Love Your Neighbor

LoveThyNeighborAsThyself

Matthew 5:43-45
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

In this passage, Jesus is still talking about being peacemakers. He has already talked about not fighting back and as the Apostle Paul would say it, “overcome evil with good.” You can tell by the way Jesus’ words are accentuated in the passage that the first part of “what was said” is a quote from the Old Testament but the second part is a societal mindset. It appears the human mind with the guidance of our spiritual foe took a commandment of God and added a humanistic quality. In Romans 12, Paul talks about loving conduct:

9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

If we read the entirety of Romans 12 it is as if he wrote his own sermon reflecting the same things Jesus said in Matthew 5. Mostly, Paul is talking about being transformed by the love of God and implementing it. Luke 6recorded Jesus’ words a little differently:

27 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.

Notice how the striking of the cheek, forcing us to go a mile, taking of our clothes…these are all things that would irritate and bother us. Jesus says, “Love them.” This is unnatural in our own humanity. We are used to hating our enemies, not loving them.   Yet, in doing so, we will be called sons of God. This is something that definitely can only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit working inside of us, transforming us into His likeness. How then, can we obtain this ability? How do we start loving our enemies? How do we stop hating people who take from us? Jesus tells us to pray for them.

There is a spiritual discipline in praying for our enemies. I call it a specific discipline (instead of just praying in general) because you have to be very disciplined in order to do it. Whenever someone gets on your nerves, wrongs you, hurts you, or does anything else than love you the way you expect them to: pray for them in silence instead of responding in frustration. It doesn’t matter if it is your spouse, your kids, your parents, your boss, some guy on the street, the thugs who held you at gunpoint and stole your iPhone, or anyone else…Jesus says, “bless and pray and do not curse.”

We live in a broken world. As followers of Christ and possessors of the Holy Spirit, we are called to shine God’s light unto the world. Our own brokenness becomes a stumbling block for us to love others and in many situations throughout the day, our sinfulness calls us to react negatively in response to evil that is done to us (whether it is intentional or not). We should also pray for ourselves in these moments but if we pray for those who hurt us, we will begin to see them through the eyes of Jesus instead of Satan. In Galatians 5, Paul reveals this simple truth that not only are we peacemakers and sons of God when we do this, but we are set free because we are living in the Kingdom of God when we bless instead of curse those who offend us:

13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

The lack of following this commandment has hobbled us as a society and specifically as the Church. Our leaders disappoint us, our kids disobey us, our spouses dishonor us, our parents disown us, our friends disrespect us…and we do the same to them and the cycle repeats itself into eternity. We have been doing it since Eve ate the apple and Adam blamed her for it. Yet Jesus reveals to us there is a better way to live; He tells us there is freedom from this vicious cycle of hatred. It doesn’t take much and doesn’t have to be elaborate. The next time someone offends or hurts you, say a silent prayer, “Lord, bless them despite how they have wronged me.” Your worldview and thus your world will change and you will begin to walk in peace and be called a son or daughter of God.

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