I don’t know if you’re like me, but this directive seems a lot easier to me than some of them. For instance, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (from Matthew 22:39) seems impossibly hard unless I put it in the context of Luke 6:31, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”
Do you feel a difference? Here’s what happens in me. I am most aware of my own needs and spend most of my life providing for the needs and comfort of myself and my own family and friends. On the other hand, I try to treat all people with whom I interact with respect and fairness, and that is what I hope for from others toward me. I don’t expect others to meet my needs; I do expect that others will not thwart my honest efforts to meet my own needs. That is the essence of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” isn’t it?
So, I think of this command as the “Golden Rule,” sort of “Human Decency 101.” In the book of James we get another look at this command, where it is called the “royal law:” “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9). In this passage, we get another clue about what “loving your neighbor as yourself” looks like: No prejudice! No picking favorites when it comes to being kind and doing good. Be fair with everyone!
Being fair is the first step toward love, but probably not the last step. As we learn of Jesus, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). This goes way beyond being fair and giving everyone an equal chance to work for their own “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I don’t know about you, but I am willing (and on occasions eager) to sacrifice myself to ease the burdens of those I love, but I don’t have a lot of natural compassion for strangers, at least for those who have no visible signs of disability or neediness. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that if I saw someone dying by the side of the road, I would go to a lot of trouble to try to rescue them (although I stand in awe of the good Samaritan, who provided so fully for the wounded man’s care). Wouldn’t you?
I bet most people would go to the aid of someone in dire need unless they were afraid for their own life. This might be considered “Human Kindness 101,” which makes me think of the passage in 2 Peter, where we are told to grow one step deeper, from “brotherly kindness” to “charity.” This gets tougher! Many mature people have a heart for compassion and “brotherly kindness,” but few attain true “charity,” or the ability to love others (particularly “neighbors” when you define them as anybody in need) sacrificially. And, what about the beggars by the wayside? In America, we never used to see people begging anywhere, but now it’s not uncommon to see someone with a sign up and a hand out. When Alan and I visited Singapore, we learned that begging was an offense that could land you in jail, so there are very few beggars there. (There are those who peddle goods, however.)
To give, or not to give? That’s a complex question. Most of the research I’ve read suggests that beggars need to be steered toward agencies that can access their true needs and assist them in getting the care they need (which might be emotional as well as physical) before helping them learn how to help themselves. In Grand Rapids, we have several ministries, such as Mel Trotter, that will provide food, shelter, and support (including vocational training) for those who are destitute. Pine Rest Christian Ministries reaches out to those with true mental illness. Exalta Health is another ministry downtown that provides for medical, emotional, and spiritual needs at greatly reduced prices. If you have a heart to give, you might consider giving to a local ministry you personally trust to provide for the true needs of the poor. Internationally, there is a “Comcare Hotline” that can help people. Many communities have some type of church-related or government-based help for the poor. It would be worth our while to know what’s out there so we can at least make sure panhandlers know about these options. Beyond that, we have the resource of the Holy Spirit to guide us individually as we seek to love others in a way that is actually “loving” them rather than supporting possibly lazy or dysfunctional lifestyles.
Whatever we do, it’s good to keep in the forefront of our thinking the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This may not be the ultimate act of sacrificial love, but it sure is a good beginning! May we love others as we love ourselves, using the same standards of expectation and mercy. May we expect from others what we expect from ourselves. May we have compassion on those in genuine need, as we would want others to have compassion on us in our times of need. May we be fair. May we be merciful. May we pray without ceasing, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us into Love as we interact with all those around us.
“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (2 Peter 1:2-9).