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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Love Your Neighbor

Love Your Neighbor


“Love your neighbor,” the Bible tells us.  But this verse goes on to say: “Love your neighbor as yourself.  But if you bite and devour one another be careful that you are not consumed by one another.”  (Galatians 5:14-15)  Paul spoke these words to the church in Galatia.  Evidently the church in Galatia was squabbling and fighting. The members in the church were family in Christ and when one family member “bites and devours” another family member, he is destroying himself as well the verse is saying!  When we hurt the family we belong to we hurt ourselves as well!  And we hurt the heart of God who designed us to live in families.  We have a special duty to protect the unity of the family- both our spiritual and our physical family.     


When Jesus was on earth the Jews followed many hundreds of laws.  And no one could ever keep them all.  Once when Jesus was asked what the most important laws were, He answered that just two laws covered everything, making it simple.  And those two laws were: 1.) Love God with all your heart and 2.) Love your neighbor as yourself. 


It sounds easy but what if your neighbor is a bad person or does immoral acts!  Or she makes a lot of noise, throws wild parties and keeps you awake all night. Or he doesn’t believe the things that you hold dear and he votes for things that you think are very wrong.  Jesus is not saying to only love your neighbor if she is good enough to deserve your love.  Jesus simply says to love your neighbor!  Following Jesus was never meant to be easy!


God calls us to be peacemakers – peacemakers in today’s world where fighting and offensive disagreements seem to be going on all around us.  Joyce Meyers says that probably more damage is done by the spirit of offense than any other spirit.  It is the believer’s number one enemy.  And once an offense breaks out it can be like an infection – it can be contagious.  And we need to treat hateful arguments as we would an infection! Quarantine them –not pass their gossip on and keep them from spreading as much as possible.


Offensive anger is a peace stealer, a joy killer, a destroyer of community.  The upset it causes brings hatreds, bitterness, resentments, jealousies, loneliness, suicide, and many more human miseries.  Offensive anger destroys relationships and marriages.  It splits churches and communities.  At this moment in time the anger of a small group of congressmen has even shut down our United States government, causing untold misery.  So offensive anger even has the potential to destroy a great country! 


The stress from offensive anger also causes sickness.  Scripture says: “A calm and undisturbed mind and heart are the life and health of the body, but envy, jealousy and wrath are like rottenness of the bones.”  (Proverbs 14:30)  God created us to live together in loving community but when we live “biting and devouring” one another, our health is sure to suffer along with everything else that is harmed.


We may even find offensive anger in our churches!  Sadly a friend of mine finally had to leave the church that she loved so much – the church she had belonged to all of her life.  The church that had been her loving family - it gradually began to change.  And the warm and loving environment began to cool.  The church members began preaching their hatred for the U.S. government right along with preaching about their love for Jesus Christ! 


Church members started arming themselves with military weapons to fight our government -the government they hated so much.  And year after year this hatred grew and grew.  This monster hatred continued growing along with the criticizing and the condemning and the judging!  Until the church group’s growing frenzy of hate – the never ending drum beat of hate –the blind and insane hate– turned reality into fantasy.  And finally the church member’s love for Jesus Christ was lost and gone and drowned out by their on going political hatreds and criticisms.


 And for my friend it all became too much.  She misses the way it used to be with her loving church family.  She is alone now and confused.  And now that she doesn’t have a church any longer, she is discouraged about her faith.  It makes me sick.  I wonder how many people have been turned away from Christ by this critical and divisive spirit.   


So how do we manage in a world where we find offensive anger everywhere?  The Word says, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone .”  (Romans `12:18)  And then the Bible also instructs us to: “Be angry and sin not.”  (Ephesians 4:26)  And the rest of that verse in Ephesians goes: “Do not let the sun go down in your anger.”  I think this verse is telling us that it is dangerous to hold onto our anger.  Get rid of it quickly- within the day.  Forgive and forget.  Let it go! Give it to God.  I have known people who hold onto their grudges year after year remembering each little offense and replaying each ugly word in their minds as if the argument had just happened.  This is terribly wrong. Our physical wounds heal over time and so should our emotional wounds!  God commands us to forgive one another as He has forgiven us. (Colossians 3:13)    


The scripture in Ephesians says: “Be angry and sin not.”  How do we obey these instructions in God’s Word?  We experience righteous anger when we see acts of cruelty or injustice performed.  And God is also angry when He sees these things.  But we are instructed to do what we can to correct injustice but not take our anger out on the other party.  Instead we are to give the ones who angered us to God who will take care of the them. Instead of fighting with the person who angers us we are to pray and give the situation to God.  Romans 12:19 tells us: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s anger, for it is written: ‘It is Mine to avenge: I will repay.” says the Lord.”  We are to rest and let God take care of the situation.


Of course if the one who offended us commits a serious crime, we turn them over to the law.   But for non criminal offenses we are to turn the other cheek.  Over and over again in Scripture we are admonished not to sin in our anger.  It is so easy to sin when we are angry!  Scripture says: “And the servant of the Lord must not fight: but be gentle unto all people.”  (2 Tim. 2:24)  Our kindness will often keep offensive anger out.


Let’s remember that we are fighting a spiritual battle when fights and disputes come our way.  And we are to fight our spiritual battles with spiritual weapons. –  with a humble spirit and with the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God and the breastplate of righteousness which is Christ.  And with faith and peace and love. It’s a new way to fight. 


And we are to follow Jesus – especially stay close and follow Jesus when we are angry and having disagreements!  And when we follow Jesus, He warns us: “If anyone intends to come after Me, let him deny (lose sight of himself and his own interests, ignore, disown, forget) himself and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it.  But whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”  (Mark 8:34-35)  It’s not easy to deny one’s self, to lose one’s life, or to take up one’s cross.  None of it is easy.  But no one said that it would be easy to follow Jesus!      .   












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