Pass the Salt: Loving Your Neighbor & Table Manners
"Christianity is all about the golden rule!" "Love your neighbor like yourself!"
"Just love God and love people!"
Ever heard any of those before? I have and they usually drive me nuts (particularly that last bifurcation for some reason)! Yep these bumper stickerable phrases really make me want to pull my hair out and I'd love to tell you why!
A lot of the time when I hear people use one of these rhetorical ace-in-the-holes they have no desire to learn who their neighbor actually is and even who God is. A while back Doug Wilson was preaching a sermon series entitled "Gospel Presence" where he said something that rang so true to me. It went along the lines of, "Whenever someone says they love everyone it is just a nice way of explaining that they love no one."
Too often in Christian communities we use phrases like the ones I mentioned above as a sort of "get out of jail free card". As long as you give a clean sweeping statement that involves the word love then nothing else matters, no one can attack your universal love!
Something I have begun to think about and talk about is the "how" behind these questions. The next time someone tells me that we just need to "love our neighbors like ourselves." or "Love God and love people." I plan to ask them "how".
I refuse to give another lazy Christian a rhetorical "out" when they play one of these trump cards!
How do we love our neighbors like ourselves?
How do we love God?
How do we love people?
If the essence of Christianity comes down to embodying the phrases above then we better make sure that we've left no stone unturned.
One of the things that most disturbs me when I come across these phrases is that, more than anything else, they are used in defense against some imperative. Let me explain myself and then tell you why that is so disturbing. I may be talking to someone about how I important I think it is for Christians to be familiar with the Old Testament or to participate in regular communion or some other area of action. The defense against admonitions towards these actions is the use of one of the phrases that I initially quoted like, "I just want to love God and love people".
The reason I find this so disturbing is because the phrases above are in themselves highly imperative (action oriented). Love, Biblically speaking is not a feeling or an attitude but an action. The Bible teaches that to possess great love is to act great things, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Again, the most famous passage on love in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) is all about what love does & doesn't do.
But this leads us to another problem. Whenever we begin to speak of love in this way, especially in modern contexts, we have a tendency to "over-spiritualize" love.
I want to suggest a few forms of acting out the greatest commandment that may seem a little small to you but could be a great place to start if your struggling with an incarnational idea of love:
- Being punctual
- Leaving the public bathroom better than you found it.
- Responding in an appropriate time to messages, calls, etc.
- Dressing appropriately and modestly
- Practicing basic table manners
- Practicing clear communication
- Saying "please", "thank you", "Sir" & "Ma'am"
All to often we believe that the actual moments that make up our lives do not matter when it comes to the big picture things like loving God and our neighbor. This is a product of dualism that is rampant in the current way many Christians think about and view the world. We tend to think that what we believe holds more of a sway on us than what we actually practice throughout our days and our weeks.
We are offered thousands of opportunities to love God and our neighbor everyday and unfortunately we all too often deem those opportunities as "secular" areas of our life. Only when we adopt a full-Gospel integrated worldview will we begin to see how much of an opportunity God gives us to love every day and how much we must rely on His Spirit to begin to obey his word.
Thankfully, Jesus, filled with the Spirit, preformed every action he ever committed in love to God, His father, and neighbor. He has delivered His Spirit to His church which is now equipped to cover the world in the Love of God in Christ!
Food for thought.