Love Thy Neighbor

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

— Matthew 22:39

Consider the relation of brotherhood and sisterhood. Why does my brother come of the same father and mother? Why do I behold the helplessness and confidence of his infancy? Why do we behold the wonder of the sunset and the mystery of the growing moon together? Why do we quarrel, vow revenge and silence and endless enmity, and unable to resist the brotherhood within us, wind arm in arm and forget all within the hour? Is it not that Love may grow lord of all between us? Is it not that I may feel towards him what there are no words to express—a love in which the divine self rushes forth in utter self-forgetfulness, a love stronger than death?

But if we stop there, what will be the result? He who loves not his brother for deeper reasons than those of common parentage will cease to love him at all. The love that enlarges not its borders, that is not ever spreading into universal brotherhood, will contract, shrivel, decay, and die. There is a bond between me and the most wretched liar that ever died for the murder he would not even confess, closer infinitely than that which springs only from having the same mother and father. My brother in the flesh is my first neighbor, that I may learn brotherhood. My second neighbor is anyone with whom I have human dealings: the man who mends my clothes; the man who drives me in his cab, the man who begs from me in the street, and to whom, it may be, for his own sake, I must not give.


Let Us Begin to Love
by Dave Roney

In 1st John 4, the Apostle tells us “For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen."  There is, I think, a converse truth to be found here:  If anyone loves God whom he has not seen, he then loves his neighbor whom he has not seen.

In the seventh chapter of his book Life Without Lack, the late Christian philosopher Dallas Willard makes a statement which, understood in the manner he meant, is sensible.  In that chapter, titled Sufficiency Completed in Love, he says “It is important for us to get away from the idea of loving everyone.  We cannot love everyone; it is not physically possible.”  Yet I see, and practice, a different manner of addressing universal love for neighbor, and do so by recognizing there is a hierarchy in human love.  There is, coming from all of us, love given by degrees so that we love our own child better than we love the neighbors child, and love that child more than some child living on the other side of the world whom we've never met.  In fact, we actually have no love for that unknown child (in the sense Willard expresses); we do not think about him because we know nothing of him; he is, practically speaking, a non-entity to us.  Love is outgoing, as a transitive verb which must have an object; our failing is that lest we see and know—have in view an object for love—we think and feel as though supposing there is no object, then love is not sent out from us.

Those with whom we are most familiar, most intimate, are those whom we love dearest; our own child meaning far more to us than that unknown child.  And there is no difference between the love of God and that of man except this; whereas we know few intimately, He knows every child, every person, through and through, with a one sided intimacy which the recipients of such great love cannot imagine.  Therefore, He loves every person as though they were His only and dearest little child.  And God is not shocked that we love so much less than He; His exhortations to us show that He is accommodating us by commands such as love your husband, love your wife, take care of your household first and, as our text indicates, love your neighbor.

There is, then, for sinner and saint like, a hierarchy of love established which is both natural and common to all of us.  I do not say this is wrong but natural to us; at the same instant I say it would be wholly unnatural for God to love in this manner.  And though God is not condemning us for loving others in this manner, which Willard describes as the impossibility that we can love everyone, He is yet always urging us to rise above what is natural to us and become more like Himself, He Who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”    

But since our love is naturally set in a hierarchy does it not make sense to admit to it and then explore what love might be in its various levels?  And if we consider what is the most basic level of love possible to us, is it not to desire the best for another person?  The stranger across from us at a four way stop, isolated from us in his vehicle, the woman we've never seen before, passing us as she pulls ahead through the intersection, never to be seen by us again; can we not offer a short prayer for her, and express to our Father our desire for His best in her life?  When we hear the distant wail of the siren and know the ambulance is on its way to the scene of an accident, can we not pray earnestly for the victims whom we do not know?  When we think of the teeming billions in India or China, or the remote tribesman in his jungle habitat or wind chased tundra, faceless and nameless to us—can we not sincerely desire their very best?  This is love at its most basic level, it is not intimate love but it is love.  It is the heart felt, earnest and honest, desire for another's best.  And by this, which is possible for every person to do, and even though encumbered by our natural hierarchical system of loving by degrees, we can love every person.

One Day at the San Jose Mission

Let me now address love from a different perspective, that of believers and their love for one another.  A few days ago I stood with my brother-in-law Jaime on a little foot bridge leading to the grist mill of Mission San Jose, founded in 1720 and the oldest mission in Texas.  Jaime is a devout Roman Catholic and a fine man.  I said to him I am no Catholic in the sense he understands, nor am I a Protestant for I am not protesting anything.  And, with me, he agreed that it is tragic how the one Church of Christ has been so splintered over doctrines, by traditions, and through creeds, that brother has been set against brother.  And I will not go into the details of an interesting conversation, but I read this passage from the Apostle's pen to him, for both of us:

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all.”  (Ephesians 4:1-6)

The Relation of Brotherhood and Sisterhood

Why do we have brothers or sisters in the flesh?  Then why does God have a Son?  Is it not for us with our kin that we can learn to love others as God, and His Son, love one another?  We begin to love from intimacy, shall we not move beyond the rudimentary love natural to all people and go on to learn to love without intimacy?  If we do not love our brother whom we have seen, how shall we love God Whom we have not seen?  We must begin to love as is natural to us, by those we have seen, and know, those closest at hand and with whom we share the intimacy of family and friend; but this is no end for us; it is the Lord's grace upon us, to teach us first our little faltering steps so we may grow to walk and then to run with endurance in love's pathway.  For any who suppose that true love for sister or brother can be predicated on parentage alone, let such look at their own family and see that common blood linage is not enough to support actual love.  Says MacDonald:

“He who loves not his brother for deeper reasons than those of common parentage will cease to love him at all.  The love that enlargeth not its borders, that is not ever spreading into universal brotherhood, will contract, shrivel, decay, and die.  There is a bond between me and the most wretched liar that died for the murder he would not confess, closer infinitely than that which springs only from having the same mother and father.  My brother in the flesh is my first neighbor, that I may learn brotherhood.  My second neighbor is anyone with whom I have human dealings...”

I have my first loves which are natural to me, of mother and father, sister and brother, and these are to prepare me, as stepping stones, to love what is not natural to me; the neighbor, the stranger, the misfit, the broken, the onerous, the poor and the pitiful—ultimately, when I've grown enough like my Savior, to love even my hateful and dangerous enemy as I love myself.  There are three sisters; on the left hand is one who is the very glory of God, and on the right hand is one who is terribly selfish and even evil; and what of the one in the middle—does she love the one but despise the other?  As long as this is her case, she cannot love God Whom she has not seen; she cannot even love her sisters as her self; her common common parentage with her sisters will not help her at all.

This is worthy of attention!  How shall we love those which cause natural revulsion to rise up in us?  How can we love the wretched one?  Can we truly love the man who is a constant irritant to us?  We must begin lest we lose love entirely, allowing it to rest on the false foundation of that which is pleasing to us, which strokes our vanity, which is someway beneficial to us, retreating to a pseudo-love reserved only for those who are lovely (for, is it not easy to love them who are lovely?).  Where shall we begin?  It is by, without regard for anything in the person, desiring the very best from God for them.  This is love at its most basic level.  It is possible for every person.  It is a step, perhaps small indeed, but a step from darkness toward light.

Herein I have not drawn any platitudinous portrait of lofty and unrealistic virtue but only of a most humble beginning—if a man is to truly love his neighbor he must begin somewhere to love him, and do it by what may be a slender and delicate thread, easily broken.  But yet he must begin in the one and only place where he is able to begin; and for many, as is my notion, it is in the simplest, most basic, place; to love thy neighbor whom you know first, then to move beyond that by beginning to desire the best for others, for all others; and from that beginning love will grow, will swell, will become eventually, by degrees, ever increasing, the love of Christ and the Father.

It is how a fellow can come to think “He is my sworn enemy; he is enemy to me, but I am no enemy of his, for I desire God's best for him—I find that I am, gradually, coming to love him in spite of himself.”  Two men standing on a foot bridge, both believers yet separated by doctrines, yet looking into one another's eyes with love.  Two sisters with polar lifestyles and beliefs, nothing common to them except their blood heritage, yet able to desire the best for one another—it is love in embryonic form, gestating in the heart's womb, growing until it is birthed in fullness.  Can not I desire the best for my adversary?  Is that not like Christ?  “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do!”  

Regarding the tongue St. James tells us, essentially, “Behold what a great conflagration is set ablaze by a small spark.”  Let us consider the principle in another way; “Behold what a great love is set ablaze by a small beginning!”  Let us, then, begin to love in the best way we are able.  And if it be no more of a spark than our feeble desire for the best, God's best, for all people everywhere, then God shall be pleased with us for that, as long as that is the best we can in this moment do.  But He is not satisfied with the baby step, will lend His own divine love to ours, help us to grow, become more like Himself and His Son, bring us more and more to love as He loves.  Let us all begin, then, and if necessary, with the rudimentary form of love but with anticipation and desire move from it into the deeper realm of love, that of God, that for the world at large, for friend and stranger...

My Brother's Keeper

by Dave Roney

“He who does loves not his neighbor for deeper reasons than those of common parentage will cease to love him at all.”

“ one another: just as I have loved you” (John 13:34) came our Lord's new commandment to us—by “one another” He encompassed every person; “just as I have loved” included love sent out to the worst of men equally with the best of them, regardless of anything those beloved might think, or say, or do.  Every person without exception at every occasion and instant.  It is not generally my habit to speak in these commentaries of personal experience, but on this occasion I take exception, for it appears to me that a recent occurrence in my life is relevant and profitable to share.

During a recent missionary trip to Havana, Cuba, I was robbed of several hundred dollars, the money taken from my luggage while I was asleep or else out about; it was monies I had taken to give away, to use in helping my brothers and sisters.  When I discovered the theft a prayer immediately arose within me, that God would bless the thief and his use of the money, that somehow it would be a help to him, fall out to his salvation, would be the tool God would use to gather a thief-child unto Himself and make that poor child into a true son.  I knew that the man would never be able to escape his act or the shame attached to it (this is a crime he will never be able to purge from his memory).  I suppose that if he could he would return the money and beg forgiveness in order to soothe his conscience or, when shame has cast its dark shadow over his mind, he will in the future desire it.  Perhaps, though, in this life the thief will never repent.

What the thief could not know is that he was forgiven entirely from the moment I discovered his act, and that God had forgiven him before he was even born into the world.  Forgiveness is not, then, a thing he must in any way work to achieve; it is something which he can only accept.  Also unbeknownst to him is that when members of the little group that meets in our home each week to study MacDonald heard of the transgression they as well forgave him, gave thanks, and prayed for him, this stranger, injurious to me, yet a brother unknown.

This attitude may well seem to be all upside down to some readers.  As a matter of fact, one fellow in our home group, when my wife offered that in the group prayer they should thank God for the theft and pray that He would use the evil to produce good, exclaimed “Thank God?  But why?”  Yet it is not those who are spiritual who are upside down, it is the world; Dallas Willard explained it as people piloting a small plane upside down in deepest night without instruments, all the while supposing they are flying upright.  

You may say to yourself that the thief owes me the money; I say he owes me nothing.  I would have freely given it to him had he truly needed it and had but asked.  It was not my money.  Nothing is mine except my Lord.  The truth of it is this; I am the debtor: I am in his debt, to forgive him.  And my debt to him far surpasses any financial debt or other consideration which he may rightfully owe me, for that which he owes to me are only those things which are passing away.  Included in my debt to the thief is this; he is currently unlovely—and my glad duty is to love the unlovely until such time as he becomes lovely himself, at which moment he will love me even as I love him.  Then, then, he will love his neighbor as he loves himself, only better; then he will be becoming more like his Savior.

Our Lord, in the hour of His deepest and darkest suffering uttered “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!” and concerning this, which is the “secret and hidden wisdom of God,” theApostle later said “Had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory!”  Did they know?  On a purely intellectual, emotionally charged plane we might suggest that they were fully aware; yet, spiritually, they were blinded.  My thief, did he know what he was doing?  On the same plane he did, yet with a darkened heart he could not know as you and I know, could not do what love of neighbor would guide him to do.  He is pitiful, broken, naked, he is the one lying by the roadside awaiting that Samaritan who would pour oil into his wounds, and provide for his needs.  I pray I am that despised half-breed helper, that I may give of my treasure and even my own life for my poor little brother.  It is not extraordinary for we who follow our Lord to have this attitude; it is the normal Christian life, abnormal to the world, wholly natural to us.  If a man loves only those of his own blood, or those who deserve his affection, then what part has he with Christ Jesus; for he loves even as do the Pharisees.

When the Son became the Child He became the Brother of every child of Adam without regard to their conduct or condition.  God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself; in humble and obedient service, let us be agents for His use in this reconciliation.  Our neighbor is every man, woman, and child, be they friend or foe, enemies toward us or unknown to us (such as my thief).  In Romans 1:14, St. Paul declares the matter, saying; “To the Greeks as well as the barbarians, to the wise as well as the foolish, I am a debtor.”  And what was the Apostle's debt?  Namely to both love and forgive all things, for “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.” 

And through this love of neighbors, the debt to them all, beyond emotions and words, to include the giving away of Christlike self, of possessions, of honor, of gain, of even life itself, to be living sacrifices unto God for them, or even to die as martyr-sacrifices if need be.  Or, to say, we must love our neighbor as our self without regard to anything in him, and thereby fulfill all that old Law with which Paul was most familiar; for the summation of the Divine Law is wrapped up in and made perfect by, and only by, Love.  And the perfecting of outgoing love is the perfecting of inward self, not only our self but that of our neighbor, brother, sister, enemy, the stranger, the friend, all people everywhere; in the end it is the reconciliation of brother to brother and man to God, of child to Father.