Seems like there’s a lot of disunity across evangelical circles these days. We live in a culture that feels entitled to have an opinion and hold that opinion up and affirm it above all others. Out loud. Often times on a social media platform. Sometimes at the expense of another by making derogatory comments and accusations. (Anyone else not enjoying this election year?) It makes me sad. In Scripture, James talks about the fights and quarrels among us. He says they come from our desires at war within ourselves. (Interesting tidbit: the Greek word in the text for “desires” is hedone. Our modern word hedonism finds its root in that word. That says something, doesn’t it.) He also warns us against slanderous speech against a brother and sitting in judgment of him. He writes, “But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”
Jesus had something to say about being a good neighbor. Take a look at this passage from the gospel of Mark.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12: 28-31
This is a big deal. Jesus’s explanation tells us that the law can be summed up in these two commands (Matthew 22:40). James calls this the “royal law” and says we’re doing well if we get it right. I agree. Wholeheartedly. Here’s the thing: if you are loving God the way Jesus tells us to love Him, loving your neighbor as yourself will be a natural progression of that love. I’m not here to say that if we all just love each other all the other issues will go away. We’re human. I get it. But, I am saying that Scripture tells us that He’s given us everything we need to do what He’s asking us to do. We also have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that will go to work changing us so we can be Christians who represent and reflect God’s love well.
I fear we love ourselves and our opinions more than anything else at times. I wonder sometimes if we don’t have too much of a “I’m just looking out for myself” mentality. Do we live in a space that says our thoughts and feelings are most important? Do we believe our security and stability is meant to be our first priority? This must be why James reminds us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, and that if we will draw near to Him, He draws near to us. Those are two things I cannot imagine living without: God’s nearness and grace. James also gives us another bit of wisdom. He says to “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you,” and “do not merely listen to the word . . . do what it says.”
May I encourage you to join me in praying that God will help us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to be doers of the word, to love Him with all that we are, and to be a good neighbor by loving others well? Can we ask Him daily to guard our hearts from selfish pride, to help us recognize it in ourselves and repent? Ask Him to help us live the truth we say we believe. Can you imagine what might happen if as the collective body of Christ we focused all our energy on these things? I think it would blow our minds.