LEARNING TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR
“Dear friends, let us practice loving each other, for love comes from God and those who are loving and kind show that they are children of God, and that they are getting to know Him better.” 1 John 4:7 (LB)
As the pastor concluded his homily with the admonition that “We are to love our neighbor as ourselves”, I heard a voice from a neighboring pew mutter “He must have a different kind of neighbor than mine; that so and so living next door to us is worthless!” At first I was a mite chagrined by his pithy observation, but as I reflected a bit, I realized that it is true that some people are more difficult to love than others. What is the solution? Love some and dislike the others? Our Lord command does not seem to allow such exceptions. Further, He states: “This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples---when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:34 Msg.)
I believe we waste time when we fret whether we ‘love’ our neighbor or not; rather we should act like we do! As soon as we start doing this, we will discover a great secret: When we are behaving as if we love someone, we will presently (it might take awhile) love him. Instead of trying to manufacture feelings of love, ask yourself, “If I did love him, what would I do?” When you find the answer, start doing it! At first it will seem a bit uncomfortable, maybe even your neighbor will be surprised but keep at it; it will become natural!
Everyone believes that love is important; but love is usually thought of as a feeling. In reality, love is a choice and an action. Love involves a concern for the welfare of others and it is not called forth by any quality of lovabilityness in the person loved, but is the product of a will to love in obedience to our Lord’s command. When we became Christians, we received the Holy Spirit and He gives us power to love. (Romans 5:5, 8:9; and 2 Corinthians 1:22) All we need is to rely on that power and as we reach out to others.
The second “secret” in learning to love our neighbor is to eliminate the sobriquet ‘so and so’ and address him in your thoughts and actions by his proper name. As long as we fail to eradicate the epithet ‘so and so’ from our mind, we will continue to deny him of his personage and neglect to see him as a fellow child of God and therefore worthy of our love.
In conclusion, a life of love reflects a deliberate choice on our part. We must choose this lifestyle against our natural bent for self centerness. Soon with the Holy Spirit’s helping us, our new way of life becomes natural behavior and will be reflected in the lives of those around us. In the meanwhile, let us try to internalize the wisdom of John and “practice loving each other”.