Saturday, November 24, 2007

Loving God and Loving our Neighbors -- a Balance?

Many things in life, particularly the Christian life, are represented as needing balance. Extremes, sometimes dangerous, are on both sides. In many areas this is probably true.

Our love for God is not one of those areas.

The basic commandment is to "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength." James emphasizes the need to "keep himself unspotted from the world." Jesus says we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him.

These are not words of moderation or balance.

So, what are we to do? Go become monks and nuns so we can pray more? Create our own sub-society and minimize our interaction with those around us?

Some Christians and religious people have thought so, but that is not the call God has given us. Right next to the instruction to love God supremely usually comes the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. That involves a lot of interaction with those around us. We don't love our neighbors by tossing some Gospel literature over the fence once in a while. We don't love those hurting from the destructive lifestyles popular in our culture by giving them a "God bless you", "be thou warmed and filled" and going our way.

Neither do we love others by promoting or excusing their sin. The doctor who cares about his patient will tell him to do what he needs to to be more healthy -- stop smoking, lose weight, exercise ... whatever it is. He who loves someone in sin will tell him he needs to be saved from it!

Many groups have promoted either purity or love of others as though the two were in opposition. But the same God who thundered from Sinai "Thou shalt have no other gods" gave the commandment "Love thy neighbor". The same Jesus who drove the polluters from the temple showed compassion to the poorest and brought salvation to the worst.

Some of Christ's followers have also learned to excel in both aspects of love. They have demonstrated that loving God as we should leads us to love our neighbors as we should.

J Hudson Taylor loved the Chinese more than almost anyone of his time. But he loved God supremely. Jim Elliot loved the Aucas, not because they were a likable set of people, but because he loved God. Francis of Assissi could lead his followers to do good among the peasants because, somewhere back in that monastery, he learned to really love God.

The brightest lights in any dark place are those who love God with the greatest purity. Let us let our light shine that men may glorify our Father. We do that by loving others while we keep ourselves unspotted.

I am not endorsing all aspects of any of the organizations with which the Christians I have cited were affiliated. Certainly not the Roman Church of which Francis, made a saint by Christ's blood and not the Pope's decree, was a part. Francis was an early reformer and a shining light within that organization. When I worship in heaven with him, whatever points he still didn't get right won't be so important any more.


Blogger Wesley Wilson said...

Well put. The "social gospel" of ignoring biblical truth and just trying to help under-privileged people is unbiblical. The pietist idea that we should only care about helping souls, not lives and bodies, is also unbiblical.

We do not need a balance between ministering to spiritual vs. physical needs. If we love as Christ taught, we will minister to both.

We must embrace the full truth that Christ expressed in Matthew 25:40. "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

November 26, 2007 at 10:12 AM  

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