender identity

No matter their religion.

No matter their race.

No matter who they voted for.

No matter their economic status.

No matter their immigration status.

Love Your Neighbor. No Exceptions.


The signs bear the symbol of a Christian group.  On the one hand, there is no question that faith in Jesus Christ leads us to love all people.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes how those who have received the kingdom of God – the reign of God – (Matthew 4:17; 12:28) in him are to live as a result of this.  He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45).  Jesus taught, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (7:12)  In a similar manner, St. Paul wrote, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4), and then he goes on to provide Jesus Christ as the pattern of this sacrificial love (2:5-8).


Because of the love we have received in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians will seek to assist and help their neighbors.  We will love not in word or talk, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). God demonstrated “his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6).  If God loved us in Christ when we were this way, then we will share the love of Christ with others no matter who they are.


Yet the phrasing of the sign also raises the question of what it means to love our neighbor.  In Ephesians 4:14 Paul says that Christians are not to be tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Having established that there is error that must be avoided, the apostle writes in the next verse, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (4:15).

The sign mentions “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “religion.”  While loving those identified by these categories means helping them, it does not mean considering their status to being completely acceptable.  The phrase “sexual orientation” indicates that there may be some other way of using sex in addition to that between a man and woman (in marriage).  Yet this violates God ordering of his creation (Genesis 1:26-28) and God’s Word says that those who do so will not inherit the kingdom of God (1Corinthians 6:9-10) – they will not experience salvation with God.  In the same way, “gender identity” indicates that a man or a woman may choose to “identify” as the opposite sex.  Yet this denies the fact that our bodies are God’s creation and gift.  He creates us as male or female, and to reject our body is to reject the Creator who gave it to us.

In the case of other religions, Christians are called to proclaim Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Lord. We are to tell others that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Only through faith in Jesus Christ is there forgiveness and salvation.

Loving those referred to by the phrases “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “religion” will also mean speaking the truth in love.  It will mean calling sin, sin.  It will mean sharing God’s will with these people as we have opportunity.  Loving will not mean accepting, or even encouraging, such false beliefs and practices. It will mean speaking the truth to them and to our culture as a whole.

Finally, it should be noted that “immigration status” indicates the possibility that an individual is in the area in violation of the law – that he or she is here illegally.  This too is not something that we can consider acceptable.  God’s Word teaches us to obey the governing authorities (Fourth Commandment; Romans 13:1-7), and that means following the laws of our land.

Loving our neighbor means helping and supporting him or her as we would want to be helped. This kind of love is indeed directed to every kind of neighbor – even an enemy.  But love never considers sin to be acceptable.  Love speaks the truth of God’s Word and will to our neighbor for their good, and ultimately, in the hope that he or she will come to know Jesus Christ as Lord, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).







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