Is my Brother my Neighbor?

Once, while breakfasting with some Christian brothers at a meeting, I received my check and found, to my embarrassment, the restaurant accepted cash only. All I had was my credit card. A brother reached across, took my check and said, “I’ll take care of that.” Another brother said, “Now that’s a good neighbor.”   I answered,  “No, that’s a good brother.”

In the church there is a mistaken notion that loving our brother is the same as loving our neighbor. We lump them together under the term “others,”

The Old Covenant command to love God and our neighbor came through Moses. Jesus endorsed that command but at the Last Supper he gave a third. Looking around at his brethren, he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Note the differences:

  1. New vs. old: Jesus put his imprimatur on the old covenant mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves, but his command is not a rehash of it, but a brand new one. Maundy Thursday is celebrated by some traditions the night before Good Friday.  Maundy is an old Anglo-Saxon word for mandate, i.e. command—the one Jesus gave the disciples to inaugurate the new covenant. They celebrate on Thursday, Christ’s new order for a new order. So, the Great Commandment is not two-fold, but three-fold—a kind of trinity.
  2. How we are to love?  Moses said treat your neighbor as you wish to be treated. But Christ’s command is much more costly. He orders us to lay down our souls (Gr: psyches) for one another as He did for us.
  3. Whom are we to love? Each other refers to our church family. Does that mean our neighbor? The Good Samaritan story defines neighbor as the stranger met along the way, not family members. It’s absurd to think we’re to love our neighbor’s wife as we love our own. Paul writes “Husbands, love their wives as Christ loves the church and laid down his life for her.” (Ephesians 5:22). That’s also how we are to love each other, not just in our local body, but our brethren in the church down the street.
  4. The promise: ”By this everyone will know you are my disciples,” Jesus gives us a promise that’s a principle. If we strive for harmonious, horizontal connections with each other, we advertise to the world by our unity, that we are His. By the same token, when we debate doctrines in public forums, compete for members and ignore the church down the street we advertise otherwise.

We Love our Neighbor by Loving our Brother Obedience to Christ’s love command validates our witness to our neighbor. How can we love them any better than by winning them over as we model for them Christ’s love among ourselves?

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