I have been meditating lately on what it means to obey God’s command to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Often when we think of loving our neighbor, we emphasize what we can do for someone. This is obviously valid and love that has no action is a worthless kind of love. I have, however, been noticing in the Scripture that often when God speaks of loving our neighbor, he does not just talk about what we do, but also what we don’t do. For example, in Romans 13:8, we encounter a passage that says, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Or put more colloquially, “Consider yourself to have no indebtedness, except to be debtors to loving each other.” What a beautiful sentiment, yet I have always been fascinated with the immediate application because the Apostle speaks of loving one another with a lot of “don’ts.” Don’t commit adultery; you are not loving another when you lust after and violate their spouse. Don’t kill; you are not loving your neighbor when you murder him or as Jesus pointed out when you hate and insult him calling him a fool. Don’t lie; liars are not loving no matter how innocent the lie might seem. Don’t lust and covet; you are not loving your brother by being jealous and greedy over what he has or who he has. Basically, Paul goes from love to the “Shall nots” of the ten commandments and then points out how loving your neighbor is doing him no harm.
But that is not all. Romans 14 continues the idea of love in Christian relationships by commanding Christians to show love by not judging or despising them with their disputable opinions, traditions or personal expressions of piety. You are also not loving your neighbor by criticizing and refusing to welcome them with all their weaknesses and foibles. Certainly in chapter 15, Paul switches to a more proactive approach to love. So what then do I do with all this? Perhaps we ought to question our normal human way of thinking that loving my Christian brother is to force him to think and act and be like me. Perhaps when we do that, we are not loving them at all. Perhaps we ought to give our brother or sister a break with the expectations that they must serve me in some tangible way that makes me feel good about ourselves. Instead, just thank God that my brother loves me enough not to hate me, or flirt with my wife, or covet my blessing, or lie to me? Perhaps love is expressed with intangible reactions, not just tangible actions. Perhaps when I am irritated at my brother or frustrated with his foolishness, yet I choose to not show him all his errors and faults and dumb ideas, I am in fact loving him as Christ commanded? It is much easier to do something nice for someone and thus “express love” than it is to put up with their annoyances and sins against us. But loving others is a hard thing…Christian, do hard things!
I am not suggesting that loving our neighbor is void of positive action, hospitality, gift-giving, or other tangible expressions, but maybe we ought to remember that we also love by reacting in a way that is patient, supportive, gentle, kind and non-abrasive, even when they are (at least in our minds) so blatantly wrong-headed, uniformed, rude and thoughtless. Maybe the greater expression of love is reacting to wrong, real or perceived, with mercy and grace.