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What did Jesus mean when he told us to ‘love our neighbour’?

Tue September 26th, 2017

We have heard this said since childhood but what does it mean to love someone the way that Jesus expects us to?

To understand this, we should start with the words of Jesus when he was confronted with the question.

Lk 10:27–37  He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind;” and “your neighbour as yourself.”,q

28 “You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”

30 Jesus took up the question and said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. 34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’

36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

37 “The one who showed mercy to him,” he said.

Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”

 

We have all probably heard that whereas we love our wives or husbands, our girl or boyfriends our cars, our holidays, our pets, a Big Mac, any new Star Wars movie, that the Greeks had different words for love. Whereas we don’t really know quite what we mean by love, they knew much more clearly. Today we get love and sex mixed up to the point that we think of the two interchangeably, which is very confusing for all of us, especially our children growing up around us. 

The word love used here is ‘agapao’ – a selfless love, one which is more concerned with the object of love than with itself. This is how we know that God loves us: 

Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice, for our sins. (1 Jn 4:10) 

The ‘good Samaritan’ – a gentile, a hated race – shows love to a Jew. He started off by not doing what everyone else did – walking by on the other side of the road feigning ignorance. He had compassion, went over to him, bandaged his wounds, took him to an inn and took care of him, paying the innkeeper to carry on when he left. 

Note the answer of the questioner is that the one who shows mercy to a neighbour. Mercy and compassion are linked words. Compassion in Greek means to yearn from the bowels, whilst mercy means to act according to that yearning – so compassion is an emotional response and mercy is a practical act that is triggered by the emotional response. 

The other week we heard about Compassion UK and we saw the faces of children in Rwanda that we were being asked to help. Many of us yearned to help, feeling something for these poor children. A good number of us turned that compassion into action and showed mercy on them by sponsoring them.

Can you see love? Can you see compassion? – Probably not! You can however see mercy! 

So, compassion and mercy are stepping stones to the manifestation of love in our lives. Let’s not confuse warm fluffy feelings with love; attachment to or fondness of are not love. Love lays itself down for others, it is not a crush or the desire to cuddle! Some people talk about their love for Jesus in a totally inappropriate manner, we should avoid such language. When we are talking about loving our neighbour, there need not be any sense of wanting to go away for a weekend together, but rather a willingness to serve and to sacrifice. In fact some people say ‘I find loving Jesus easy – its people I struggle with’ – but John says this:

16 This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him—how does God’s love reside in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth. (1 Jn 3:16–18)

-          So when we hold back from helping other people in genuine need, that is when we know that we have a dearth of love in our lives.

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister. (1 Jn 4:20–21)

-          So we cannot say we love Jesus whom we cannot see but not love our brothers and sisters that we can see. 

How do we progress to a point of loving our neighbour? Where you have no love for a person, the starting point should be forgiveness. If it is relevant, choose to forgive them. The next stage is prayer – pray for them, that God will bless them. If you consistently pray for someone, slowly you will learn to have desire to bless them. Slowly, compassion should rise, out of that mercy should follow. Before long you will find yourself using ‘love’ as part of your language in respect of them. This is not resolved in an instant, but with consistency.

It is easy to say we would bandage someone if we saw them at the side of the road – or even that we would ring 999, but hypotheticals are just that – when we practice what we are talking about is when we know we love one another.

Can you be wronged by people who you are reaching out to in love – Yes! That my friends is love – you make yourself vulnerable when you love – look at Jesus! Remember that love is the greatest power on the earth, because it is the prime defining description of our God – God is love!

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:4-7)