Loving our neighbor. For all the emphasis the Bible puts on this principle, Christians sometimes can’t seem to be clear on what it means and what it doesn’t mean.
There are those who say that loving our neighbor means that we affirm and celebrate them in all their choices in life, regardless of whether or not it aligns with the Word of God. Then there are those who say that it is loving to tell their neighbor how their life is sinful, using this as an excuse for meanness and self-righteousness.
There seems to be a difficulty when it comes to how a Christian can balance standing for righteousness in the midst of unrighteous neighbors while at the same time loving them. We tend to err on one side or the other.
As Christians, we know that the Word of God is the authority, period. It is not an option for us. If we do not stand on the infallibility and eternal quality of the Word, then we are not Christians. Therefore, if push comes to shove and we have to choose between being friends with someone and holding to the Word of God, the Word should always be our priority
At the same time, we live in a world where the majority of people we interact with do not share the same belief, and specifically in a country (the U.S.) where one of our founding ideologies is that everyone has a right to believe as his or her conscience dictates. This is a principle that allows Christians to worship God freely. But it also applies to those who do not believe in God and live lives in opposition to His Word. They have that civil right, and Christians have to respect it.
This requires Christians to be able to live “at peace with all men” as Paul commands in Romans 12:18. No one should be able to point to a true Christian and blame them for causing trouble. So, Christians must hold on for dear life to the Word of God, while at the same time being genuinely respectful of the right of others to disagree and live in a way that is not consistent with Christianity.
God has already given Christians an example of how to love our neighbors who disagree with us from the pages of the Bible. When the Babylonians took the Israelites into captivity, they were surrounded by new neighbors who did not follow God. This is what He told them to do:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
If we want to love our neighbor in the way God has commanded, we must obey His word. We must:
– Live our lives according to the Bible.
– Pray for our nation and our neighbors, serving unbelievers in humility, even when they persecute us.
– Fulfill civic duty in a way that is consistent with the Word.
– Live at peace with all men, as must as we can.
– Embody the gospel of Christ in our actions for the world to see.