Love My Neighbor? I don’t even like my neighbor!
I have encountered this in many online and in-person conversations over the last two months. Many need help understanding Jesus’s teachings on love or interpreting what the scriptures mean on this topic.
Jesus taught about love in Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT).
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.
44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!
The old testament taught ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. Jesus came to change that direction.
What is a Neighbor, and What is an enemy?
When Jesus talks about “neighbors,” he means the people we encounter daily. Our Neighborhood, Those around us. When he speaks of enemies, he means those who work against you or against what you believe.
(yes, that neighbor you don’t like falls into one of these two categories; you need to determine which it is and if your neighbor is indeed the issue or if you are.)
Yes, Jesus did have enemies.
In Jesus’s case and earthly age, this would have been the Pharisees primarily; the Pharisees were the Jewish religious leaders and enforcers of Jewish law of that time. They were upset that Jesus attested to being the Messiah and taught contrary to the Pharisee’s teachings. They saw this as blasphemy and saw him as a false teacher. Jesus did not meet the definition of the Messiah they were expecting, so they did everything they could to discredit him and try to have him arrested. We will come back to that.
Let’s continue the scripture, remembering what Jesus said about loving your neighbor and enemies.
45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.
A solid fact we often overlook that verse 45 explains is that there is a balance. Good and evil both exist in the world. When we try to address evil against us with evil intention, it breeds greater evil. But if we address evil with good or, as Jesus said, “love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” we take evil’s influence away from the situation. We must mention that this phrase in the scripture punctuates with exclamation points. Jesus put a strong emphasis on this.
Suppose you disagree with your neighbor about something that you can’t get a resolution to; PRAY! Pray for God to open the eyes of the opposition to your perspective. When you pray over this situation, you take the influence of evil away from this case affecting you. If we wish harm to our enemies or exchange harsh words, we are not emulating Jesus. We might not get the resolution we hope for, but we put it in God’s hands, who consistently delivers what is best for us.
I admit it. Like everyone else, I have fallen off the boat with this from time to time. Thanks to Jesus, though, we can redeem ourselves from this in repentance. But repentance only works if we learn from our mistakes and work to avoid them.
Jesus did not harm the Pharisees even though he could have made them vanish in the blink of an eye. Instead, he continued to preach his message, do his miracles, and pray regularly. Granted, the Pharisees, in the end, would send Jesus to the cross, but this was part of the more excellent plan for Jesus to die on that cross to defeat death and conquer sin.
Let’s pick back up with verse 46.
46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.
Verse 46 tells us We are to love our neighbors and pray for our enemies, essentially loving everyone. In that case, we get rewarded for being a light in the darkness. Christians must be beacons of hope, sharing Jesus and emulating his love. However, we are not that beacon if we never let the love show outside our church, family, or homes, even those who don’t love Christ and welcome evil love those within their circles.
47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.
As verse 46 explains, we need to love outside of our shelters; verse 47 shows us we must also show kindness to everyone. Although sure, we can’t help everyone all the time, sometimes a kind word and a smile are enough to change someone’s day.
Finally, in verse 48,
48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
We will never indeed be perfect as God, but we are to give it everything we have to show what that perfection is through love and kindness.
In our lives, we will not always agree with everyone; we will not connect with everyone we meet. We will encounter opposition and hatred, especially as believers in Christ, and by standing behind correct biblical teaching. But because we receive hatred does not mean we have to return it. The sharpest sword we carry is God’s Word. The most powerful words we can give are words of kindness.
I hope this enlightens your understanding of what it means to love your neighbor and our enemy, as Jesus taught. As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions. I also welcome your topic ideas or questions you would like me to address on this podcast. Until next week, I’m Pastor Steve Hofmeister; thanks for listening, and God Bless.