Now, we Christians know we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s half of God’s “Royal Law”. When a Pharisee asked Jesus what the greatest commandment of the Law was, He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets are summed up in these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Jesus was correct in making these two commandments inseparable, because they work symbiotically. It is not truly possible to love people with agape love by our own power. We must first understand the love by which God loves us. Thus we have an example of how to love others. And we cannot claim to love God if we do not love others with the agape love He provides us, being obedient to Jesus’ commandment above. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
The command to love our neighbor as ourselves is so important that “God-like love by itself is the entire focus and hopefully the end product of the Law and everything the prophets, Jesus and the apostles did, said and wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Since all these things are still very much accessible to a true believer, we know the believer is indebted to God and others to live by the very same principle of God-like love today. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)
You may not be familiar with the Greek word agape. Agape is a word of Koine (or common) Greek origin that surfaced about 300 years before the birth of Jesus and became obsolete about six centuries later. It was perhaps the most precise instrument for the conveyance of human thought that the world has ever known. For example, agape is only one of four words to define our word for “love”. Agape love is commonly referred to as “unconditional” love – the ability to love anyone and everyone no matter what the circumstances...so much so that we are even to love our enemies and those who are bent to do us harm. (Matthew 5:44)
1 Corinthians chapter 13 describes love in the greatest detail in the entire Bible. God-like love is:
patient – The Greek word here suggests that we tame our desire to become easily and quickly angry, for example, when we’re abused or offended by someone. When we are patient, there is a better chance that our insistent love will overcome our adversary. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be able to defend ourselves in certain situations where we can escape extreme abuse that are not for the sake of Christ.
kind – The idea here is to be compassionate, and even generous with all you have to give. Wouldn’t the world be a more joyful place if everyone considered the needs of others as important than their own needs? (Philippians 2:4) “And become useful and helpful and kind to one another, tenderhearted (compassionate, understanding, loving-hearted), forgiving one another [readily and freely], as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
not envious - The loving person will rejoice at the success of others. Unleashed jealousy will not only cause personal mental torment, but the great possibility of hurting another's feelings that is sensitive to it. Envy was one of the sins responsible for the death of Christ (Matthew 27:17,18).
not boastful – Love is not self-absorbed. It seeks to build up and encourage the weak and poor in spirit, those going through trials and temptations. God is no respecter of persons when it comes to His love. Nor should we be.
not arrogant – Arrogance is the opposite of humbleness. While humbleness opens the door for God’s Spirit to work as He wishes in our lives, arrogance is a prideful wall that claims it can do a better job.
not rude - Rudeness is compelled by a carnal desire to act out compulsively in a way that doesn’t take others' feelings into consideration. I know someone who has a professed Christian friend who has this propensity to purposely start controversial doctrinal conversations full well knowing they will disagree. She has been patiently told by my friend several times there is no need for such militant confrontation.
not insist on its own way – A Christian cannot be selfish and still be an effective servant for the Lord’s work. We never know what God will require of us. No doubt, He has asked many people to give up everything they had and follow His plan. Being self-absorbed is closely related to being prideful, which was Lucifer’s great downfall.
not irritable or resentful – Christians are to be a joy-filled example to the world. Who would want to become a believer if they saw us moping around and spiteful all the time? Believers avoid confrontation for the sake of “one-upmanship”. Of course, there are times when confrontation for the sake of the Truth is unavoidable.
not rejoice in wrongdoing – Love does not keep tabs on other’s sins for the sole purpose of accusing them. Jesus Himself has given us the freedom to go to a brother or sister in Christ that is straying from the path and deal with them in love in hopes they will repent. Love does not hold a grudge. (Matthew 18:21,22)
bears all things – “bears” here in the Greek means to “roof over; (figuratively) cover with silence - patiently endure”. Since patience and endurance are both elsewhere covered in this passage, commentators believe the “bearing” here refers to the previous phrase “not rejoicing in wrongdoing”. Though we may see a believer straying from the path, we are not to pounce on the opportunity to point it out to them in such a way that it seems to escalate our perceived status of holiness over them.
believes all things - To have faith and trust in first and foremost a solid relationship with Christ. But when it comes to the brethren, it can be very harmful to be suspicious about things that others are supposedly doing. This opens the door to needless judgment, especially when you add in the factor of gossip. On the flip side of the coin, Christians are not to be naive or shy to the point where the evidence of wrongdoing is overwhelming, and a virus can be placed in the church.
hopes all things – Believers are to be a peculiar people. With all that is going on in the world, a hopeful person sticks out like a pink elephant. But that’s the way God wants it to be. Just as the Israelites were to be a beacon of light to the gentile nations, Christians are to be a hopeful beam of light to the whole world. But, as this love passage was written to the church, it must be realized that many in Christ’s church stumble and fall to the point where they need a new infusion of hope by their fellow believers also.
endures and never ends – No matter how bad things may get, love will always be the answer to everything, because everything God does for us is in love. Because God is eternal, His love is eternal. He loves all people that have not yet come to Christ, utterly ridden with all sorts of sin.
Again, though the love passage was written to the church in Corinth to attempt to solve some specific problems they were having, by extension, we can certainly apply it’s principles to our lives when dealing with all people – our “neighbors”. To live up to these standards seems extremely difficult for many. That’s because it is. It is totally contrary to our carnal nature. Some (even) Christians find it hard to believe that God would require such a stringent spiritual regiment from us. I mean, is there really anything wrong with saying that you “love” all people, but there are some you simply don’t like? God certainly must understand that sometimes people’s personalities just clash. You’ll just never get along. Is there anything wrong with just avoiding contact with some people that rub you the wrong way? And, as I write this blog, I myself have had to own up to some of the social prejudices I have against certain types of people.
So how in the world can we get to the point where we can have a more God-like or Christ-like love for people if so much is working against us? We cannot forget that with God, nothing is impossible. A leopard cannot change its spots, but God can! His Holy Spirit is just waiting to change us. But first we must be willing to be changed and work with the Spirit to change us. How do we do that? Each of us have those pesky personality flaws keeping us from loving as a result of our carnal habits going unchecked for a long time. We use the excuse “That’s just who I am”. That simple subconscious message keeps reinforcing and validating our habits.
Some people are actually afraid to change what they think and how they act for fear they will lose their identity. Let’s face it. We’ve become comfortable with all our flaws. That’s why I say, even though God is a God of the impossible, He can work more easily with one who surrenders to and wants to work with Him. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve heard of God working miracles upon people’s hearts, and they changed overnight only by His power. But typically, I believe God blesses our obedience in being proactive with His Spirit. We will find, as we mature in Christ, it will be easier to check our habits. It will even be easier to do some really hard things, like pray for those who irritate us or injure us!
Finally, since the Bible makes it clear how important it is to love our neighbor, it only stands to reason one of the best ways we can show that love is to tell them about the Lord and what He’s done for us. But we must always do it in love. If we follow the Corinthians 13 guideline, we’ll be well off. But if we have a spirit of militant debate or argument, or look down on the unsaved as if they are lower than us because they have not yet seen the light, then any blessing you or they could have had will vanish into thin air!
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
The Lord bless you and always pray for wisdom in this deceptive world. Amen.