I believe that if you spoke with most Believers and asked them if they followed the Bible they would tell you that they do. If you were to go to most pastors and asked them if they were following the commands of Scripture they would tell you that they are. So everything is fine, right?
Well, maybe not. I am not writing this article do decry the state of the modern church, or to point to the hypocrisy of those who claim to follow the Bible and the actions that they take. Why? Because all of that has been done before and what good has that done? Very little from my perspective.
What if we have been taking the wrong approach all along? What if we have been missing the root problem Scripture is addressing? What if all we are dealing with are the effects of a much deeper issue? What is the Bible really trying to teach us? Let me offer a few observations.
If you were ask a Believer, “What are the two greatest commandments in all of Scripture?” What answer would you get? If they have read their Bible at all the pat answer would be this: Tho love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. This is what Jesus taught in Matthew 22:36-40:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Simple right? You would think so, but what if I were to tell you that from my perspective very few people are taking this seriously? These words tend to flow off the tongue and they are repeated and taught often, but the real meaning of these commands and their application seem to be lost on most people. For the remainder of the article I would like to focus on the second greatest commandment: To love your neighbor as yourself.
It seems pretty self explanatory. It is just a restating of the golden rule like: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or, What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor, or, Treat other people how you would like to be treated. These are all good sayings, but the reason that these sayings are not very effective is that they have a different meaning for each person. These need to be clarified a bit further to be useful. Thankfully, the Bible provides more details. So let’s look at this command a bit closer to see what it is really talking about.
Jesus taught this:
You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again,anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca*,’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to the fire of hell. -Matthew 5:21-22
*Raca means “empty-headed” someone who is an idiot or a moron.
If we look closely at this passage we will notice a few things. Number one is that Jesus is putting calling someone a fool in the same category as murder. Number two is that as the offenses get smaller the punishments get bigger. The smaller the infraction the bigger the consequences. Now how is that fair? Jesus is being more than fair He is teaching from what most people know to what only a few people know. Most people know it is wrong to commit murder. Most people do not know that it is wrong to call someone a fool. What is more since most people do not know that it puts them in a very dangerous position. They continue to practice what is wrong not knowing that it is wrong. Therefore, they do not correct themselves, they do not change their ways, nor do they repent. This puts them in danger of the fires of hell.
So what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? There are many verses that teach us how to do this but for now I would like to focus on the ones found in Leviticus:
You shall not go around peddling gossip among your people, you shall not stand up against the blood of your neighbor.
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. -Leviticus 19:16-18
Here we have a step by step guide on how to love your neighbor as yourself. When Jesus referenced this commandment He was quoting a commandment that came at the end of a list belonging to the same category. How you view your neighbor and what you say about him or her. Let’s take a look at these one by one.
You shall not go around peddling gossip among your people.
All English translations translate the Hebrew word here as a slanderer, but the word really means someone who gossips. One who slanders make false accusations, but one who gossips speaks the truth with the intent of harming someone’s reputation in some way. The commandment is to refrain from spreading true information that casts people on a negative light.
You shall not stand up against the blood of your neighbor.
This is an idiom, in present day vernacular you would say, do not stand idly by as your neighbors blood is being spilled.’ This is connected to the previous commandment the one who spreads gossip is engaging in sinful behavior, but the one who listens to gossip is also guilty. Blood is equal to life so the one who is ruining a reputation is taking away the life of the other person. The one who listens to gossip is standing by while his neighbors life is being taken from him.
You shall not hate your brother in your heart.
This is one of a very few number of commands telling a person what they cannot do in their heart. God is telling His people not to secretly hate another person. It is not allowed. in fact it is subject to God’s judgment. This should be a sober warning.
You shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.
Why would you hate your brother in your heart? Because he is in sin and you are secretly judging him instead of going to speak with him and set things right.The sin would be to continue to hate your brother and think less of him. Rather go to him and sit down and have a reasonable conversation with him and work to bring him to the truth.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people.
God does not want us to take matters into our own hands by dealing out vigilante justice. God does not want us to hold grudges against others. If someone is ‘getting away’ with something then it is not up to us to take matters into our own hands, rather we should follow biblical guidelines in an effort to bring about repentance in the heart of the other person.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Now we can see what this means. To love your neighbor as yourself means to not gossip, nor listen to gossip. It means to not judge people for what they do but to go to them and work things out. It means letting God rule over the lives others living free from the need to get even.
So how are we doing?
This article is not meant to be a battering ram, but a bettering ram. How are you doing with this? Do you find yourself falling into these traps? Take some time for some self examination. How many people are actually doing them? What would it be like if we all followed these commandments? Does this shed some light on the commands of Jesus?
If you agree with me on this how about we do something about it? Will you join with me in working on these things? If we can begin to seriously follow what the Bible says, and what Jesus teaches we can make a real difference in the congregation of God. Just imagine what it would mean. No gossip, no slander, no judgment, no grudges, it begins in the heart of each individual. Let that sink in for a moment, then make your decision.