Here are a couple of things to know when reading the New Testament: whenever you see the phrase “one another” in the New Testament, it is talking about fellow Christians; but whenever there is the phrase “the other” (NIV “fellowman” i.e. Romans 13:8), the Bible is talking about outsiders, that is, non-believers.
So, the Apostle Paul’s vision for the church is that it should love all people, without exception.
We need to do away with any kind of notion of the church being like a country club that caters to members who pay their dues, as if there is no responsibility toward outsiders. Yet, neither are we to see the church as heading out to the deer stand and spending all our time outside trying to bag non-Christians with no regard for what is happening internally with the believers.
Loving others is a message that is really not anything new for us. My guess is that none of you will read this post and say, “Well, that was new! I’ll be! The Bible actually says I am supposed to love other people!” It is not as if we are ignorant about the need to love others. Yet, at the same time, we all know there is a lack of love in this old fallen world, and sometimes even in Christ’s church. When author John Shore did research for his book titled, I’m OK – You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Non-Believers Toward Christianity, to his surprise the over-and-above answer he got from those outside of the faith was this:
“Why do Christians hate us so much?”
I don’t know about you, but over the past few years I have actually “de-friended” some of my brothers in the faith from Facebook because their postings were so often filled with hate toward “the other” that it was just bringing me down.
Feeling justified to hate another person does not come from the New Testament Scriptures.
We, as Christians, owe the world our love, not our hate (Romans 13:8-14). Just as I was writing this sermon, a man came into my office I have interacted with many times. He is usually down-and-out, and looks the part. Sometimes I help him with tangible assistance, sometimes I don’t. But there is something that he needs as much or more than help; he needs love. He needs a friend. He needs relationship. All people, no matter who they are, have been created in the image of God and, therefore, deserve the dignity of conversation and relationship rather than being looked at as a project or overlooked just because they are different.
We cannot really love one another in the church or love the other if we are continually putting ourselves in the position to indulge our sinful nature. Like wearing a set of dirty clothes, we are to take off our selfish sinful desires, and put on the new clean clothes of God’s love in Christ. If we are busy demonstrating love, then there is no room in our lives to behave indecently in any kind of immorality, dissension, or jealousy. If we are committed to exercising our spiritual gifts given by God, there is not enough time in the day to think about how to gratify our sinful impulses.
Another potential hindrance to a life of love has to do with the law. The law is a good gift from God. Yet, law has its limits. What the law cannot accomplish, love can. The law must serve love of God and neighbor, and not the other way around. That is, the law must bow to the demands of love. In Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge was a law-abiding citizen, and when faced with the needs of those less fortunate, old Scrooge appealed to the law. He saw no need for loving actions or words when there were already poor houses, relief organizations, and prisons in operation. It is the appeal in our day of saying that I am a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen and have no obligation to “the other.” This brings us back to relationship. It is easy to say people need to just work harder and not be lazy when we are not in a relationship with anyone who is in need. Furthermore, it can be easy to indulge our sinful nature when we believe that we have earned the right through our law-abiding selves, without seeing God’s hand behind our success, to speak ill of the other, and even to a brother or sister in Christ.
As followers of Jesus, we need to take a kind of Christian Hippocratic Oath: to do no harm to our neighbor, but to do everything within our power to love them. Since Jesus will return soon, the prompting of the Holy Spirit that we neglect today may not have opportunity tomorrow. When Jesus does return, he will hold us accountable for our conduct, our speech, and our spiritual condition.
Our guiding principle as Christians is: Love your neighbor as yourself. The hour has now come to wake up and have eyes to see the people all around us in need of Jesus Christ and his grace so that we can be long on love of God, deep in our love for each other, and cast a wide net of love for others in the world.