“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)
“A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34,35)
Is My Brother My Neighbor? Is Moses’ old covenant command to love our neighbor the same as Jesus’ new covenant command to love one another? How we answer this question is crucial to how local churches fulfill their mission. Consider these three ways they differ:
Who is My Neighbor? In Jewish culture, neighbor meant a fellow Jew. Jesus changed all that in his story of the Good Samaritan, where the neighbor is now the stranger and outsider, not a member of the community. Are all loves created equal? Am I to love my neighbor and his wife in the way I love my own wife? Of course not. Paul wrote, ”Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” We need to show this special love, called agape, one with another as in our families. Isn’t the church God’s family? Are we just neighbors or brothers and sisters in Christ?
A New Command or Old?: If Jesus’ mandate is a rehash of Moses’ old covenant rule, why did he call it a new command? Why does John say, “I am writing a new command, ” and then link it to “walking in the light,” “fellowship with one another” and “loving our brother.” [I John 1:8; 2:8,9]
How Are We to Love? Jesus’ love is “as I have loved you,” Moses love is “as you love yourself.” This means we are to treat our neighbor fairly, i.e. as we wish to be treated. In John 15:12, Jesus tells us how different his love is from this: ”Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s soul (Gr: psyche} for one’s friends.” Jesus doesn’t mean to physically die for one another, but rather die to self, pride and ego. We will have harmony in the church when we obey his command by forgiving one another and laying down our personal preferences for His sake.
WHAT IS THE FALLOUT WHEN WE IGNORE JESUS NEW COMMAND?
- It Minimizes the Church’s Vital Role in God’s Plan. Jesus said, “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it”. Christ is building a church, a corporate body, not a collection of random individuals. God expects us to be connected to Christ and each other, a team of believers working together to fulfill the goals of the kingdom and defeat evil. Lone individuals cannot do this. The term “church” (ekklesia) is found 118 times in the New Testament, “gospel,”(evangel) 77 times. God expects his church to maximize its role to change the world. When church members develop become true friends, help one another, pray together, she assumes her rightful role to effect change. When we remain strangers and mere acquaintances, we can’t.
- We Lose Sight of our Corporate Identity. We used to sing, “all one body we.” Today we sing “Jesus and me.” Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Who is? Am I? Are you that light? No, he used the collective, “you all,” not the singular, “you alone.” When Christians unite in prayer and service, they become God’s light to the world. As a lone member I can’t do this. Today church leaders often operate on their own, but teamwork was key to the apostles’ success. Local churches lose out when they compete with each other for members. They win when they cooperate. Study the epistles. You will soon grasp how the apostles stressed believers were to function with and treat each other. We could sure use more emphasis and teaching on practical ways to accomplish this in our modern churches.