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. Love your neighbour as you love yourself

 

THE GREAT COMMANDMENT - LOVE YOUR NEIGBOUR

 

Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV) 34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Introduction.

Last week we stood still with the first commandment which is to: “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” I believe that all of us were challenged to renew our love for the Lord and to pray that God would give us bigger hearts which can be filled with a passion for God and His Kingdom.

We also saw last week that the whole law and the prophets hang on these two commandments, which means that love is the origin of the law and the prophets, and love is the goal of the Law and the Prophets. It is the beginning and the end of why God inspired the Bible. If we do not love then our faith is relegated to orthodoxy and dead doctrine which is like an empty well. Until we have sorted out our love and commitment to God the second command that is like the first one will not be fulfilled in the life of the believer, because why will I be sold out to my neighbour when I am not sold out to their creator.

It's the first commandment that makes the second commandment doable and takes away the threat that the second commandment is really the suicide of our own happiness. People are so afraid to love their neighbour as they love themselves, because they are afraid of the cost. I believe that at the root the second commandment is an expression of the first and that is what I want to show you today.

So let’s turn to the second commandment this morning which is:39…You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Because of the demands contained in this commandment this is maybe the most threatening sermon I can preach to Logos this morning. It is radical, it is critical and it is what Christianity is all about. The biggest threat to this command is self and pride and my own personal identity. I remember a sermon years ago in which the preacher said we need to become mash potato Christians instead of just boiled potatoes.  A boiled potato keeps its identity amongst the other potatoes in the pot, but as soon as you mash it we lose our identity and we become one. That is what Christianity is all about. It is not about particular people having prominence in the body, it is not about the gifted, it is not about the rich, it is not about the poor, it is about being a people that glorify God together and exalt Him together as one. But any sermon like this of course firstly has to challenge me as it is my life that is under scrutiny, because the focus of Jesus is personal as seen in the words ‘as yourself’. That brings me to my first point this morning which is:

1. Love for self.

The departure point for loving my neighbour is self-love. There is a very big word in the text here which is ‘as’, love your neighbour ‘as’ you love yourself. Love for self is a given, it is an accepted fact, it is not commanded. We even see this in the challenge by Paul to men in Ephesians 5 with regards to their wives, that they must love their wives ‘as’ they love themselves. We all know what that is all about.  This is common to all people, and by the way, in and of itself it is not evil. You don't have to learn it. It comes with your humanity. Our Father in heaven created it. In and of itself it is good. To hunger for food is not evil. To want to be warm in the winter is not evil. To want to be safe in a crisis is not evil. To want to be healthy during a plague is not evil. To want to be liked by others is not evil. To want your life to count in some significant way is not evil. To want to have fun is not evil. To want to win in sport or another competition is not evil. This was a defining human trait before the fall of man into sin, and it is not evil in itself.

So think of what Christ is saying when He says this. He is basically saying that if you are going to love your neighbour as you love yourself, you are going to be willing to tear your skin off yourself and put it onto your neighbour before you look at him. So before I look at the poor, I tear my skin of me and I put it on them, before I look at the rich I tear my skin of me and put it on them, before I look at another race, I tear my skin of me and I put it on them, before I look at my boss at work or my employee, I tear my skin off and I put it on them, before I look at my husband or wife, I tear my skin of me and I put it on them and so we can go on. Because with my skin on them, it is going to be so much easier to love them as I love myself.  Church family, this is radical.  A more common way to state it is to put yourself in their shoes and then to love the way you would like to be loved. It fits with the words of Christ in Matthew 7:12 (ESV) 12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Now let me set something straight here immediately. The body of Christ often attracts people who are poor and needy and down and out because they realise that somehow the body of Christ must be a giving community, and they have needs so the church is the place to go. Now that is true, because the Lord does say in: John 13:34 (ESV) "34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. " We can add many verses to this one from 1 John etc. The church is for down and outs, but the church is not just for down and outs, the church is for all people. If the church was just for down and outs and the ‘haves’ give everything they have to the ‘have not’s’ then everybody will be ‘have not’s’ and nobody will have the joy anymore to be able to be a blessing to one another.  Read the gospels, look at the Words of Christ and you will understand what the Kingdom is all about. It is horizontal love between all, and not just vertical love simply from the top to the bottom, because love is not just about material goods.

However, the fullness of Scripture needs to be understood here. Let me explain this to you. People love to grab to the prophets and some of their statements about the poor and needy, and then they simply try and apply it to the church. If we are going to do that then we need to apply all the Old Testament laws to the church as well, and in the text before us we see that the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. All the texts in the Old Testament that you read that refers to rich and poor and their responsibility towards one another, has to be understood in the context of a nation. The prophets are addressing a physical nation and in a nation your membership and the structures are different than in the church. You are born into a nation, you and your family are part of the nation, you can be wicked, you can be righteous and you still belong to the nation, and you fall under the rules of a nation. The nation can tax you, so everybody will play their part if they like it or not. Even today we live within a nation, we live in the context of families and there are certain duties and responsibilities that we have within the nation and within our families that is primarily mine and mine alone. For example, there are certain responsibilities and duties that I have towards my children and there are certain responsibilities and duties I have towards my parents that is my duty and not my neighbour’s duty.

The church on the other hand is the household of God, we are a church family, and the way I become part of the church family is to be born again in Christ and to become a responsible member of the body of Christ. I join because I love God, I join to exercise my gifts, and on this topic of gifts we must realise that there is no ‘gift of receiving’ among the gifts in the Bible. I read this in a book somewhere years ago where a pastor said: “my church is filled with people with only one gift and that is the ‘gift of receiving’. They always take and take, but they never give back. As far as they are concerned the rest of the body exists for them and their needs, but from their side they do nothing to reciprocate”

It is like expecting the rest of the body to take off their skin and to put it on you, and to love you and your needs like they would if they were in your situation, but you will not take off your skin and put it on them and realise just how you would have felt if everybody lives for you and you do nothing in return. Sadly many people in the body of Christ become sponges and they absorb and absorb from the body, but they never use the gifts that they have to honour the body. This sadly is the highest form of ‘self-love’, but no ‘neighbour love’, with no willingness to tear of their skin and to put it on the rest of the body. It is the sin of pride. Sadly it is also true that many people actually join the church so that God’s people will take care of their needs, but they actually live apart from God. They even often continue in their old habits on the side, but hold forth a holy pretence when they are with the body. More than often when their needs are fully met, they run away. That is why the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself goes both ways. It is all of us loving all of us, as we would love ourselves. If some who just receive and receive would just put themselves in the shoes of the givers they should be honest and say: “I would not like to just be on the ‘giving end’ with my neighbour always on the ‘receiving end’, it would be nice at times if they would think of me a little as well.”

So to summarise this point, listen what Jesus actually says in effect on ‘self-love’: I start with your inborn, deep, defining human trait—your love for yourself. This is a given. I don't command it; I assume it. All of you have a powerful instinct of self-preservation and self-fulfilment. You all want to be happy. You all want to live and to live with satisfaction. You all want food for yourself. You all want clothes for yourself. You all want a place to live for yourself. You all want protection from violence against yourself. You all want meaningful or pleasant activity to fill your days. You all want some friends to like you and spend some time with you. You all want your life to count in some way. All this is self-love. Self-love is the deep longing to diminish pain and to increase happiness. That's what Jesus starts with when he says, "as yourself." Therefore it is no part of the body that always exists for me, but I exist for them as well.

Now this is very threatening and almost overwhelming. We fear that if we follow Jesus in this, and really devote ourselves to pursuing the happiness of others, then our own desire for happiness will always be pre-empted. The neighbour’s claim on my time and energy and creativity will always take priority. So the command to love my neighbour as I love myself really feels like a threat to my own self-love. How is this even possible? If there is born in us a natural desire for our own happiness, and if this is not in itself evil, but good, how can we give it up and begin only to seek the happiness of others at the expense of our own? And is this what Christ requires from us?

So that brings us to our second and that is to “love my neighbour as myself”.

2. Love for my neighbour.

We must not forget that love for my neighbour is linked directly to love for God and love for self, otherwise this becomes the most difficult issue under the sun and the threat I spoke about under my previous point becomes unbearable. How do we bring these three together, namely God love, self-love and neighbour love? (I love John Piper’s approach to this second commandment which has greatly inspired my approach).

Let me put it this way. Take all your self-love—all your longing for joy and hope and love and security and fulfilment and significance—take all that, and focus it on God, until He satisfies your heart and soul and mind. What you will find is that this is not a cancelling out of self-love. This is a fulfilment and transformation of self-love. Self-love is the desire for life and satisfaction rather than frustration and death. God says, Come to me, and I will give you fullness of joy. I will satisfy your heart and soul and mind with my glory. This is the first and great commandment.

And with that great discovery—that God is the never-ending fountain of our joy—the way we love others is forever changed. Now when Jesus says, "Love your neighbour as yourself," we don't respond by saying, "Oh, this is threatening. This means my love for myself is made impossible by all the claims of my neighbour. I could never do this." Instead we say, "Oh, yes, I love myself. I have longings for joy and satisfaction and fulfilment and significance and security. But God has called me—indeed he has commanded me—to come to Him first for all these things. He commands that my love for Him be the form of my love for me. That all my longings for me I find in Him. That is what my self-love is now. It is my love for God. They have become one. My quest for happiness is now nothing other than a quest for God. And He has been found in Jesus Christ."

So what, then is Jesus commanding in the second commandment? He is commanding that our self- love, which has now discovered its fulfilment in God-love, be the measure and the content of our neighbour-love. Or, to put it another way, he is commanding that our inborn self-seeking, which has now been transposed into God-seeking, overflow and extend itself to our neighbour. So, for example:

  • If you are longing to see more of God's bounty and liberality through the supply of food and rent and clothing, then seek to show where possible to others the greatness of this divine bounty by the generosity you have found in him. Let the fulfilment of your own self-love in God-love overflow into neighbour love. Or better: seek that God, who is the fulfilment of your self-love overflow through your neighbour-love and become the fulfilments of your neighbour’s self-love.
  • If you want to enjoy more of God's compassion through the comfort he gives you in times of sorrow, then seek to show others more of God's compassion through the comfort you extend to your neighbour in times of sorrow.
  • If you long to savour more of God's wisdom through the counsel he gives in stressful relationships, then seek to extend more of God's wisdom to others in their stressful relationships.
  • If you delight in seeing God's goodness in relaxed times of leisure, then extend that goodness to others by helping them to have relaxed, healthy times of leisure.
  • If you want to see more of God's saving grace powerfully manifested in your life, then stretch out that grace into the lives of others who need that saving grace.
  • If you want to enjoy more of the riches of God's personal friendship through thick and thin, then extend that friendship to the lonely through thick and thin.
  • If you want to enjoy your love for God through an uninterrupted time of worship, then love your neighbour by allowing them that uninterrupted time of worship by being on time.

In all these ways neighbour-love does not threaten self-love because self-love has become God-love, and God-love is not threatened, diminished, or exhausted by being poured into the lives of others.

I don't mean that this answers all our questions about love, or that it takes away every kind of threat in loving our neighbour. There are many perplexities in the life of love. There are competing claims on our limited time. I do not always have the resources to pour out on others. Sometimes even people in the body are not deserving of my giving in love, as they are lazy, they take irresponsible decisions, and while I am a good steward of what God has given me, they are not. There are hard choices about what to give up and what to keep, when to give and when not to. There is just no time to handle it in this sermon. There are even different interpretations of what is good for another person. I don't mean here that all of this becomes simple.

There are times that real love for my neighbour has to be tuff love, sometimes real love has to be accompanied by the answer ‘no’ when your button is pressed upon. Sometimes they must struggle to learn, because at times by simply dropping everything to respond to their needs you are actually aiding them in their sin, and it is sometimes difficult to know when I am doing that and when not.

I have seen strange things in the ministry. I have seen people being supported by the body who at the end of the day actually should have supported others in the body, if he would just sell his holiday home, or his boat at the lake, or give up that investment he is holding on to while others take care of his cash flow.

In closing:

So church family, start with your love for God, get it right, improve on it, because loving God sustains us through all the joy and pain and perplexity and uncertainty of what loving our neighbour should be. When the sacrifice is great, we remember that His grace is sufficient. When the fork in the road of love is unmarked, we remember with joy and love that His grace is sufficient. When we are distracted by the world and our hearts give way temporarily to selfishness and we are off the path, we remember that God alone can satisfy, and we repent and love His all-sufficient grace all the more.

So whenever you think of the great commandment, remember that in the first commandment Jesus focuses the passion to be happy firmly set on God and God alone. In the second commandment Jesus opens a whole world of expanding joy in God and says: people, human beings, everywhere you find them, are designed to receive and enlarge your joy in God. Love them the way you love yourself. Show them; give them—through every practical means available—what you have found for yourself in God, and remember that this commandment is for all of us, and not just for your pastor or a select few.

Amen!

Logos Community Church:- 29 May 2016