In Matthew chapter 28, Jesus went beyond the first and greatest command and said that the second command is like the first,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself
So as I’ve been thinking about these two great commandments, these two commandments that all of the Old Testament hinges upon, I’ve had to ask myself what loving my neighbor as myself really means. Let me warn you, this has been convicting. It’s been painful to see how miserably I have failed. And it has been tempting to wallow in guilt, which is a big waste of time. No, I don’t want to examine this commandment and its application to my life and then only feel guilty. I have been repentant, and I ask the Holy Spirit to fill me and help me change.
In thinking about loving my neighbor as myself, my lightbulb-going-off sort of moment was realizing that just as I cannot love God without first absorbing His love, I cannot love my neighbor without first absorbing His love. My love for my neighbor must come from an overflow of God’s love in me. I just can’t do it on my own.
In a way, that is freeing. Because now, loving my neighbor isn’t about a to-do list I can check off. It’s about resting in God’s presence and being filled with His love and then sloshing the overflow of that out on others. Perhaps that’s not such a beautiful analogy, but I think that’s it. It’s about being love to my neighbors. Reflecting Christ, Who is (of course) Perfect Love.
So, from now on, everything I am going to say presupposes that we are, first and foremost, being filled moment-by-moment with the love of Christ.
OK. So what does loving my neighbor as myself look like? Well, I think it does not involve giving my cast-offs, my crumbs, or my leftovers to others. I think it means that I will begin to truly love other people the same way I love myself. I will want the same opportunities and blessings and resources and experiences for others that I want for myself and my family.
Loving my neighbor means that when I hear about a homeless family in my town, I will give away my own groceries to feed their children. Loving my neighbor means that when I hear about a mother in Cambodia whose daughter was stolen and sold to a brothel the next country over, I will weep for her and send whatever money I can to International Justice Mission to help them shut that brothel down and rescue that daughter. Loving my neighbor means that when I read a headline on CNN about genocide in Africa, I will attempt to grasp the idea that thousands of people, people made in the image of God, people for whom Christ also died, have been wiped off the face of the earth as if they were nothing, as if they never mattered. I will not be able to skim that headline and move on down to the latest news about my favorite TV show.
Loving my neighbor might mean getting out of my comfort zone and visiting someone in prison. It might mean overcoming a fear of flying and traveling to Brazil to help build a church. It might mean leaving all the comforts of home and the safety of family to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda. Loving my neighbor might mean inviting my actual neighbor over for dinner, even though I can’t see that we’d have anything in common. It might mean sitting with a bedridden, elderly man so his wife can go to church.
I am certain that loving my neighbor as myself means that my heart will be broken more often, my life will get messier, my spending habits will change, my leisure activities will change. My plans won’t be the same because I won’t be the center of my attention.
If I’m loving others as I love myself, I’ll want that elderly woman trapped in spirit-worship in an obscure tribe in Papua New Guinea to hear God’s Talk, the Gospel, and have an opportunity to know Christ before she dies. I’ll want her grandchildren to have clean drinking water, and I’ll want to do whatever I can to help eradicate malaria in her village.
In the past two months, God has poured out His love on me; and the greatest miracle is that I have begun to receive His love. I have begun to absorb it and watch it puddle up in my heart, then pool up, then pour out. I cry now when I read the news. My heart hurts for people whose homes and photographs and grandmother’s hope-chests burned up in wildfires. My arms ache for the grandma who wants to hold her grandchild again but cannot because someone murdered him. I cry because someone’s daughter was killed in a car accident and because children drowned in a flood in a country I will most likely never visit.
But loving my neighbor as myself isn’t only about mourning with those who mourn, it’s also about rejoicing with those who rejoice. I have also found myself rejoicing over the news that a brothel was shut down somewhere in Asia. I have rejoiced that my brothers and sisters in the Banwaon tribe in the Philippines are finally going to get the cataract surgery they need. I have rejoiced, and I mean jump-up-and-down rejoiced, with my friends in Brazil as we watched God provide $30,000 in 29 days for their new church property. I rejoice that IJM helped prosecute and put away a rapist in Kenya and, not only that, but they are counseling with the victim and helping her move beyond that horror by paying for her schooling in a safe environment where she can heal and recover.
I can only love like this when I am filled to overflowing with the love of Christ. I can only love like this from the overflow of Him. Believe me, I can’t even love the children I gave birth to, the ones who are flesh of my flesh, unless He helps me. I certainly can’t love strangers without Him. On my own, I am selfish, and I would spend all my money and time buying books and shoes and pretty jewelry and Ghirardelli chocolate, and then I’d wear my nice shoes and pretty jewelry while reading books and eating the chocolates. I am selfish; and left to myself, I only love myself. But when I receive the love my Father has for me, when I really bask in His love, soak it in, then He will fill me up to overflowing.
I love Him because He first loves me. And I love my neighbors because He first loves me.