I have been considering the REAL aspects of the gospel. Notably, I have been considering what it means to love my neighbor as myself. Notice I did not say “love my neighbor as I love myself”. I think there is a difference between the two.
To love my neighbor as I love myself is incomplete, it only deals with me loving me, which is but one aspect of me. To love my neighbor as myself, though, there is the whole commandment in all of its splendor, to die to myself, and let my neighbor be me in my heart.
Please allow me to explain. If I love my neighbor as myself, the commandment is complete. All of me is involved in this commandment, not just the part that loves me. All of my hopes, dreams, losses, and gains are included when I love my neighbor as myself.
How does this work, to practically love my neighbor as myself? Here is my paraphrase of the commandment. “Love your neighbor as if he is you.” When we see that commandment in this light, what happens?
First, we, or me, disappears. I have died to myself, and my neighbor becomes the only important person in the equation. For if my neighbor is now me, I am not present, only my neighbor is. How can we flesh that out more? Let’s think of it as removing all of my fleshly desires, all of my wants, needs, and selfish tendencies. Truly, if I remove all of these things, my love for my neighbor will sky rocket through the roof.
Loving my neighbor as if he is me removes any chance that I will harm my neighbor. In fact, it assures that I will only build my neighbor up, that I will add life, rather than steal it. While my neighbor is present, and I am not, I am free to focus on my neighbor’s needs, whatever they may be.
What enslaves us? Is it not our fleshly desires? Is it not the belief that we “deserve” this or that? Isn’t it my sin nature, the nature that drives me to think of only me all of the time? If it is, and if I remove that, then I am free. I have died to myself, I have taken up my cross, and I have literally followed Jesus’ example. The cross wasn’t about what Jesus wanted. It was about what we needed. If we need an example that will show us how that commandment works, the cross is it.
Grace is the only thing that makes dying to ourselves possible. It is the underlying power behind being strong when we are weak.
Here is a scenario to ponder. I have a head cold, but I am meeting a man I consider to be a complainer, for lunch. I really do not want to meet this man, because I already feel miserable, and he only makes me feel worse every time I talk with him. What should I do?
Before you answer that, remember to love your neighbor as yourself. I will ask a couple more questions to prime you. What causes this complainer to complain? Do I even know? What does it feel like to be him? What life experiences has he had that has shaped him?
These are just a few of the questions that might help me to forget me, and love him as if he is me. What do you think?