By, Isam Itson III
Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. – Matthew 22:37-40.
You have heard that it was said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:44.
Often when I am discussing the state of the world with people they say, “We just need to love each other.” “We just need to be kind to each other.” My response is almost always the same, “So why don’t we?” Whether or not the person is a follower of Jesus Christ or not we usually come to the same conclusion. Selfishness. We can’t get past ourselves. So the challenge remains, how can I expect other people to humble themselves and prefer the needs of others when they don’t feel like it, if I am not willing to do the same?
When our son was born I was overwhelmed with the power of selfless actions to transform my selfish heart. Everything was about what he needed. Bathing him, feeding him, clothing him, and responding to his every cry. We kept him close and we were always watching him. My focus was completely on him, but I did not feel a deep sense of emotional attachment. About two months in something amazing happened. I picked him up and my heart melted. I was head over heels in love with that little guy. Over time, by focusing my time, energy, and attention on this little person, my heart became attached to him.
The word we translate love conveys an attitude of value expressed in acts of respect and consideration for the needs and concerns of others. The phrase love your neighbor as yourself comes out of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. Your neighbor in ancient Israel was most likely a well known member of your clan. They were people you knew very well. Loving your neighbor was like saying love your family. Don’t give in to sibling rivalry. Honor their value as a member of your family. Don’t be ruled by your temporary ill feelings toward them. They are family. We honor their value as an act of our will.
This is where the teaching of Jesus goes next level in Matthew 5:43-48. Love and pray for our enemies who persecute us. Honor their value as if they were family. Respect and consider their needs in spite of how they treat us. This identifies us as children of God. Being there for them like God is there for us. Developing a heart and attitude toward those who disrespect us that reflects God’s heart and attitude toward those who disrespect him.
In the this same passage Jesus says God brings the sun and the rain on evil people as well as good people. This is not a figure of speech. In an agricultural society Jesus is saying the same elements that nurture the harvest and ensure the survival of the good people also nurture the harvest and ensure the survival of the evil people. God is true to his nature as the creator and sustainer of all people in spite of their behavior. Jesus wants us to be true to ourselves as citizens of God’s kingdom and members of God’s family in the same way that God is true to his nature as the source and sustainer of all living creatures.
Jesus emphasizes that the selfless consideration of others is most true to our nature as men and women created in the image of God. Honoring the value of others to God inspires and energizes our most noble actions. That is why no act of consideration for another person is too small to please God. It may not change the heart of the person we serve, but it is certain to change our heart for the better when we serve the needs of others as an expression of our worship and service to God. Our consistent love is a reflection of God’s constant love. And it is the love and kindness of God that encourages people to trust him.
Over the next twelve weeks we will consider many of the habits of thought and activity that honor God’s value for all people. This discipline can be excruciating. But over time, as we consistently follow God’s instruction and lean on God’s wisdom, I guarantee that our hearts will be transformed as we dedicate ourselves to glorifying God by honoring his love for all people. Love your neighbor, love your enemy, and the feelings of love will follow.
1. Is the idea of loving others something that comes easily to you?
2. When you think about loving your enemies, what is most difficult about that for you?
3. What are some practical ways that you can start to show love to others?