The hardest commandment: love your neighbor

Throughout the Bible, there are lots of commands to love people. Why? 

Obviously because it’s important. But it’s also interesting that the command keeps coming up. 

The fact that it has to be told to us over and over again points to the fact that it’s actually hard for us to do. The Bible doesn’t call us to do things are super simple and which come naturally to us. 

There’s no command to love chocolate in the Bible. 

Loving people is hard. And part of why it’s hard is because we don’t think it’s hard. 

It goes back to how we use the language of the things we love. If we will throw around the word “love” for things we don’t actually even love, then we believe in an idea of love that’s pretty easy. 

The Greek language actually had four words for four different types of love. I’m not going to get into all of those this morning, but even to know that fact is interesting. That there are different ideas of love, different types of love. 

And we probably all understand that but we only have one word for love. We don’t think it’s hard to love people because we think love is easy. 

Real love is hard. 

Sometimes when we say “love,” what we really mean is tolerance. Let and let live is not love. That’s easy. Anyone can do that. 

We do love our families. That’s usually pretty easy, at least for most of them. They’re our family. But we’re called to love everyone. 

Now, that’s easy to do in that aggregate. It’s easy to love humanity as a human race and want what’s best for it. And that’s fine. But that’s also pretty easy because that’s so big and broad that we can also still get away without having that really needing to impact how we live. 

But what about loving the people who are hard to love. 

Jesus and love

We see that from Jesus throughout his ministry. 

We see him associating with those his society most despised. We see him visit lepers, people who were viewed as inherently unclean and who were outcasts in their society. We see him show grace to a woman who was a prostitute. 

One of his disciples was a tax collector. Tax collectors were hated in their society. For the Jewish people, they were looked at as being traitors to their people. Taking money from Israelites to give to Rome. We see Jesus show grace to those who hated him, personally. Pharisees who plotted against him, guards who beat him, officials who crucified him. 

Jesus loved the groups who were hard to love. 

Every society has its groups it looks down upon. We see how Jesus showed love. Who are the groups with whom our society struggles? 

Criminals. People who struggle with addiction. 

People who have hurt us. And that can be hard. There’s incredible damage people can inflict. Forgiveness can be hard. Let alone saying that we love that person. 

People who have different political views than us. The division right now in this country is incredible. Some of us can really struggle with not being judgemental on those who have some different political views. 

You still have to love them. 

How do we love people? It begins not with the people, but with the God we serve. Loving others is, and especially loving those who are hard to love is a reflection of our love for God. 

We are to love others because we have a savior who loves us when we were unlovable. 

Knowing the love God has for us. Knowing the need others have for grace and the gospel. Knowing that every person we meet is created in the image of God and is worthy of value and dignity. 

How do we love people? 

By praying for a person, by sharing the good news of Jesus with someone, by showing kindness to someone, by serving someone. By stepping into a person’s life. 

Jesus stepped into our world to show love for our world. 

Jesus went out and found the people who were hard to love. We actually can have pretty good control of our surroundings to avoid people we don’t want to be around. And I’m not saying that we all need to make a checklist of every difficult group. But let me ask you this: when is the last time you’ve had to regularly interact with someone who challenged you? When was the last time you’ve been around someone where you’ve had to turn to God and ask you for strength to love that person? 

For some of us, maybe it’s been recent. 

And I’m not even saying that you need to go out today and go out of your way to find the most difficult person you possibly can. But I think we do need to have some humility that love is actually hard. The love that God calls us to is hard. But Jesus didn’t shy away from us, he didn’t walk away from our world, he entered into it. He loved us when we were unlovable. 

We can’t do it perfectly. But we have a savior who loves us perfectly. 

And the more we understand God’s grace, and the more we grow in our love for God, the more that is meant to impact our love for those around us. 

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