Will We Live to Love
Love Your Neighbor
I was going to title this article "Can We Live To Love?" Then it came to me, the question is not "can" we, it is "will" we. We can do anything we put our minds to, but just because we "can" do a thing does not mean that we "will" do it.
Have you ever noticed that God tells us to do many things, but almost all of these things fall under the heading of love? Seven of the Ten Commandments fall under this category. You would not kill, steal, covet, bear false witness or commit adultery if you loved your neighbor as yourself.
From the very beginning, in Leviticus, to the time after Jesus rose, the Lord tells us the second most important thing is to love our neighbors as ourselves. But do we know what "love" means. Is it only that feeling we have for people we know?
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines "love" as: "unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: such as (1) : the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) : brotherly concern for others: (3) a person's adoration of God."
The Bible explains love with more detail. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 love is explained this way:
"Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
As you can see, I think God means a little more than just benevolence when He says "love". To live each day with love, means to do the things above.
Love is what God asks of us. But, "will" we love our neighbors as ourselves? Maybe I should define neighbors. I do not think God means just the people who live close to us. I do think he means all our fellow people. He means all people, good and bad. Will we give love to people who are mean to us, or treat us unkindly?
When Jesus was asked who our neighbors were, he replied with the parable of the "Good Samaritan". (Luke 10:30-37) This story is about a man who is attacked by robbers and left to die in the road. A priest sees him and crosses to the other side of the road and continues on. A priest's assistant sees him and does the same. A Samaritan came up to the man and helped him. The Samaritan took him to an inn and paid to have him nursed back to health.
This is significant because the man, the priest and the priest's assistant were all Jewish. Jewish people were taught God wants them to help each other. Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people. While the Jewish people ignored the Jewish man, the person who had the best excuse to ignore the man, helped him.
Today we have "Good Samaritan" laws. If you help someone in an emergency, they are not allowed to sue you if you do not do everything right. There is a version of this law in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.
God wants us to love everyone, including ourselves. Loving ourselves is one of the hardest tasks in the world. We are our worst critics. We are unforgiving of our mistakes. But, God loves us and wants us to love us.
The only other thing God wants is for us to love Him with our minds, hearts and souls. That is our first commandment, to love each other is our second commandment. These are the two things God wants from us.
How can we love our enemies? I think the first step is forgiveness. How can we love the people we hate? I believe through understanding. Now, we could do these things, but the question here is "will" we. Will we forgive our enemies? Will we understand the people we hate? We could if we wanted to, but "will" we?
It takes conscious thought and and act of "will" power to do something. We know we can, but the will part is iffy. Only by consciously reminding ourselves that we want to do something, will it happen. To hold a grudge seems natural and letting it go seems unnatural. We need to go against our feelings to find forgiveness.
Sometimes we need to take time to understand ourselves. If we hold a grudge against another, it is time to look inside yourself. You may feel as if you have a valid reason to hold that grudge, and you may, by the world's standards. Forgiveness is not the forgetting of an act, it is the looking past the act and still accepting the person who did it.
God is asking us to love others. Love your foes, love those you loathe, and love the ones you just dislike. Will you do as God asks? Or, will you try to avoid them so that you do not have to deal with this incongruity. I understand avoidance, I am great at it. Just know that avoidance is not a solution, avoidance makes the pain linger longer.
Do not gossip. I cannot stress this enough. Gossiping hurts everyone involved. Stay away from it. I can say from experience that if you do not participate in the gossip, those who do will like you less. But remember, those who gossip with you, gossip about you when you are not there. The gossips will gossip whether your participate or you do not participate. Do not sink to this level.
There is one way to start overcoming hate, dislike and loathing. Do not speak of people with malice. Try to find something nice to say. As our mothers taught us, "If you have nothing nice to say, do not say anything at all." This is a beginning. I want to love everyone. I try not to hate anyone. But, I still find myself greatly disliking certain people at times.
Then comes the inner battle of trying to love certain people. It is not easy to do. Some people take more years than others. I have found I can never change my feelings overnight. It is more a long process of coming to an understanding.
I think most people want to be nice. I also think some people have forgotten how to be nice. It is up to us to remind them with our actions. Always react to malice with love. React to anger with understanding. This is a learned skill.
We like to think of ourselves as good people. And, I think that, generally speaking, we are. This is why I was distressed about a discussion on my "Nextdoor" app. "Nextdoor" is an app that people in a neighborhood join to discuss issues and/or make announcements.
The conversation that distressed me was about a building going up. The state was going to make low cost apartments for people with mental health disabilities. My neighbors were very upset about this. They were worried it would increase the crime rate. They worried it would decrease their home values. They were worried about their children being exposed to these different people. They made a petition asking the state to find another site.
We do not think of ourselves as ever oppressing people. We are not mean and overbearing. However, these people, my neighbors, were indirectly oppressing the disabled. Most people do not want strangers who are different from them to move by them. We fear what we do not understand.
It sounds like such a simple thing; love your neighbor as yourself. But it is surprisingly hard. We are all afraid of what we do not understand. We are nervous about things we have no experience with. Fear is the love killer.
How do you react to a person standing at the stop sign, holding a sign saying, "Homeless, Please Help". Do you immediately think to yourself that this person is trying to scam you. Trying to get your hard earned cash and doing nothing to deserve it. You can admit to it. Almost everyone feels this way.
Did you know that you are judging that person when those thoughts come up. God does not want us to judge others, but He does want us to love them. I do not know the answers, I'm as bad as everyone else. But, I do know God wants us to do what ever it takes to help others.
God wants us to love our fellow man as we love ourselves. This is so very hard. We do not know these others. We have worked hard for what we have. We have sacrificed and scraped and forgone many things. Life is hard all over. We deserve to have this vacation, this new TV, this new car because of all the things we denied ourselves to get it.
Does God wants us to deny ourselves to give to others? Do we really deserve that vacation while millions have no shelter? Is that new car a priority when so many starve? I know, we are only each one person. How much change could we enact by denying ourselves.
Love your neighbor as yourself. So much is said in that one sentence. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:25-34 not to be anxious. God gives the birds enough to eat and clothes the lilies in splendor. How much more will he give to us, his children.
But it is very hard not to be anxious. Just the thought of selling all our possessions and giving the money to the poor causes anxiety, if not causing outright fear. Where would we live, how would we eat. We would become poor and homeless.
We think to ourselves, "Surely, God does not want us to be poor and homeless. Surely He means for us to give only what we can afford." Is there anywhere in the Bible that tells you to follow Jesus only as much as you can afford?
It is extremely hard to have the amount of faith it takes to sell everything. We can keep all the commandments, but will we keep this one? Love your neighbor as yourself. I, personally, do not have the strength of will this requires. I want to, but I keep falling short due to fear. But, with God's help, I keep trying.
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© 2018 Kari Poulsen