Love of Neighbor: A Biblical Definition
By J. Davila Ashcraft
Recently, Dr. Michael Brown shared his insightful article addressing the difficulties in showing love of neighbor when it perhaps conflicts with love of God. The article was, as always the case with Dr. Brown, well written and biblically based. So why am I writing this article as a response?
I think there is something very important missing from Dr. Brown’s article; something I feel must be said. That is, love of neighbor never conflicts with love of God if love is rightly understood.
It is indeed true that many Christians, when faced with the issue of an active homosexual who at the same instant claims to be a Christian, are hesitant to say anything lest they offend them and potentially cause them to lose their faith. Some point to Christ’s admonition to love our neighbor as ourselves as the reasoning behind their reluctance to call that homosexual to repentance (Matthew 22:35-40). The core problem, however, is not just a conflict between the Christian and the humanist worldview, but a non-biblical definition of love.
So what is biblical love, properly defined? There are many words used for love in Sacred Scripture. In the case of Jesus’ admonition the word is agape- or selfless love. How, then, do we selflessly love our neighbor as ourselves? I propose the following definition:
Love of neighbor is to self sacrificially commit oneself to the highest good of another, even as Jesus Christ self sacrificially sought our highest good, and as I seek my own highest good in God.
With this as our working definition the issues gain, I believe, some clarity. In the example of the homosexual the question that naturally arises is, ‘How do I best seek my neighbor’s highest good in this situation?’ Is it truly loving them self sacrificially, or as Christ loved them, to simply ignore the elephant in the room? Am I really seeking my neighbor’s highest good by allowing them to continue in a sin that will ultimately keep them separated from God?
How can we claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ, who Himself warned people repeatedly of the problem of personal sin, and who admonished those whom he saved to “Go, and sin no more”, if we are too self centered- too worried about what others might think of us- to warn them of the impending dangers of sin? If you were headed for a cliff in a car without knowing it, would you not want someone who has that knowledge in the car to tell you?
How can we claim to love someone if, because of social convention or fear, we watch as someone potentially suffers for eternity? Is this at all in keeping with the love that Christ admonishes us to?
I think the answer is pretty clear. If you love your neighbor even half as much as you love yourself, you’ll open your mouth and warn them. Otherwise you’re exactly what Paul describes.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
– 1 Corinthians 13:2
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