That neighbor?

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 NKJV).

A group of us were driving out of the city of Khulna when a large truck met us, driving the wrong way on our side of the divided highway. This is a frequent occurrence in Bangladesh where traffic laws are seldom enforced and many drivers are poorly trained. As we carefully steered around the truck I asked the other passengers in our van, “When Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors, did he know there would be truck drivers?”

Similar thoughts occur frequently as we are confronted with hostility, rudeness, and dishonesty in our interactions with others. There are many people in this world who are pretty much unlovable, at least in our opinions. Must we really open up to all of them and show compassion, mercy, and kindness? Does their bad behavior not excuse us from such obligations?

The Bible is clear: We must love them even if their behavior does not deserve it in our eyes. Jesus actually went considerably further than to command love of neighbor. “But I say to you, ‘love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

This incredible demand makes two principles of love abundantly clear.

First, love is about me, not the other person. No one should control how I feel about or treat others except me. My love for others should stem from who I am, not who they are. That is one of the primary lessons Jesus is teaching. When one turns to Christ and seeks to live in a godly way, he takes responsibility for his own thoughts, words, and actions. He begins to live proactively, not reactively. That is also the principle of the Golden Rule, “Therefore whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). Jesus wants his followers to act first, based on how they wish others to react.

The second principle taught in the command to love one’s enemies is that love is practical. Love “blesses,” “does good,” and “prays for others” even when (especially when) they are doing precisely the opposite. In our modern world we speak of love as an emotion, a feeling. We “fall in love” and “fall out of love.” Our emotions are often impulsive, fleeting, and shallow. Love however is a constant (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). One who practices Biblical love is consistent in doing good works, showing mercy and compassion, and providing help to others. Such a person will certainly have good feelings toward others, but the way he or she treats them does not depend upon those feelings.

A favorite definition of love is: “A commitment to the well-being of others.” This is borne out in Paul’s command, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

In connection with the command to love one’s enemies Jesus explained, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do so?” (Matthew 5:46). We however are to be “Sons of [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45). Our standard must be higher than that of the world. Yes, Jesus knew about truck drivers and he taught us to love them too.

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