Loving my Neighbor
Last weekend Taryn, Calvin, and I went to an old mansion in Perthshire, Faskally House. It was built in 1831 and is located just outside Pitlochry (between Perth and Inverness). The house is owned by Faskally Christian Trust, and they rent it out to Christian groups throughout the year. This last weekend our church, Christ Church Edinburgh, spent the weekend there. It was fun and a great way for our family to better connect with folks in the church.
During the weekend the speaker discussed what a church on mission looks like. To boil the talks down into a simple thought, he argued that a church fulfilling its mission needs to be engaged in the community in which the Lord has placed them. The church needs to learn to love and care for that community. I do not think I would be alone in saying that the weekend was a provocation to love our neighbors in real and tangible ways.
The more the weekend went on, the more I thought about what it means to love. There is something about love that is hard. I am not going to pretend like loving people is harder now that we have social media, but I do think that social media has made the difficulty to truly love someone or something more pronounced. We have become so careful about how we portray ourselves to the world via social media these days. We want people to 'like' what we posted; be it a photo, a quote, or an opinion. We want to be liked by everyone and we want to like everyone.
However, love is difficult. Love is risky. Love demands that we give ourselves away for the other and risk being rejected. Love requires much more of me than to be liked. I can be liked and I can like things without giving myself to it at all. There are many people in my life that I like, but if we were to never see each other again, it wouldn't hurt me. However, there are a few people in my life that I love and it pains me to be away from. To love, to truly love someone or something is hard painful work.
The reason that love is hard work is because it requires me respect that which is other than me as other even if I do not like the other. That is to say, love requires me to respect my neighbor without forcing my neighbor to become like me. Dostoevsky, in his novel The Brothers Karamazov, has a man declare his heroic intentions but struggles with his inability to follow through.
I love mankind, but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular…. In my dreams,” he said, “I often went so far as to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days…. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate the best of men…. I become the enemy of people the moment they touch me,” he said. “On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.
To love my neighbor is to love who he/she is, not who I want him/her to be. We learn to love the other in spite of the fact that the other isn't me. Loving is much harder than liking.
To fulfill our mission in the church requires that we love the place that God has planted us. Love does not mean that we leave the place unchanged, but it also does not mean that we conform it to our image. Love means we want to see the community conformed to the image of Christ. Love means that we strive to understand, care for, and minister to the community. Part of loving will be to speak hard truths, but often we will only get a hearing when the people listening know that we love them for who they are and not who we want them to be. Speaking of the type of love we must have B.B. Warfield said:
Into the immeasurable calm of the divine blessedness he permitted this thought to enter, 'I will die for men!' And so mighty was His love, so colossal the divine purpose to save, that He thought nothing of His divine majesty, nothing of His unsullied blessedness, nothing of His equality with God, but, absorbed in us, — our needs, our misery, our helplessness — He made no account of Himself. If this is to be our example, what limit can we set to our self-sacrifice?
Last weekend as I listened to the speaker, I was reminded of the imperative to love. Loving people will cost a lot, it will require all of me. Loving the community around me will mean that I will disadvantage myself for their advantage. However, for those who have been given the righteousness of Christ, this is our call. Bruce Waltke put it best:
The wicked advantage themselves by disadvantaging others, but the righteous disadvantage themselves to advantage others.
Learning to love takes time and effort. Christian love is hard work.