On being neighborly (Who do I have to love and how much?) Part 5 of 5ish

love your neighbor“For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you pointed out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved.” Richard Stearns

Neighborly: Characteristic of a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly, kind, obliging, helpful, hospitable, civil, generous…

In earlier posts we’ve been talking about God’s expectation that his people be, of all the people in his world, especially hospitable, otherwise known as “neighborly.” Now we’re examining the passages in which the biblical command to “love our neighbor” is found. We’ve looked at some of the teachings of Jesus and now transition to what the apostles – beginning with Paul – said about this neighborliness.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10            

An activist group called, “Shut Down All Ports of Entry,” keeps threatening to shut down every U.S. Port of entry on the Southern border until their goals are met. The leader of the group, while not outrightly encouraging people to bring guns, reminds the protesters of their 2nd Amendment rights to do so. The second point of their seven-fold demands is:

“A clear plan of action to permanently seal off our Southern border, by means of a military grade fence with razor wire and adding any and all additional Border Patrol Agents and militarized National Guard members needed to further deter any unauthorized entry.”

Doesn’t come across as very neighborly, now does it?

I can hear some pushback, “There are laws against these things. Why don’t these illegals go back to where they came from? And don’t forget Romans 13 also teaches us to obey the laws of the land.” It’s a fair point, but it makes me think of the apostles who repeatedly and unashamedly broke the laws of the land in order to preach the good news to their contemporaries. “We must obey God rather than human beings!” they said (Acts 5:29). It reminds me of the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh and refused to kill the male babies (Exodus 1), the friends of Daniel who refused to bow down to the golden image (Daniel 3), and Daniel himself who unashamedly violated the no-prayer law of the land (Daniel 6).

I share a quote that, regrettably, the source of which I can’t remember.

“The Law of the land (Rom 13:1-7) doesn’t exempt us from the law of love (Rom 13:8-10). We submit to authorities in as much as they do not violate the great commandments to love God and our neighbor. We respect borders, but we claim there would always be room at the inn for those strangers who travel among us, even if we have to help pay the way, like the Good Samaritan did for his unnamed guest. Hospitality is never cheap, but neither is inhospitality, especially when we remember the words of Christ: “I was a stranger and you invited me in (Matthew 25:35).”

It seems to me that in the latter half of Romans 13 Paul is saying that essentially what God wants for us and from us is love. If we love him first and love others second, everything else sort of takes care of itself, including our relationship to the laws of the land. If you love, you’re a law abider. If you don’t love, you’re a lawbreaker!

We have a “continuing debt to love one another.” One version calls it the “perpetual debt of love,” which, in contrast to other debts, it’s never completely paid; it remains outstanding. It’s always our duty to love our neighbor. We’ll never be able to say, “I’ve loved enough!”

In order to apply the neighbor-loving principle I wonder if it might be helpful – keeping in mind our previous posts where we identified our neighbor as everyone with whom we share the planet – to ask ourselves in all things, “Am I loving or harming my neighbor by _____________ or by _____________?”

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

This sounds a lot like the previous passage, but with an additional clarifying comment: “serve one another humbly in love.” Serving our neighbor is what it means to love him/her. It’s not good enough to do them no harm, to merely avoid doing them damage. “Do no harm,” is implicit in the doctor’s Hippocratic Oath. Hospitality, a synonym for neighborliness, requires so much more than doing no harm to people. It’s not enough to avoid doing bad things to our neighbors, but to actually do them some good.

May I humbly propose that you share this series (or a part of it that has had the most meaning to you so far) with a friend and invite them into a conversation with you and/or with me about it? Blessings!

Believe it or not, there is a Part 6 to come, which follows this 5 part series. Don’t try to make sense of it, just go along with me on this.

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