Most will recognize this title as one of the most famous admonitions of Jesus of Nazareth. But most of us don’t have much experience in fulfilling it. How can we turn this around?
Where Does This Love Come From?
I’ve written elsewhere that Biblical love is action, not some intangible emotional feeling. We might say it’s “animated care”.
The source and cause of the inspiration to extend this care is the Holy Spirit, for those who are Christ-followers. They find that their now-natural inclination is to extend care to others. Their internal attitude is that there is nothing more important – their own time, treasure, or convenience – than helping another in need.
For non-Christ-followers, the internal calculus is next to impossible to overcome – their time, their treasure, their convenience. For them, this admonition of Jesus leads to nothing but angst. They may think it’s good and that they should do it. They just can’t.
Two Perfect Models
As I have written previously, the key components of Biblical love, as documented in the Bible, are Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness of the one extending the love. Justice is the motivating principle to assure that the loved ones’ rights are not infringed. If they may be, or have been, our care in remedying this situation is an expression of extending our love to them.
Mercy is a kindred of Justice. If in responding to a neighbor’s potential or actual loss of his rights we forego our own, we are extending mercy to him. We see this most dramatically in both of our examples, but perhaps the most practical example is in the allegory of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37). In this story, the Samaritan foregoes his time, treasure, and potential safety by providing care to the victim, thus extending him mercy.
Faithfulness is trustworthiness. It is that character in us that assures the loved one that we will not abandon them once having started to help. Think about it. The Samaritan not only helped the victim in the moment and saw to his immediate needs (bandaging, taking him to an inn where he could recover), but returned to follow up with his care and take care of the costs of his accommodations and food. We’re no good, ultimately, to anyone if all we do is show some charity to one in need, but then disappear. That’s not actually love nor is it caring for the person in his circumstance.
So what is the second perfect model? Christ Himself, of course. His mission was not only to extend God’s justice to His humanity, it was to do so by the ultimate act of mercy – foregoing one’s human life for the benefit of the one loved (us). The whole enterprise of Jesus the Christ was one of faithfulness. God’s redemption had been promised throughout the history of Israel, both for them and for the “nations”. And now, here it was. God is the author of faithfulness.
Extending love to our neighbors is a vocation enabled by God and His Christ. Attempting to be faithful to it but not to Christ can only yield disappointment and discouragement. Christ in His Holy Spirit is the source of this love. Without Him it is not technically impossible, but, as a practical matter, will only result in disappointment and angst rather than joy.