“Love thy neighbor . . .”

 During February our thoughts turn to love, and when we think of love, we usually think about feelings or emotions.  But the idea of love in the Bible has much more to do with our actions and behaviors – with how we treat one another.  In his book, The Law of Perfect Freedom, Michael Horton writes about how the Ten Commandments apply to us today.  In the chapter on the commandment not to murder, he makes the point that the command is intended to be taken negatively and positively.  While we are NOT to murder, we ARE to show genuine LOVE and CONCERN for others.  To not show these is to, in effect, commit murder – to devalue the life of another.  Let’s consider and take to heart some of Michael Horton’s thoughts.

“Jesus so identifies with the needy that whatever is done to or for them, he considers as something done to or for his own person.  It is not because there is a ‘spark of divinity’ or a bit of Jesus in everybody; nor is it because the poor are somehow more righteous than the rich.  Rather, it is because Jesus regards himself as the Lord and liberator of all aspects of human life, not just that narrow strip we call ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ life.  He does not merely want to save our soul but, as the resurrection guarantees, intends to save our bodies as well for all eternity.

“Discipleship [goes beyond] merely commitment to tithing, prayer circles, accountability and Bible study groups, witnessing and other ‘spiritual’ activities . . . Discipleship [is more than] a matter of great, spectacular displays of spiritual power and zeal, including prophesying, driving out demons, and performing miracles in the name of Jesus.  This is not where God’s heart lies in terms of true discipleship.

In Isaiah 58, God takes Israel to task for setting aside the commandments requiring service to neighbor, even while religious services and zeal flourish.  ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?’ (v. 3).  We are prone to setting up our own acts of piety and spiritual devotion and wonder sometimes why God is not ‘blessing’ us for our ‘extraordinary’ discipleship.  But God answers in verse 4.  ‘On the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.  You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.’  And then, God declares:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:  to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the homeless with shelter; when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday”

(Isaiah 58:5-7, 9-10). 

“Being set right with God leads to radical liberation of human relationships as well.  We cannot, ultimately, separate our relationships in church from our relationships in general  We stand in solidarity with suffering people of every race, class, and creed – Christian or not – because this is God’s will, and for no other reason.  Although we will fail and will never conform to the law perfectly in heart, mind, and action, the believer has the certainty that a different kind of life belongs to him or her than that which he or she possessed before.  Loving our neighbors in a radical way that causes the world to seek out the source of our liberation – the impossible dream?  In Christ, it is a dream come true.  Let us not just tell our cynical, hostile neighbors [about Christ]; let us show them.” 

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