By J.R. Miller
"So in everything, do unto others--what you would have them do unto you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 7:12
There are other people. We are not the only ones. Some of the others live close to us, and some farther away. We have a certain relationship to these other people. They have claims upon us. We owe them duties, services, love. We cannot cut ourselves off from them, from any of them--and say they are nothing to us. We cannot rid ourselves of obligations to them--and say we owe them nothing. So inexorable is this relationship to others--that in all the broad earth, there is not an individual who has no right to come to us with his needs, claiming at our hand, the ministry of love. The other people are our brothers, and there is not one of them that we have a right to despise or neglect or thrust away from our door.
We ought to train ourselves--to think of the other people. We may not leave them out of any of the plans we make. They have rights as well as we do--and we must consider these in asserting our own. No man may set his fence a hairs-breadth over the line on his neighbor's ground. No man may gather even a head of his neighbor's wheat. No man may enter his neighbor's door unbidden. No man may do anything which will harm his neighbor. Other people have inalienable rights--which we may not invade.
We owe other people more than their rights; we owe them love. To some of them it is not hard to pay this debt. They are lovable and winsome. They are thoroughly respectable. They are congenial spirits, giving us in return quite as much as we can give them. It is natural to love them, and be very kind and gentle to them. But we have no liberty of selection in this broad duty of loving other people. If we claim to be Christians, we may not choose whom we will love.
The Master's teaching is inexorable: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked." (Luke 6:32-35).
The Good Samaritan is our Lord's answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" and the Good Samaritan's neighbor was a bitter enemy, who, in other circumstances, would have spurned him from his presence. Other people may not be beautiful in their character, nor congenial in their habits, manners, modes of life, or disposition; they may even be unkind to us, unjust, unreasonable; in strict justice altogether undeserving of our favor; yet if we persist in being called Christians ourselves, we owe them the love that thinks no evil, that seeks not its own, that bears all things, endures all things, and never fails.
That is, we owe other people service. Serving goes with loving. We cannot love sincerely, and not serve. Love without serving is but an empty sentiment, a poor mockery. God so loved the world, that He GAVE. Love always gives. If it will not give--it is not love. It is measured always by what it will give. The needs of other people are, therefore, divine commands to us which we dare not disregard or disobey. To refuse to help a brother who stands before us in any kind of need, is as great a sin as to break one of the commandments of the Decalogue.
We like to think there is no sin in merely not doing. But Jesus, in His wonderful picture of the Last Judgment, makes men's condemnation, turn on not doing the things which they ought to have done. They have simply not fed the hungry, nor clothed the naked, nor visited the sick, nor blessed the prisoner. To make these sins of neglect appear still more grievous, our Lord makes a personal matter of each case, puts Himself in the place of the sufferer who needs it and is not cared for, and tells us that all neglect in giving needed kindness to any--is neglect shown to Him. This divine word gives a tremendous interest to other people who are brought providentially into the sphere of our lives, so that their needs of any kind, must appeal to our sympathy and kindness. To neglect them--is to neglect Christ.
This matter of serving has multitudinous forms. Sometimes it is poverty that stands at our gate, and financial help is needed. But a thousand times more frequently, it is not money--but something else more precious that we must give. It may be loving sympathy. Sorrow is before us. Another's heart is breaking. Money would be of no use; it would be only a bitter mockery. But we can hold to the sufferer's lips, a cup filled out of our own heart, which will give new strength. Or it is the anguish of a life struggle, a human Gethsemane, beside which we are called to watch. We can give no actual aid--the soul must fight its battles alone--but we can be as the angel in our Lord's Gethsemane, imparting strength and helping the weary struggler to win the victory.
The world is very full of sorrow and trial, and we cannot live among our fellow men and be true to Christ, without sharing their loads. Selfishness must die, or our own heart's life must be frozen within us. We begin to felicitate ourselves on some special prosperity, and the next moment some human need knocks at our door, and we must share our good things with a suffering brother. We may build up our fine theories of taking care of ourselves, of living for the future, of laying up in the summer of prosperity for the winter of adversity, of providing for old age or for our children--but often all these frugal and economic plans have to yield to the exigencies of human need. The love that seeks not its own--plays havoc with life's hard logic. We cannot say that anything is our own when our brother is suffering, from what we can give.
Not a day passes in the commonest experiences of life, in which other people do not stand before us with their needs, appealing to us for some service which we may render. It may be only ordinary courtesy, the gentle kindness of the home circle, the patient treatment of neighbors or customers in business relations, the thoughtful showing of interest in old people or in children. On all sides, the lives of other people touch ours--and we cannot do just as we please, thinking only of ourselves and our own comfort and good--unless we choose to be false to all the instincts of humanity, and all the requirements of the law of Christian love. We must think continually of other people. We may not seek our own pleasure in any way--without asking whether it will harm or impair the comfort of some other.
For example, we must think of other people's convenience, in the exercise of our own liberty, and in the indulgence of our own tastes and desires. It may be pleasant for us to lie late in bed in the morning, and we may be inclined to regard the habit as only a little harmless self-indulgence. But there is a more serious side to the practice. It breaks the harmonious flow of the household life. It causes confusion in the family plans for the day. It makes extra work for the wife or mother. It sorely tries the patience of love.
The other day an important committee of fifteen was kept waiting for ten minutes for one tardy member whose presence was necessary before anything could he done. At last he came sauntering in without even an apology for having caused fourteen busy men a loss of time that to them was very valuable, besides having put a strain on their patience and good nature. We have no right to forget or disregard the convenience of others. A conscientious application of the Golden Rule would cure us of all such carelessness.
These are but illustrations of the way other people impinge upon our lives. They are so close to us that we cannot move without touching them. We cannot speak without having our words affect others. We cannot act in the simplest thing--without first thinking whether what we are about to do will help or hurt others. We are but one of a great family, and we dare not live for ourselves. We must never forget, that there are other people!