Love Requires Action – Loving Your Neighbors

Change Seen Through the Action of Love

"The second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' No other commandment is greater than these." Mark 12:31 (NLT)
“What the World Needs Now”

Love, to truly love, requires action, an action involving the heart, soul, mind, and strength. We continue this week to look at the greatest commandment given to us, loving God and then others. Last week we focused on how to pursue the passion in loving God in Keeping the Passion – Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength. As I compared last week’s verse to this week’s verse I concluded that loving God sounds like an easier task than the action commanded to love others.

Loving others can be a lot more challenging because well we don’t always agree with others, they are different, think different, and have different ideas or ways. Let’s be honest, they are not us. Others are sometimes challenging, difficult to get along with, and their actions(s) just may create a wall that blocks the love we know we should be ready with action to give. Loving others requires us to have a change in action so to truly love others is not passive and cannot and will not occur with simply paying lip service to the word.  There are no two ways about it loving others requires action; a change of action with our intentions or desires of our heart, a change of action in our selfish ways, a change in action on the way we may think, and ultimately a change in real action by the strength of what we do or accomplish. To fulfill love with action we can’t just complete one of these four things we must strive to do them all.  There is a story about how  a change in action can have great impact on both the people who actively change and the changes that occur to those around them.

There was an old monastery that had fallen on hard times and was slowly dwindling away in both spirit and numbers. It used to be a great order and one that everyone knew and looked up to but due to the influences of spikes in anti-monastic persecutions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries along with the rise of secularism in the nineteenth century it lost it branch houses and now was so small there were only five monks left in the crumbling main house; the abbot and four others who were all now elderly men and it was clear that once they had passed the order would certainly disappear.

There was a lush thick forest that surrounded the monastery with only God’s touch of hand with the rich abundance of nature seen except for a small area where a little shelter of a house stood that a rabbi from a nearby village occasionally used as a respite for soul-searching. The old monks through the years had learned to be somewhat psychic because of their many years of prayers and meditation and could always sense when the rabbi was in residence. “The rabbi is in the woods again,” they would whisper to each other. It was on one of these occasions as the abbot was in despair over the obvious decline of his order that he decided to visit the rabbi to see if he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot to his humble abode but when the abbot explained his purpose of the visit the rabbi could offer no advice and could only express his own woes of the same. He readily agreed that he understood as he exclaimed, “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my village. Hardly anyone comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the old abbot and the rabbi lamented together. They spoke a while longer and as the time neared for the abbot to return they hugged one another. The abbot said, “It has been a most wonderful thing that after all these years we have finally met however I feel I have failed my purpose in coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice that you could give that would help me save our dying order?” “No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded. “I have no advice to give except this one thing. The old abbot leaned in closer so he would be sure to hear the sage of wisdom.

The rabbi continued, “The Messiah is one of you.”

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well, what did the rabbi say?” “He could not help us,” the abbot answered. “We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say was just as I was leaving. It was a strange message and full of mystery. He said, ‘The Messiah is one of us.’ I do not know what he meant.”

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, the old monks pondered the mysterious message of the rabbi wondering the significance in the words. Could the Messiah be one of us right here in the monastery? If so who? Perhaps he meant Father Abbot? He has been our leader for many years. Though maybe instead he meant Brother Thomas, he is such a holy man and everyone knows he is full of light. Now of course the rabbi could have meant Brother Eldred. He is a little difficult to get along with but he is usually right. In fact he is very often right so maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Eldred. He couldn’t have meant Brother Phillip though he is so quiet and passive. He never speaks up but then again he is somehow always there when you need him, almost magically. Yes, maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi couldn’t have possibly meant me as I am just ordinary. Yet what if he did? What if I am the Messiah? O’ God, not me, I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?

So each monk began to contemplate in this manner and as the result they began to treat one another with extraordinary love and respect just in case one of them might be the Messiah. And on the “off-chance” that each monk might himself be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with the same extraordinary love and respect.

Because the forest around the monastery was so beautiful, people would still occasionally come to visit the monastery to picnic on the small lawn and wander among its paths. They would even go now and again into the crumbling buildings to mediate. As they did they began to be aware although not really conscious of it that an aura of extraordinary love and respect surrounded the five monks and seemed to radiate out from them and fill the atmosphere of the place. The visitors found themselves drawn to it finding it most attractive and alluring.

The visitors hardly knew why but they felt compelled to come back to the monastery to picnic, play, and pray. Its beauty drew them in and they began to bring their friends to this special place. And in turn their friends brought their friends and soon the grounds filled most days with people wandering about mediating and praying.

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the older monks. And after a while one asked if he could join them. Slowly others also joined and within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order all because of a suggestion. This is seen through a simple action and change of love through the heart, soul, mind, and strength.  A strong center of light and spirituality sprang through love in action.

When we treat one another as if each person were Christ, Himself we will experience and witness love in action. It is then we will be following the greatest commandment given by Jesus found in Mark 12:30 – 31 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” The second part of the great commandment is love in action in a commitment to others and it is this week’s focus.

“The second is equally important: ‘ Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:31 (NLT)

The Action of Loving Neighbors

When I first thought about this verse the word neighbor really jumped out at me and I immediately visualized all my neighbors naming them mentally one by one. If I think about this verse in regards to my immediate neighbors this verse is easy for me to do. I have wonderful neighbors, helping neighbors, neighbors that think and act much like I do so this is not a problem. Well it isn’t a problem now at least, but what if I moved? I know some people who are not too excited about their neighbors and some well, suffice to say, they do not agree on much of anything. However as we dig deeper we realize that the word neighbor does not mean just the people next door or across the street.

The word neighbor from the Greek means those near or nearby. So now we realize that neighbor is not just next door, or down the street. This word neighbor moves us out of our subdivisions and the main road. The word neighbor encompasses all those around us. God wants us to love all the people he created not just the ones that we may look like, live like, or even have the same view points. God expects us to put to action our love for everyone even persons who we may not know or understand. This is why Christ summarized all ten of the commandments into these two. If we love God with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves then we are fulfilling the commandment laws. This is not an isolated suggestion given in the Bible and it is found in multiple places from the Old Testament through the New Testament. (Leviticus 19:18, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8)

It is important that once we understand the word neighbor that we also look at the word love and its translation in this particular verse as there are many types of love. The love used in this verse is love in action. It translates from the Greek word, agapao’, which means to actively do what the Lord prefers. This is the acting of love. It is through action that commands we love the people we may come near. This is a significant amount of people when we look at what a very global and “transportation happy” world we are and how we can be near a lot of people in a very little amount of time. So what does all this mean for us? It means simply that we are to love everyone we may come in contact with through action or actively seeking to love as God would have us do.

Now that is a monumental task and one that we will have to pursue knowing we will need to be in constant prayer and relationship with God  to see us through as we cannot love our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and not love others also. So how should we go about loving our neighbors, does it mean giving everything we have to others and moving through the world like Mother Teresa? Perhaps if that is what you feel God is calling you to do, however for most of us  maybe we should just begin our action of love with those who we are in contact with; the people who are near us in our daily walk. I think we can begin with three small things that may not radically change our lives yet will simply adjust our ways to fit more accordingly with the act of or action of love.

  1. The Action of Time – Time is probably the most precious thing we have and the most difficult thing to part with. Our fast paced world is over preoccupied with time as we are constantly inventing ways to save time, have more time, and cut time. There are gadgets galore that tout the ability to create more time for us. Maybe though we need to think less about time and more about what we are doing with our time.  How is our time being used to show love to others through action?

We need to take the time to listen to people. Love is listening, This is not a preoccupied listening while we are thinking about all the things we need to be doing but a genuine action of listening. The action of listening is possibly the most precious thing that we can give someone because it involves time. It also involves something else – not speaking, something that can be hard to do. We, in the world, need to learn that listening is so important because it really tells us how to move forward with the next step. We cannot listen if we are thinking about what to say or speaking. God gave us two ears and only one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we speak.

2.  The Action of Encouragement – Encouragement is best given if we have followed the action of listening. It is through motivation and acceptance of others that we continue to show the action of love. Encouragement can come in so many ways and doesn’t always involve speaking. Encouragement can often be seen in action through the simple support of the acceptance of others. Encouragement means losing the “us and them” mentality and realizing that we can just as easily be a “them” as we can an “us”.

3.  The Action of Service – This is probably the easiest action of love and the most familiar one to those of faith because it seems to be the simplest. If we want to help people we understand we offer service whether it is food for the bereaved, volunteering at the soup kitchen, or offering a gift of funds to the needy. These actions come easy to most of us and have the double benefit of making ourselves feel good about what we have done. If however we have failed to listen or accept the plight of those we are attempting to serve we have not fully shown the action of love. It then is more a partial action so it is important that when we are offering service that we are doing so with the full action of love combining the action of listening and acceptance with the service we offer.    

I read a story in the Huffington Post written in November 2012 by Frank Fredericks, Love Your Neighbors: An Inspiring Story of Two Friends, about a guy who really showed the action of “loving your neighbor” in the most extraordinary ways. His action of listening, followed by the action of encouragement lead to the action of service that totally changed not only his life but another person’s as well. I have pasted an excerpt of the story but for the full story with images and video please click on the linked title.

One day, Brendan, a young but rising DJ in New York, was coming home to his Brooklyn apartment when a homeless woman asked him for money. He said, honestly, that he had no money. By the end of the week, she asked two more times, and each time he answered “no.” Finally she frankly replied, “You better not, because every day you say no.” Inserting some rational thinking into an otherwise awkward conversation, he proposed, “I am on my way to a job interview. If I get the job, I will take you out for Chinese food.” This promise yielded a friendship that neither were prepared for — that changed the trajectory of their lives, both forwards toward each other.

Brendan got the job. But their friendship didn’t just end with Chinese food. They built a friendship of mutual support, spending their birthdays, holidays and tough times together, over a period of eight years. When Brendan’s heater broke, she made him a blanket. Two days later when he told her that he had lost his job, she disappeared, returning minutes later, bringing him groceries, and which she continued to do throughout the winter. Even with so little, she never hesitated to give back.

Over these years, Jackie moved from the streets and subway stations, into a halfway house, YMCA, and is now moving into an apartment. To celebrate this occasion, Brendan wanted to do something special for Jackie. He went with her to Target, and helped her to pick out everything she’d need for an apartment, starting a registry. Then, he set up a way to pay for the registry (now closed), along with an awesome video telling their story. While their original goal was to raise $500, the campaign went viral and they’ve raised more than $6,000, and are now looking to use the extra funding to support other women in need.

This story really shows a love in action that we should all be committed to no matter our religious or nonreligious backgrounds but for those of us committed to following Christ we must be aware that we are to follow through fully with a love in action. Jesus has made it simple. He took the ten and summed it up in two. We have the “Cliff Notes” version, certified by Christ, of the commandments easy to understand and grasp. We are to love the Lord our God with everything we have heart, soul, mind, and strength, and when and while we are doing that we are to put love into action by making sure that our neighbors, the people near us, the people nearby have adequate food, housing, clothing, and love. We cannot separate these two commandments as we cannot do one without doing the other. (1 John 4:20)

This week as we move through the days I urge us all to remember that we are to love God fully and love those we come in contact with as well. Take the time this week to really listen to someone, perhaps your immediate neighbor or just someone near, encourage them through not only motivation but acceptance, and then consider what service would best help them.  We must remember we cannot claim to love God while neglecting to love those around us who are made in His image.

Love in Christ,

E.J.

Post Script:

”I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

What are Your Thoughts? Join Us in Discussion

How do you show love in action for your “neighbors”? Have you considered how important listening and accepting people are to offering them service? Have you experienced love in action from a fellow “neighbor” like Brendon in the story or shown love to a “neighbor” as Brendon did? Join us in discussion on loving your “neighbor” or other related topics.

How God is working through your life?