When Jesus was asked which commandments were the greatest, He replied that we should love the Lord with every fiber of our being and they we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Loving God is easy because of His never-ending goodness. However, our neighbors aren’t always easy to love. How should we go about loving our neighbor even when he or she isn’t exactly lovable?
Matthew 22:34-39 (TPT)
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they called a meeting to discuss how to trap Jesus. Then one of them, a religious scholar, posted this question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus answered him, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with every passion of your heart, with all the energy of your being, and with every thought that is within you.’ This is the great and supreme commandment. And the second is like it in importance: ‘You must love your friend in the same way you love yourself.’ Contained within these commandments to love you will find all the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.
As always, the Pharisees were looking for a way to trap Jesus. He had recently silenced the Sadducees in a similar attempt, so the Pharisees turned their sights toward him. If they could get him to say that one of the 600-plus laws of Moses meant more than the others, they could label him a heretic. However, Jesus, who always knew the intent of their questions before they even asked them, silenced them with a simple answer. All of the laws of Moses, all of the words of the Prophets came back to two principles: love God and love others.
The first part is even easy for us today. Loving God doesn’t take a lot of work, especially when we embrace how unconditionally He loves us. However, loving the people around us can be a bit trickier. In The Passion Translation, Jesus says that we should love our friends like we love ourselves. However, other translations use the word “neighbor.” The term isn’t important. At the end of the day, loving other people as much as we love ourselves can be difficult.
However, we can learn from the Bible when trying to figure out how to love our neighbors (or our friends) even when they aren’t easy to love.
Who Is Your Neighbor?
The command to love our neighbor goes all the way back to the law of Moses. In fact, the verses that Jesus was citing when talking to the Pharisees can be found in Leviticus 19:18. God gave Moses the commandment for Israel to love everyone right after He told them not to seek revenge and harbor bitterness toward others.
When we think about our friends or neighbors, we automatically think about the people in our lives whose company we enjoy. We think about the friendly neighbor who doesn’t care to mow our yard while we’re out of town. We think about the friend who jumps in at the last minute to babysit your kids.
However, that’s not the only people Jesus was talking about. He also meant the rude neighbor who gets angry if you park your car too close to his or her property line. He was referencing the family member who always seems to ruin special occasions and holiday. He meant the person who voted differently than you did, looks differently than you, and even believes differently than you.
We’re not so good at loving those people. However, the first step to embracing the love that we’re supposed to have for them comes from accepting the fact that Jesus didn’t cite these verses as a suggestion. No, this is a commandment. It is a commandment that came straight from the lips of Christ. If we believe all of His teachings and we say that we want to live according to His Word, we have to embrace the fact that we are commanded to love the people who aren’t necessarily easy to love.
Extending Grace to Those We Would Like to Withhold it From
Colossians 3:13-14 (TPT)
Tolerate the weaknesses of those in the family of faith, forgiving one another in the same way you have been graciously forgiven by Jesus Christ. If you find fault with someone, release this same gift of forgiveness to them. For love is supreme and must flow through each of these virtues. Love becomes the mark of true maturity.
When thinking about the people in your life who it’s hard to love, it’s important to keep one powerful (yet painful) fact in mind: you’re not always easy to love yourself. The fact that God extended His grace toward you through Jesus Christ had nothing to do with your own merit. In fact, God loved us while we were still living life in rebellion against Him (Romans 5:8)!
Once we embrace the fact that we aren’t deserving of God’s grace, it becomes much easier to pass that grace onto others.
We have a natural tendency to pick and choose who we want to show grace to. However, that’s not God’s design. Loving people is easy when you consider your own shortcomings. Make sure that you’re not holding others to a higher standard than God holds you to.
Random Acts of Kindness
Luke 10:37 (TPT)
The religious scholar responded, “The one who demonstrated kindness and mercy.” Jesus said, “You must go and do the same as he.”
This verse comes at the end of the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus used the story as a means of telling those around him that their kindness should not only be shared with people in their lives. In the story, a Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. While he was on his journey, a band of robbers beat him, stole for him, stripped him, and left him for dead.
Religious leaders of the day passed by the man and left him lying. However, a Samaritan stopped, bandaged the man, put him on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and paid for the care that he needed. To make things even more intense, Samaritans had nothing to do with Jews due to racial tensions of the day.
The point that Jesus was making was that our love should not be restricted to people we already know and care about. Instead, we are even supposed to show love to those neighbors who we don’t even know.
How many people do you come in contact with every day that you don’t even know? People in line at the grocery store, the mechanic who changes your oil, and other parents at your child’s school all provide opportunities for you to show the love of God to people who you don’t know.
Since you don’t know those people, you don’t know what they’re going through. It’s easy to get so caught up in our own issues that we fail to realize that we live in a fallen world full of suffering people. However, when we can extend God’s love to people, especially people who are facing painful situations of their own, we truly understand what it means to spread the Gospel.
Make a commitment to yourself. Decide that you’re going to do something kind for one person that you don’t know this week. It doesn’t have to be anything lavish. Pay for a cup of coffee for the person behind you in the drive thru. Let the mother with two screaming kids in her shopping cart get in front of you in line at the grocery store. You never know how much a single act of kindness, a single act of God’s love can impact someone who you don’t even know.
A Closing Prayer:
God, help me to be a better ambassador for You. Help me to be more open to showing Your love to everyone in my life, not just the people who I think deserve it. I know that I didn’t deserve grace, but You gave it to me anyway. Help me to be that free with grace and with love. In Christ’s name, Amen.