Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Three Criteria for Loving Your Neighbor

Early on I suggested that the ultimate goal of discipleship is Christlikeness. Being “Christian” and doing “Christian” would be another way of describing that same goal. While seeking to be Christlike is the central criterion for all aspects of our discipleship, I think it becomes especially important as a goal in loving our neighbors (column 6 in the “Making Disciples” Chart).

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 19:19, 22:39; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8) provides a comprehensive biblical perspective of how we are to relate to those around us. Despite of the abuses in limiting the definition of “Who is my neighbor?” that Jesus addressed, loving your neighbor as you love yourself is still a high standard for ethical conduct. It goes beyond the “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12) that Jesus describes as a summary of the Law and the Prophets. This latter admonition has us put ourselves in the place of another and measure our conduct by how we would like to be treated in the same circumstance. This forces us to identify with our neighbor, to view neighbor as having needs and feelings similar to our own. This “walking in another’s shoes” is a worthy criterion for our behavior toward others.

“Loving your neighbor as you love yourself” shifts the standard higher. It recognizes the natural self-interest that drives each of us in all aspects of our lives. That self-interest is obvious, for example, at the physiological level. A person who is held under water will use every effort available to get to the surface of the water, even if it means pushing and pulling others under the water in order to fulfill that personal need. While that self-interest may not be so obvious at higher level of needs, it certainly is an underlying force that influences all aspects of our behavior. That self interest is equivalent to “loving yourself,” to acting for your own best interests, and to doing whatever you can to advancing your causes. To love your neighbor with that kind of love means that you are willing to invest an equal level of self-interest in your neighbor’s needs as you invest in your own. It creates a parity of interests that governs your behavior in interacting with others.

I think discipleship involves an even higher standard. Loving neighbor as Jesus loved replaces the parity of self-interests and shifts the focus to the needs of the neighbor. Self-interests are sacrificed in order to do good unto all people, to act in their best interests, to advance the fulfillment of their needs. Jesus’ love is not putting yourself in another’s shoes. It is not lifting others to a level comparable to your own. It is elevating others above yourself, humbling yourself, becoming a servant, loving in a self-sacrificial kind of way. It is imitating Christ’ humility described by Paul in Philippians 2:1-8. It is regarding others as better than yourself. It is looking to the interests of others, not your own interests. It is taking up the cross and following Jesus. It is the supreme expression of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

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