Our Lord quoted from the words of God to Moses, “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18
Our Lord never thought of being original. The older the saying, the better, if it utters the truth. In him it becomes fact: the Word was made flesh.
The same words are twice quoted by St. Paul, and once by St. James, always in a similar mode: they represent love as the fulfilling of the law. And will the law fulfil love? No, verily. A man is not a lover because he keeps the law, he keeps the law because he is a lover. It is impossible to keep the law towards one’s neighbor except one loves him. The man who tries most to keep the law will be the man most aware of defeat. We are not made for law, but for love. Love is infinitely more than law—it is the creator of the law. Had it not been for love, not one of the shall-nots of the law would have been uttered. Were there no love in us, what sense of justice could we have? For that is not justice which consists only in a sense of our own rights.
by James House
Christ has made plain to us the importance of loving our neighbor. And the doctrine of this is plain as well: to be like Christ, to do God's will - to be part of God's work, we must be about the business of being concerned for and serving our fellows.
Conceptually this is easy. Of course, in practice we all know it to be hard. Indeed, it is the key part of the challenge of life.
George MacDonald's novels feature characters that typify Christ-like living, and therefore his novels are full of examples of how we, in our every-day interactions with our neighbors - our brothers and sisters - can react to situations that challenge our ability to act in love.
I share here a small collection of quotes from MacDonald's works that relate to human friendship:
"The man here that doeth most service, that aideth others the most to the obtaining of their honest desires, is the man who standeth highest with the Lord of the place, and his reward and honour is, to be enabled to the spending of himself yet more for the good of his fellows. "
"the first part of friendship sometimes is to confess poverty"
"you can be friends without having friends"
"If instead of a gem, or even of a flower, we could cast the gift of a lovely thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving, as the angels, I suppose, must give."
"Nothing makes a man strong like a call upon him for help—a fact which points at a unity more delicate and close and profound than heart has yet perceived."
"I hope it is not necessary to agree with a man in everything before we can have a high opinion of him."
"Let us agree where we can," I said, "first of all; and that will make us able to disagree, where we must, without quarrelling."
"Only true lover of liberty is he, who will die to give it to his neighbour!"
"I know not one advanced Christian who tries to obey for the hope of Heaven or the fear of hell. Such ideas have long vanished from such a man. He loves God; he loves truth; he loves his fellow, and knows he must love him more."
"the faith of Jesus in His God and Father is, even now, saving me, setting me free from my one horror, selfishness; making my life an unspeakable boon to me, letting me know its roots in the eternal and perfect; giving me such love to my fellow, that I trust at last to love him as Christ has loved me."
Among George MacDonald's novels, there are some examples of fierce efforts to be loving of those who are hard to love. The character Malcolm stands out in this respect - passing through one patience- and pride-testing experience only to land in yet another, handling them all with forgiveness and as a gentleman.
In "What's Mine's Mine", there is a powerful incident, in which the character Alister learns to overcome his pride and find joy in caring more for the comfort of his neighbor than for himself. His oft-bothersome, and privilege-taking neighbor shoots the great stag of the local region, known as Ruadh. This stag was protected and loved by Alister, and a symbol of his pride in the land and animals that he cared for. The neighbor shot the stag purely for sport - an action that angered Alister in a high degree - to a degree that he struggled to control. Alister's Christ-like brother Ian helped Alister understand that he must "turn the other cheek" (by giving Ruadh's head to the shooter) in order to rid himself of the anger:
"This may be just the sort of thing Jesus meant! Even if I be in the right, I have a right to yield my right—and to HIM I will yield it. How but in the name of Jesus Christ could he [his brother Ian] have dared tell me to forgive Ruadh's death by sending his head to his murderer! It has to be done! I've got to do it! Here is my chance of turning the other cheek and being hurt again! What can come of it is no business of mine! To return evil is just to do a fresh evil! It MAY make the man ashamed of himself! It cannot hurt the stag; it only hurts my pride, and I owe my pride nothing! Why should not the fellow have what satisfaction he may—something to show for his shot! He shall have the head."
Thereupon rushed into his heart the joy of giving up, of deliverance from self; and pity, to leaven his contempt, awoke for Sercombe. No sooner had he yielded his pride, than he felt it possible to love the man—not for anything he was, but for what he might and must be.
"God let the man kill the stag," he said; "I will let him have the head."
Again and yet again swelled afresh the tide of wrath and unwillingness, making him feel as if he could not carry out his resolve; but all the time he knew the thing was as good as done—absolutely determined, so that nothing could turn it aside.
"To yield where one may, is the prerogative of liberty!" he said to himself. "God only can give; who would be his child must yield!"
Christ of course was the greatest example, always, of true friendship. May we all find more strength through His Grace, to be more like Him.
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
- John 15:13