[Application is the last stage of the Inductive Method. By its very nature it is subjective, and it should be quite personal. My purpose in today’s post is not to preach to you. On the contrary, I am sharing my thoughts about how to apply Christ’s teaching to my life only to demonstrate how you can do the same for yourself. One word of caution: Application is subjective, and therefore must always be done in the context of our objective study of the passage.]
Last week we discussed what it was that Christ was telling the lawyer whose question prompted His Parable of the Good Samaritan, as well as what Luke wanted his readers to understand. As we discussed, the lawyer would have had trouble imagining anyone but another zealous Pharisee as someone worthy of association. And Luke’s readers would have understood from his gospel that the command to love one’s neighbor didn’t end at racial, ethnic, or political boundaries.
Don’t Be So Quick!
When modern Christians look back at first century Pharisees, we can be quite harsh in our judgment. We see their flaws, and may even wonder how they could be so misguided. Yet in this matter of considering who qualifies as our neighbors, we can struggle with some of the same deficiencies.
Think, for a moment, how you feel about anyone who is not in your group, whatever that group is. Perhaps you’re a Republican, feeling a bond with fellow Republicans but disdain toward Democrats. Maybe you live in Boston and find yourself looking askance at those hicks in Georgia. You’re loyal to school, coworkers, team, family, and friends, but not so much to anyone on the outside. And here’s the real kicker – someone who belongs to another church may not matter much to you!
But that’s not loving our neighbors as Christ intended, which in turn leaves us with a bit of a dilemma. How can we be team players, yet love outsiders? Is that even possible? In order to answer these questions, and to understand what it means to love our neighbors, we must understand what love actually means.
But First, Love is Not…
Love is not simply letting another person have his or her own way. Consider the role of a parent. Will a mother give her children everything they want? Mine didn’t, and I’m glad she didn’t. My mother tried to give me all that I needed, and some of what I wanted, but not all. (I did not always get the sugar-saturated treats I wanted, but I never went hungry.)
Love is not merely an emotional attachment. True, love may include a sense of affinity toward a friend or a sense of belonging within the family. But love in the biblical sense refers to behavior more than to emotion. It is primarily what you or I do for others rather than how we feel about them. In fact, it is quite possible to love without liking!
Love is not a matter of agreeing with everything another person believes. You can prefer country music and beer, whereas I prefer classic rock ‘n’ roll and wine, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Even with bigger differences, we can love one another. That’s why Christ was able to teach that not only should we love our neighbors, but our enemies as well (Matthew 5:43-44).
Love is not condoning sin. This is a mistake all too common among people who profess to be Christians today. Christ set the example of loving the sinner, and even forgiving sin, but still not condoning such behavior. The religious authorities “brought a woman who had been caught in adultery” to Him for judgment. After they had left Jesus and the woman alone, probably because of recognition of their own guilt, He commanded the woman to “go, and … sin no more” (John 8:1-8, ESV).
Then How Do I Love My Neighbor?
Perhaps the best definition of love is the Golden Rule: “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them” (Matthew 7:12, ASV).
How does this work in practical terms? When I’m driving down the road and another driver needs to move into my lane, I should think about what is best for her. In business, my focus should be serving my customer, not beating my competitor. And when I see someone who is not part of my group, whatever that is, I must remember that he is part of God’s.