Loving your neighbor . . . it's essentially a form of the golden rule. "Love you neighbor as yourself," says Leviticus 19:18. Jesus says that this is the second greatest commandment, right after "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.""On these two commandments," Jesus continues, "depend the whole Law and the Prophets." But here's the rub: loving people is hard because if we're being honest, sometimes people just suck. People make selfish choices. They think about themselves; they think more of themselves than they should; they think less of you than they should. They lie, steal, cheat, commit adultery, murder, hate, argue, and if that's not enough, they're often just unpleasant to be around.
Obviously, I'm exaggerating a little. Not all people are this miserable. But there's a reason for the saying "Ministry would be great if it weren't for the people." Unredeemed people live unredeemed lives. And even redeemed people make a lot of mistakes! I'll admit that I'm not as good at loving my neighbor as I should be. But God has been showing me lately that I'm even worse at this than I thought. Remember the story of the good Samaritan? In Luke 10, a lawyer asks Jesus "Who is my neighbor?" The lawyer wants a definition of what a neighbor is. He wants to know what the minimum is that he can do to fulfill the law. Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan who helps a Jew who was beaten and robbed, detailing how he took care of his wounds and paid his own money to put him up in an inn. You can read the whole story here.
Here's the critical part. Jesus doesn't describe what a neighbor is; he shows what a neighbor does. Neighboring someone is all about what you do. It's a mindset! But Jesus doesn't ignore the question either. In the story, it's a Samaritan who takes care of the assaulted Jew. The Jews and the Samaritans were enemies! They hated each other! So Jesus' answer to the lawyer's question is essentially "Everyone!" Everyone is your neighbor. There is no minimum for fulfilling the law. To fulfill the law, you must love everyone. And no one can do that completely, which is why we need Jesus.
And if that weren't enough of a realization about how far short I fall in loving my neighbor, God has been showing me that there's a whole subset of neighbors that I've been less than loving to. I call this subset "the anonymous neighbor." It's the people you get angry at that aren't even present in a situation. When someone cuts you off on the highway or drives really slow in the fast lane, it's so easy to let yourself be angry at that person. They don't know you're angry . . . so no harm, no foul, right?! Not if you believe, as I do, that that person is still your neighbor. What about when you're at the store and someone stocked the eggs wrong and when you open the refrigerator door, a carton comes sliding out and all the eggs break on your shoes? What about when someone got water all over the bathroom sink counter and you lean against it and now it looks like you wet your pants? What about when someone steals the radio out of your car? Are you angry at the people peripheral to your life who indirectly cause problems for you?
Jesus says in John 13:35, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, you need to start loving people. Not just the people that are easy to love (if indeed such a thing exists), but the people that are hard to love, the people that don't love you back, the people who lie and steal and cheat and commit adultery and murder - yes, even murder - and hate and argue. You need to start loving the people who say nasty things about you on social media. You need to start loving the politicians in the other party. You need to start loving gay people. You need to start loving transgender people. You need to start loving people who put the toilet paper on the wrong way. You need to start loving drivers in other cars. You need to start loving the worst of all the world because I'll tell you this: Jesus absolutely does. And if you want to be like Jesus, you need to start loving your neighbors.