Of all the emotions it would seem that love is the most written about. You find it in poems, in songs, in movies and in plays. You even find it carved into wooden benches and trees. (That’s not necessarily good for the tree.)
Virtually every American of my generation knows the song, “All you need is love” by the Beatles. I can remember walking down the street or in a store and hearing people singing that song while listening to a transistor radio, or just from memory. All you need is love was a mantra of the 60s and 70s.
But what kind of love are we talking about?
In a well-known passage in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was asked what is the most important commandment. Of course, He responded, likely quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Then Jesus went on to tell us what the greatest commandment is in a relationship between two people: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
But how many times have you heard that as an encouragement to be understanding and gentle with people, or to just let your neighbor alone, since who are we to judge one another? Just love your neighbor.
That certainly sounds noble and compassionate. But is that what it means to really love your neighbor?
Have you ever looked up the passage Jesus quoted to see its context, and thereby God’s meaning of loving your neighbor? You’ll find it in Leviticus 19:18.
Context is important because it helps us to see the direction God is pointing us in regard to the issue at hand. In the case of Jesus’ quote, God was saying that if you love your neighbor, you won’t ignore his sin. Instead, you will lovingly but clearly point it out in an effort to help him correct himself.
If you read the surrounding verses, you find the responsibility and implications are clear. If you see your neighbor in sin or in error, and say nothing, you are in danger of developing bitterness toward him because of his ignorance or his callous disregard for God’s ways. Thus, your lack of love for your neighbor can actually lead to a sinful bitterness in your own life.
Jesus was saying that if you truly love your neighbor, you will not ignore what is going on in their lives. You will do something about it, the direction of which comes from the wisdom of the Bible, not your preferences, nor from society’s allowances.
This is very critical in our day. Many of the problems we see around us that have overwhelmed the lives of so many often occur because we have bought into the world’s view of loving our neighbor to mean that we turn a blind eye and simply let them “go their own way.”
I can point to many areas of brokenness in lives all around us that come about simply because people wrongly think it is more loving to let someone go their own way than to confront them and try to help them. I believe this is one of several reasons that many of the people in our society destroy their own lives in ways that our society has said must be left up to them alone, or by their acting out violently toward others, even to the point of taking other peoples’ lives.
An issue that is relevant today is that of mass shootings in our nation. We hear much about easy access to guns, or mental illness, some of which may play a part. But we don’t hear much about our responsibility to love our neighbor enough to confront them if we see a problem, in other words, to get involved.
Almost all of the mass shooters taken alive have said that they felt alone, disconnected from society. They feel that no one really cares, so what does it matter?
Without a doubt many of them push people away, but what would you want others to do if you were hurting and you pushed them away? Would you want them to shrug their shoulders and tell themselves, “Well, I tried,” or would you want them to continue to try and reach you in your darkness?
Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. That means you go after others you see at risk just like you would want them to go after you if you were at risk.
Godly love is not just a feeling; it is a commitment to care about the well being of someone, even if you don’t much like them at the time. Let’s face it, I don’t like everything about me; why would you expect that I would like everything about you?
But if you love your neighbor, you will do whatever you can to call them back from the edge of darkness, from the edge of despair that may lead them to jump off, and even take others with them.
Understand, I am not so foolish to think that trying to love your neighbor as yourself will solve all the problems you encounter, but I truly believe it will solve some, and in the process it may help to avoid untold pain, misery, and even death.
Jon McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.