Love Your Neighbor
Love your Neighbor. There seems to be so much strife, anger, and conflict, even at a global level right now. And yet, there it is. God commands us to love our neighbor. “No ifs, ands, or buts!” as my mother would say. Just do it. Honor God and love your neighbor. I know, I know. We’ve heard this before.
Throughout the Bible, God commands us to love our neighbor. Mark 12:30 says, “And you must love Him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. The second is: ‘You must love others as much as yourself.’ No other commandments are greater than these.” And yet, we struggle. In today’s world and political climate, we work to treat those with different opinions, different beliefs, different perspectives, different world or religious views with distant politeness, let alone with love. But our Creator, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Lover of Our Soul asks - no, implores us, commands us - to love our neighbor.
The word love in Mark 12:30 is the Greek word agapao, a verb that means to have a preference for, wish well to, regarding people’s welfare. In other words, to be full of good-will and exhibit the same toward others. How can we, as women, encourage others to live life loved by modeling agape love?
We can listen to understand, not to respond. Listening is hard! It’s hard to do with the people in our life that matter most - the adults and children we would die for if needed. Listening to understand those we already feel no connection to, or even outwardly disagree? Yikes. Here’s the deal. Listening to understand means using speaker-listener skills taught by counselors and communication gurus. Listen. Repeat what the speaker said in your own words. Clarify that is what they are saying. Validate that the speaker has a voice and opinion. Saying it out loud back to them does not mean you agree. It means you hear. Dare to ask “Why” or say “Tell me more” and listen more. We don’t always have to be correct. Proverbs 15:28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked blurts out evil.
We can use holy wisdom when interacting with others, especially with those we find “difficult.” Thankfully God grants His divine wisdom to all who ask.
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
We need to challenge ourselves to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Instead of assuming the person who cut you off is just being an inconsiderate jerk, suppose instead that they are distracted, hurrying to an emergency, or careless. If we are going to make assumptions based on our perceptions, let us do it in favor of a kinder, gentler human presence.
Speaking of a jerk, let’s stop the name-calling altogether. Honestly, I understand. Forgoing the name-calling is challenging. Can we stop calling names? "But it’s so easy and so, so culturally normal to use mild names and even curse words." Can it feel almost..good? Bring relief? And yet, this choice causes immediate dissension, defensiveness (understandably so) and stops the flow of listening for understanding.
Proverbs 15:4 A soothing tongue [speaking words that build up and encourage] is a tree of life, But a perversive tongue [speaking words that overwhelm and depress] crushes the spirit. (Amplified)
David wrote in Psalm 64:3 Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, from the plot of evildoers. They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
In retrospect, I cringe when I think of times my sharp tongue and cruel words hit their target. I want to reflect my loving Father, not the wicked and evildoers.
When we find ourselves defending our ideas, expectations, needs, or values, let us use “I” statements. One of the best tools I learned in pre-marital counseling was using “I” statements during conflicts. Instead of lashing out with “You make me mad.” or “You always…..” and “You never….”, try framing a statement as “I feel ____.” or “I don’t like it when you_____." or "I feel ______when this happens.” Then allow authentic, transparent conversations and conflict with healing to occur.
Finally, we can use our most potent weapon - prayer - to intervene in difficult situations. We need to recognize that God loves even the hard-to-love people in our sphere of influence. He loves them wholly, with the completeness of Christ on the Cross. It’s our job to love them, to meet others where they are. We can listen, show compassion, give wisdom, and help where we feel led. That said, it remains the Holy Spirit’s job to change their hearts. Jesus Christ died on a cross to separate humans from sin and death; we don’t have to. God chases them, draws their attention to Him through His glorious creation. We simply love others where we can, and God, in His almighty wisdom and perfect timing, will finish what He has started.
Thank you that you love us with an undying, eternal, immeasurable love. Thank you for sending your Son to reconcile our broken hearts and lives so that we can live out your love through us. Holy Spirit, grant us the wisdom to listen first, speak with understanding, and give the benefit of the doubt at every opportunity. Father, guard our hearts, minds, and tongues against cultural practices that tear others down. Let us build up others and offer words of encouragement, life, and love. Speak to our hearts that we would pray and intervene for ourselves and others when entering times of conflict, misunderstanding, and even hatred. Let us breathe in your calm presence and display your love to those around us. In your Holy name, Amen.
From the April 2021 issue of His Story Magazine.