Sunday, March 22, 2015

Love Your neighbor...The Post Script

I thought it might be useful, if not instructive, to revisit the second greatest commandment which is "Love your neighbor as yourself". This commandment laid down by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew 22:40 is also the second half of a commandment of God in Leviticus 19:18. The full verse in context reads like this, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as your self. I am the Lord."

When Jesus said what He said in Matthew, was He changing the intent of the command from Leviticus or was He merely expanding it and in the broader context of the Christian faith and the Church, what does it really mean?

It's obvious to me that the Leviticus passage is intended to apply to the Hebrew people of Israel and how they related to each other on a daily basis. The intention is that instead of trying to avenge every wrong committed against you; you should leave room for a bit of forgiveness and grace. You see to your neighbor's needs as they arise and you treat them in the same way you would like to be treated in all of life's situations.

Does this mean that you actually have to like your neighbor or spend time with them beyond what is needed to achieve love's purpose? I don't really think so. As a matter of fact, it might mean just the opposite. It might mean giving them their space or leaving them alone or simply making yourself available if there is a need. The best neighbors are considerate of all needs. They are not always up in your bidniss as the expression goes.

I do not think that it was Jesus' intention to change this meaning. I do believe He intended to expand it beyond just the Jewish people however, because he knew the age of the gentile church was coming.

So how does this second greatest commandment apply in the church age. The book of Acts tells us a lot about how the Church lived and existed early on. What we see there almost communal living. Acts 2:42-47 indicates that the new church members held everything in common, they shared everything, they ate together and they sold their possessions as needed to give the proceeds to those in need.

The question is, were they applying the principles of the second greatest commandment or was their behavior merely an act of survival? I am voting for survival here. The early church was persecuted and it was mostly poor Jewish and Greek Jewish people. There were many widows that were uncared for. They were seeing to each others needs in very simple and unique ways. They did these things because they had to, otherwise the whole of it would have fallen apart. To be sure, they were loving their neighbors through these actions and it was needed in that environment, but their survival also depended on it.

And that brings me to today. Should the Church be living in the same fashion today as the early church did? Do we need to be living communally and sharing everything? Is that degree of togetherness really necessary here in North America?

As the Church, we have many responsibilities to each other and we should be helping each other as needed, treating each other as we would like to be treated, but I reject the idea that we need to be in each others houses all the time, eating together and being together. As a wise Chinese philosopher once said, "company, like fish, begins to stink after three days." Even the early church evolved to the point that they were meeting once a week.

There is a strain of thought in the church today that suggests, if your church is not the church of Acts 2, then it's not New Testament. I reject this categorically. Nothing could be further from the truth (in my opinion). If members of your church are calling you in the middle of the week and wanting to come over to your house to "pray" and you are not up to house guests because you have worked all day, you should not have to concede to their self invitation. If, on the other hand, they are calling you because they want you to participate in helping someone from church with a meal or a place to stay, that's entirely different and well within the realm of the second greatest command. And so is taking them out to eat and putting them up in a hotel, if you are not up to house guests.

After a hard day at work, I want to be alone. I want to relax and unwind. I do not want to entertain Christians that for whatever the reason cannot not stand to be alone. If you need my help in some tangible way, I will try to help within the scope of my financial ability and my skill set, but just because we are all part of the same Body, it does not mean you can invite yourself over or pressure me into inviting you. If I want you to come over, I will ask.  And for the's OK to say 'no' when I do. It doesn't mean I don't love you. It does mean I want you to respect the boundaries I have in place...and I will respect yours...I am treating you as I would want you to treat me. Please love me enough to do the same.