By J.R. Miller
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Mark 12:31
Definitions are important. Who is my neighbor? What is it to love my neighbor? If we can make "neighbor" mean just a little set of people, our own set; and if we can define "love" to suit our own selfish notions, it will be comparatively easy to pray, "Lord, incline our hearts to keep this law." But Scripture does not yield itself to our interpretation in this way. We cannot take its words, as the potter takes the clay, and mold them to suit our pleasure. Both neighbor and love are clearly defined in the Bible.
It once happened that a certain man asked Jesus WHO his neighbor was, and we have the answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan. A neighbor is anyone who happens to be near us and is in any need, distress, or danger. He may be the worst man in the land, outlawed by his own sins; still if he is near to us and needs our help--he is our neighbor, the man the commandment bids us to love. We would be willing enough to love our neighbors, if we could choose them--but this we cannot do. We must let God choose the particular neighbor He wants us to love.
WHAT is it to love our neighbor? It is the loving that is hard. We could do almost anything else, short of loving unpleasant neighbors.
But love is the word, and no revised version changes it. No matter how disagreeable, unlovely, unworthy, our neighbors for the time may be, still the commandment persistently and relentlessly says to us, "You shall love him!"
Our neighbors are about us all the time, needing our love. Indeed, they touch our lives so continually, that we must guard our every look, word, and act--lest we hurt some sensitive spirit.
Some people seem to forget that other people have feelings. They are constantly saying words and doing things which give pain. True love is thoughtful. We ought to train our hearts to the most delicate sense of kindness, that we may never ever jokingly give pain to any other human being. Our neighbors have hearts, and we owe to every one of them--the beggar we meet on the street, the poor wretch we find crawling in the mire of sin's debasement, the enemy who flings his insults in our face--to everyone, we owe the love that is thoughtful, gentle, and gives no hurt.
We should train ourselves to such reverence, to such regard for human life, that we shall never injure the heart of one of God's creatures, even by a disdainful look.
Our love ought also to be patient. Our neighbor may have his faults. But we are taught to bear with one another's infirmities. If we knew the story of men's lives, the hidden burdens they are often carrying for others, the unhealed wound in their heart--we would have most gentle patience with them. Life is hard for most people, certainly hard enough without our adding to its burdens--by our criticisms, our jeering and contempt, and our lack of love.
The things love does NOT do, must also be considered. Many of us fail in our neglect of love's duty--quite as much as in the wounds we give to others. We walk in cold silence beside one whose heart is aching or breaking, not saying the warm, rich word of love we might say, and which would give so much comfort. All about us are hungry ones, and the Master is saying to us, "Give them something to eat!" (Mark 6:37). But we are withholding from them--what we might give; and they are starving--when they might be filled.
We do not mean to be neglectful. The fact is, we have no idea that we could be of such blessing to others, as we might be. We do not dream that with our poor, coarse barley loaves--we might feed thousands. We are too frugal with our heart gifts. God has given us love--that with it we may make life sweeter, better, easier, more victorious and joyful for others. We do a grievous wrong to those about us--when we are stingy with the measure of love we give them; when we withhold the words of cheer, appreciation, encouragement, affection, and comfort which are in our hearts to speak; or when we fail to do the gentle, kind things we could so easily do--to make life happier and more pleasant for them.
The lesson is of wide--and has the very widest application. It touches our relationships with all men. It touches the pushing of our business interests; in our ambition to get, we must not forget our neighbor. It touches our influence; we must not do that which will hurt our neighbor or cause him to stumble. It has its important bearing on missions; we owe love to the perishing ones far or near--to whom we may carry or send the gospel of salvation.
"Your neighbor" is any man, woman, or child, of whatever character, condition, nation, or religion, whom God may place near you in need.
But there is an inner circle. There is a brotherhood in Christ that is closer still. We are to do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith. That does not mean, merely one's own particular church.
One who went up in a balloon said that as he arose, the fences that divided the country into fields and farms faded out, until soon he saw only one great, wide, beautiful landscape of meadow and field and forest, with winding stream and river, shining in rich loveliness beneath the pure skies. So it is, as we rise nearer to God in love and faith and Christian experience. The fences that divide God's great church into ecclesiastical farms and pasture fields, grow smaller and smaller, until at last they vanish altogether; and we see only one wide, holy, Christlike church. All true Christians are one in Christ. Most differences of denominationalism are but of minor importance, in comparison with the love of Christ, the cross, the Bible, and heaven--which all true Christians have in common. We should learn to love one another as Christians; love soon breaks down the fences. We should comfort one another and help one another, on the way home.