Loving Our Neighbor

By Elder Larry Plank

Today’s Scripture:
Exodus 12:1-14
Romans 13:8-14

The Epistle to the Romans is written by Brother Paul while in Corinth to the believers in Rome. Our text this day is a continuation of the previous seven verses of chapter thirteen.

Paul begins by telling the believers to owe no one anything except love which if they do they will fulfill the law. The early church’s belief about debt was not to go into debt, quite a reversal of thought in our day. We all incur debt, new car, latest phone device, new mower, new boat, new home and the list is endless. Recently I bought new treads for my truck and charged it. Why? I got six months free interest, so I am using their money at 0% interest for six months, I think that is a shrewd decision.

But before we go too far in our text let’s back up and take a quick look at what Paul says about taxes that come from the government. He says we are to pay them, revenue to whom revenue is due, and then continues respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Brother Paul says once these are paid we owe them no more. We don’t pay twice for the same tax bill.

But then he shifts thought to the characteristics of Christian life, and starts talking of love. By the way the word LOVE has several different translations from the Greek word in the New Testament. Philo….love is known as brotherly love. For example, Philadelphia the city of brotherly love. The love Paul is referring to here is Agape love which is a self sacrificial type of love, putting the needs, the best interest of others ahead of our own needs. Jesus’ life reflected this type of love. And example is recorded in Mark 10:46-52…story of blind Bartimaeus… Jericho. Now going back to the debt I mentioned earlier that can be paid and that ends the obligation, Brother Paul is saying here that love can never be paid, or never ends. Paul lists several of the Ten Commandments and refers to other commandments and says that they can summed up in this word…”Love your neighbor as yourself.” What exactly does it mean to love one-self? It means we always seek what is best for us. We seek what profits us, what is good and helpful for us. When Jesus gives the commandment to love our neighbor we are to seek what is good and helpful and for the well-being of our neighbor. And this neighbor, as we know from the Good Samaritan, isn’t the neighbor we chose (the person who looks like us usually isn’t too demanding). The neighbor Jesus is talking about is a person given to us, the one who crosses our path whether we like it or not, the one whom we might not usually associate with or even try to avoid! The neighbor Jesus is talking about is always an unexpected appearance in our midst, into the midst of our lives.

Another example of Agape love in the New Testament is from John, and takes place in the last Passover meal Jesus will host for his disciples. He washes his disciple’s feet. A job the lowest servant would do. During this last discourse Jesus tells his disciples just hours before of his arrest that they are to love each other as he has loved them. Jesus loved his disciples to the end, and in fact died for them and all humanity. This commandment was to his disciples and to what would be his church. But when we add to it the commandment to love our neighbor this commandment applies to everyone…in the church or outside the church. We, the followers of Jesus Christ, have no choice but to love….ourselves and our neighbor…everyone. Jesus particularly called his church and US to love those who couldn’t repay any act of kindness. The poor, the homeless, those whose lives have been devastated by natural disasters (such as Harvey and Irma), the illegal alien, well the list could be quiet extensive. Last week we took up two special offerings, one for our neighbors who may be in Africa and for disaster aid for Texas and Louisiana. By the way we are not only to support them with our resources but also in prayer. We are to lift them up in prayer.

When we look at what Brother Paul is saying here about Christian love and combined with Jesus’ teaching of loving our neighbor and to love one another as he loves us the law is not negated, but raised to a higher level. Jesus said he came not to destroy the law but to reveal God’s intent in the law. The law was given to the Jewish people, but Jesus is saying that it is much more ecumenical than that. He states God’s love is to be shared with all, whether they look like us or are a total stranger much different than us, such as the Samaritan.

One last thought about this text. This text is pointing us to be more like God. From 1John, chapter 5 Paul writes…”Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is Love.” We are to reflect Christ in the church and out in the highways and byways. If we reflect Christ what does this mean? It means we are to be holy as God is holy. In the Old Testament or Torah to the Jew in Leviticus chapter 11:44 God states…”For I am the Lord you God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” This same message is repeated in 1Peter 1:16….”You shall be holy, for I am Holy.” And lastly from Romans 12:1 Paul writes….”I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is you spiritual worship.” The theme of being HOLY is carried from the book of Law Leviticus in the Old Testament to the New Testament. We, the children of the light, are to be holy, reflecting the nature of God everywhere we go. And in some of those places someone may be placed in our path who is really unlovable, but because we are holy and seek to obey the commandment to love….we by choice chose to love those who seem unlovable.