Pray First – Love Your Neighbor
For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: love your neighbor as yourself. -Galatians 5:14
When Jesus was asked to identify the most important command, He said: “The most important is ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these,” (Mark 12:29-31).
According to Jesus our love of God and our love of neighbor are inseparable. They are the same. You can’t have one without the other. They are connected. Inseparable.
God’s love for us and our love of God is the foundation for loving our neighbor. The Apostle John reminds us: “Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins…We love because He first loved us,” (1 John 4:10, 19).
This thought is at the heart of the Shema prayer which Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:4 as “the most important” command. The Hebrew word translated as love in the Shema is not a love expressed only by feelings or emotions, but a love demonstrated through faithful obedience to the commands of God. The ancient Israelites were to faithfully obey God not in hopes of becoming His covenant people, but because they were His covenant people. We obey God’s commands not to earn His favor, but because we have experienced His favor in Jesus Christ.
So, our love of neighbor is simply a reflection of our love of God. Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” (Matthew 25:40).
Even if we are not as consistent as we desire, we are familiar with spiritual disciplines that help us focus on loving God and being grateful for His love for us. Whatever those disciplines are for you, they are focused on God. He is the only recipient because there is only one God. But when it comes to “love your neighbor,” who does Jesus mean? “Neighbor” carries a certain amount of vagueness with it. Is there a list to define my neighbor? Is Jesus talking about the people who live next door? Do I get to decide who makes my neighbor list?
That question was asked of Jesus by an expert in the law. (Read Luke 10:25-37.) This man understood the inseparable connection between loving God and faithfully obeying His commands by loving his neighbor.
“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?”
Over the years, rabbinical law had defined “neighbor” to include some people and exclude others. Perhaps this man wanted Jesus to agree with rabbinical law. Perhaps his question was just another attempt to test Jesus and question his credibility.
Instead of answering the question, Jesus told a story and concluded with a question of his own: “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Talk about trapped! The only response this law expert could give was, “The one who showed mercy to him.”
“Go and do the same,” Jesus said.
According to Jesus, the question is not “Who is my neighbor?” The question is “Am I a neighbor to the people God has placed around me?”
By becoming good neighbors, we become who God intends us to be. By loving our neighbors, we live the kind of life Jesus wants us to live.
Today, let the neighbor be you!
Father, thank You for loving me unconditionally and completely in Jesus. I want my life to point people to You. Help me to be a good neighbor to the people You place in my life today. Help me to love them in ways that best reflect Your love for them. I ask this in the name of Jesus.
How do you love your neighbors? Do you actively engage in conversation with them? When you do, are you truly listening to what they say? Do you pray for your neighbors on a daily basis? Who do you consider to be your neighbor? Does everyone you encounter make the list, including your enemies? Do you share Jesus with your neighbors? How many Gospel conversations are you having? How many people have you led to the Lord in the past year?
Practical Life Application
Loving your neighbor starts with praying for your neighbor. Make a prayer list of the people you interact with every day. Pray for your coworkers. Pray for the barista who knows your coffee order or the cashier who checks you out at the grocery store. Pray for your congregation. Pray for your fellow Arkansas Baptists. You also cannot love your neighbor without being willing to serve them. Bring a family in need at your church a meal during the week. Give a helping hand to the neighbor raking up leaves. Keep non-perishable food items and bottles of water in your car for the homeless person you encounter on the side of the road. Don't be so rushed that you don't have time to engage with those around you. Put your phone in your pocket and look up. Seek out conversations with your neighbor and allow the Lord to use you as a light in the dark times they may be facing. Invite new friends into your home. Take a young person under your wing and disciple them. Love like Jesus.