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You Shall Love Your Neighbor (Part Three)
In Part Two, we saw that both God the Father and Jesus Christ have modeled how we are to love one another. After giving the pattern in the life of Jesus shown in the Gospels, we are instructed "to walk just as He walked. . . . He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him" (I John 2:6, 10). How we show love to our neighbors reveals whether we are walking in the light or not.
God's instructions to Israel in Leviticus 19 help us learn the right perspective on loving our neighbors. Notice the first three verses:
Verse 2 is a kind of specific purpose statement for all of the nation of Israel then and for the Israel of God today (Galatians 6:16). God thunders that His people shall be holy—different and separate from the world around them—because God Himself is holy. The people are to reflect the God they worship. When others see the people of God, they are to see an image of God Himself in how they treat one another. In this way, God's people represent Him to the world. So Jesus teaches His disciples, "You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. . . Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-14, 16).
Then, in verse 3, God gives the first and most important of the physical instructions in how to treat others. It begins with one's parents, as they are the neighbors that children come into contact with first and most often. Children see their parents in the same way as we come to understand what God is to us, and we learn to love God by loving them. So our first lessons in loving our neighbors happen within what should be the friendly confines of the family.
It is interesting that the duty of showing reverential love to one's parents is connected to the proper observance of the Sabbath. This indicates a link between the fifth and fourth commandments. We show love to neighbor, first of all, by revering our parents, and we show love to God, first of all, by keeping His Sabbaths. They are foundational starting points for proper interactions within those two most important relationships.
In Leviticus 19:9-10, we see another instruction on loving fellow man:
Loving one's neighbor expands from the family to take in "the poor and the stranger." Obviously, this is showing concern and giving charitably to the disadvantaged of society. We are to learn to give with an open hand to others (Deuteronomy 15:7-11), not hoard the product of our labors. Love for neighbor includes generosity and looking out for the welfare of others, as needed.
Leviticus 19:13 brings up another situation in which we can choose to love a neighbor: "You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning." In other words, employees are to be paid on time, and the employer—whether he runs a huge corporation or is paying to have his lawn cut—is not to withhold a worker's wages. The employee needs the agreed-upon money to support himself and his family.
Verse 14 brings up another point: "You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD." This injunction deals with our thinking and compassion. We are not to make fun of the handicapped or do anything to take advantage of their condition. A deaf person cannot hear or respond to a curse, and a blind person cannot avoid an obstacle.
The intent goes further than this, however. God intends that we understand that we are never to exploit anyone's disadvantages. We should never take advantage of the simplicity, ignorance, or inexperience of another. We are instead to treat our neighbors as we would want to be treated if we were in their circumstances. Is that not the Golden Rule? "And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise" (Luke 6:31).
Leviticus 19:15 regulates our making of judgments: "You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor." In general terms, we are to be just, judging circumstances by their merits. We are not to judge a matter to benefit ourselves, nor are we to allow the social status of the parties involved to sway us one way or the other. God desires equity under the law, and making equitable judgments is a way of showing love to neighbor.
The next verse concerns telling stories about each other: "You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people" (Leviticus 19:16). The Hebrew word beneath "talebearer" describes more literally a "peddler," one who trades in gossip and spreads it all over the countryside. This is a sure way to sow discord among neighbors, doing no one any good. It is a terrible evil that destroys relationships. If we want to show love for others, we must put an end to rumormongering and gossip, for, as the apostle James writes, "[The tongue] is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8).
These are some of the ways we show love to our neighbors, and in so doing, we reflect the loving nature of God Himself, setting ourselves apart as His people. The apostle John writes, "Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world" (I John 4:17). Can we say this about ourselves in how we treat our neighbors?
John O. Reid