Do I Really Have to Love My (Liberal) Neighbor?

love handsI have several times referenced the devotional blog, 843 Acres. It is published online five days per week, and includes a very brief devotional on a biblical text.  The devotional for February 12th gave me pause. I’d love to interact with it here, with our readers. In it, the question was asked: 

“How can we live together with people whose beliefs, practices, and views deeply distress or offend us? How do we relate to them, care for them, and even love them?”

We spend a lot of time on this blog dealing with ‘beliefs, practices and views’ which ‘deeply distress or offend us’. But we don’t spend a lot of time talking about how to deal with those beliefs as Christians, when we encounter them in the individuals of our daily lives.

In the abstract, we can rail against what we see as stupidity, deceit or sin. But what about the beliefs and practices of our neighbors, co-workers and even family members?  843 Acres continues:

“Tolerance is the answer that our culture gives, but the gospel gives a different one.”

tolerance vs acceptanceI want to stop there for a moment, and point out that the original meaning of ‘tolerance’ was to bear or endure‘.  These days, the primary listed definition of ‘tolerance’ is “a fair, objective and permissive attitude…”, making it–to me, anyway, virtually synonymous with acceptance. In any event, the devotional goes on to reference the apostle Paul’s reaction to those with whom he disagrees:

“…He told the strong to be driven by love, not selfishness. He wrote, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself.” (Romans 15:1-3a ESV)

You can go and read the remainder of the original devotional, as well as chapter 15 of Romans.  But I’m not sure that the specific example (of eating meat sacrificed to idols) is very helpful to us when considering the statements from the first paragraph of the devotional. Surely this is more akin to debates between Christians who dance, drink alcohol and/or smoke, versus those who feel some or all of those things are sinful?

I think it’s much more pertinent today for us to know how to interact with those with whom we must relate, day by day, but with whom we deeply disagree on larger–even salvific–issues. What about the neighbor who works in an abortion clinic? Co-workers in euphemistically alternate lifestyles? A loved one who stops attending church and begins to live in a way you believe dishonors God?

Tolerance gagTolerance, by today’s definition, would mean being unbiased (and basically silent) towards behavior we judge to be sinful, allowing others to view as tacit approval what we are simply gritting our teeth and bearing. Is this what Paul meant by bearing with failings?

On the other hand, an all-too-common Christian response is to “come out from them and be separate”… in other words, to cut off communication altogether. Is this the appropriate attitude to take? Is it what Jesus did?

I don’t have an easy answer, because such behavior covers a wide range and must be approached case by case. But I would point us to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as a starting point. When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” by a man who wanted to justify himself, Jesus told the famous story…and did not answer the question. Instead he asked a different question:  “Which of those men WAS a neighbor…?

  • He didn’t give us a check list of characteristics by which we can determine whether someone rates “neighbor” status.
  • He didn’t even say, “Dude–everyone is your neighbor!”
  • Instead, Jesus forced His hearers to decide whether they themselves could be considered a neighbor, based on their actions(Thanks to Eugene Peterson’s Tell It Slant for finally hammering home this insight for me.)

We need to be bold enough to judge certain behaviors as despicable. We need to educate, to legislate, to cooperate with those who are like-minded, and work against policies, laws and practices which oppose truth.

us vs themBut let’s be careful we don’t end up vilifying any individual who holds these beliefs…which is what we are accused of doing, and what the “other side” often seems to be doing to us. When it comes to interpersonal communication, the first step toward changing hearts is to try avoiding an “us and them” mentality. Owning the moral high ground gives no one the right to be uncivil.

I just want to leave this here. But we might be brave enough to ask ourselves, on a regular basis, “Am I acting like a neighbor toward ____?”

I’d like to be that brave.

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16 responses to “Do I Really Have to Love My (Liberal) Neighbor?

  1. I was asking myself the question, “How do I love my neighbor when I can’t stand my neighbor?” last night at Mass. You go a long way towards answering just that question.

  2. Such a timely reminder GBL… sometimes we get wrapped up in trying to live in the world and forget not to be of the world. Wonderful post my sister, may each one of us, no matter what circumstance we are in, remember to show God’s AGAPE love to all, AMEN!

  3. To the title of your post: Yes.

    Galatians 5:14 (KJV) – For all the law is fulfilled in one word, [even] in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    Is it always easy? Of course not. The judgemental and selfish attitude of the flesh will always seek to influence or corrupt the Spirit’s workings of love.

    The “problem” is that the “neighbor” doesn’t necessarily see YOUR commitment to your faith as “love” for them. Example: My brother-in-law is gay. Mrs. PGH and I love him very much and have expressed our love for him, to him. Yet, back when the gay marriage issue was more “front page”, we took a stand based on our personal beliefs: You can change man’s laws, but you can’t change God’s laws. He and his partner immediately accused of us as being “hate-mongers” because we didn’t “support” their lifestyle choices, and there was no convincing them otherwise.

    Love the sinner….hate the sin. A message that the world has convoluted into one of hate. Just because I don’t condone your sin, therefore, I MUST not love you.

    • Yes, I know. It’s sad, isn’t it? I read a blog post in which the (gay) writer complained about people “tolerating” his lifestyle. He demands acceptance, and even that–the way he parses it–isn’t really good enough.

      Many people seem to have forgotten that there have always been–and are now–cultures where tolerance is unheard of, and those who do not conform are exiled or killed. Such a time may be coming to Christians, but we can’t let that fear change our commitments to truth AND to love.

      • And the other thing that we as believers must remember is (and it can sometimes be very difficult), that when there is one (like the person you spoke of) who is not a follower of Christ, then they are not held to the same standards as believers are (to be Christ like and love with His Agape love), so, they are lost… not just in sin (because we ALL have that) but in darkness. So, they do not act towards others the way we would expect people to act… hence his demands and probably nasty attitude. *sigh* 😦

        • Which is why I constantly remind myself that I can only control my actions, thoughts, and words….and NOT the reactions of others. As a Christian, I EXPECT to NOT be accepted for the very same reason our Lord was rejected by the “best and brightest” of His day.

  4. 1 Thessalonians 5:15
    See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

    Romans 12:10
    Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

    Galatians 5:22-23
    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

    Matthew 22:37-39
    And he (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

    … such the opposite of what the world says, huh? Glory to God we have His Word to help us navigate through!!

    • Thanks, Teach! Living up to your name!

      • Oh goodness, don’t know about that LOL but I am blessed that the Holy Spirit leads me through the Word of God! 😀 God bless you sister… to me, it is people like you (who are able to write blogs (which more times than not are devotionals) leading others to the Truth of Christ that I think are the teachers!! 😀

  5. Good post.
    I have had to face this issue several times in my life, sometimes very close to home. 14 year ago, after my first wife died and I re-married, my daughter-in-law and son wanted me to visit them (totally across the country) WITHOUT her! I had to remind my son that my stance when he was growing up was, “I’m married to (= “one with”) your mother, and you and your sister do NOT get to come between us and play us against each other!” I had to take the same stance with my step-daughter and step-son.
    Recently, I’ve been finding myself faced with situations like confronting a friend who lives with his girlfriend, while claiming to be still following the Lord. Ditto with my step-son, several times over the past 14 years. It can be done lovingly, but, as you imply, EACH SITUATION IS UNIQUE AND HAS TO BE DEALT WITH ON ITS OWN BASIS, WITH MUCH PRAYER AND SOMETIMES THE COUNSEL OF OTHERS.
    I’m not happy with the way “tolerance” today has become a buzzword that means we have to totally accept other religions, while they don’t have to accept our faith in the basic tenet of ours, that Jesus ALONE is The Way. I think we are headed into a time of persecution, and we need to be clarifying our stance ahead of time, lovingly, but firmly.
    I admire parachurch ministries like Wycliffe Bible Translators and JAARS (Jungle Avaiation and Radio Service), their logistical and communications branch, for their stance that their services are for ALL, not just those who believe as they do. Early on in my first marriage, I looked at joining WBT, and was impressed with one guy there who showed me letters from various denominational stances, and told me, “I could respond in a way that would enlist their support, but we maintain that only our basic creed [12 principles that mirror the Apostles’ Creed] matter. All else we take no stance on.”
    Ultimately, we have to know WHO WE ARE in order to stand rightly, and righteously. We have to have a greater YES in order to say an effective NO! It’s all about RELATIONSHIP, not religion, ritual, or “rightness.”

    • Thank you for reading, and for your thoughtful and insightful comments. Relationship, yes. We can, with prayer and forethought, maintain integrity without having to sever relationships, speaking truth in love. Thanks again for writing.

  6. Telling them the truth of the Gospel is loving them. Then Paul said:
    “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”

  7. This passage came across in my daily reading today… God is so Good!

    Matthew 5:46 & 47

    For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

  8. Thanks GBL, a really thoughtful post with insightful comments.

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