If you are like most people…you answers are scattered all across the spectrum.
Merriam Webster defines it as: a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
On a website called canyoudefinelove.com People write in their answers…some are obviously better than others.
“Love is like DNA: Different for Everyone.”
“infatuation is the onset to love; without it there could be no love.”
“Love is a connection that you are comfortable being in and with that person on the other side of the connection.”
“Love is an emotion you feel when you experience someone or something that gives you happiness.”
“To love someone is to be willing to risk your life for that person, to be with them in good times and bad times, and to always put their needs above yours.”
We attempt to define love in all kinds of ways…and I think our struggle to define it is complicated by the fact that we only have one word for it…love.
The Greeks used 3 words to describe various aspects we combine into one, single idea we simply name love. They had eros to describe the emotional/romantic/sexual side of love. They had phileo to describe the friend/family kind of love it was meant, in that culture, to include all humanity and how to treat them, and they had agape which was an active, non-self-seeking love.
Leviticus receives a LOT of attention because of Leviticus 17-20…the Rules…lots and lots of rules. 613 commandments to be more precise…613 mitzvot scattered throughout the entirety of the Pentateuch…most of which are here in these few chapters of Leviticus.
Some of these Laws are difficult to comprehend…and their punishments often seem worse. Many of these Laws served an immediate purpose…they were instituted as a way of defining who the people of God were in contention to the cultural tribes around them. Many of the Laws are in direct protest of practices of these tribes.
It would be easy, and really too simplistic, to just focus on the Laws. Because sometimes by focus on the specifics we miss the central theme of this section…
See, these chapters build up to a very important moment…In the very center of this section is Leviticus 19:18,
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
We know this first verse very well. Even those outside the church know it. Many of us will want to come at this from a NT/Jesus perspective…but first we must understand how the Jews understood it.
For centuries, Rabbis, scholars, and Jewish practitioners interpreted this passage in a very particular way…I love those around me who are following God.
“Loving your neighbor as yourself” was understood not as loving the many people in the world, but loving those within the nation and people of Israel…Jews and God Fearers.
And this is a love that most anyone is good at.
It is easy to love those who are like us. Even if we don’t like the person, we will still treat them better than people who are not like us. Kind of like family…there are family members we don’t like, but because they are family they will be treated better than people we don’t know or someone outside the family.
And most of the interpretation of Old Testament and the institute of its laws are based on this kind of love. We should love our neighbor, those closest to us, those like us, those who are Jews…and we should do so by the way we act.
The other side of this coin is they could treat people outside of the Jewish faith and family any way the wanted…and they did.
Jesus Changes Everything.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all share the story of Jesus and an expert in the Law discussing the greatest commandment. Rabbi’s and scholars often discussed whether there was one Law or one concise way to sum up all of the Old Testament laws…
Luke 10:27-29 tells us that the expert in the Law summed it up with these two points…
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
That last statement is the reason I used the passage from Luke because in answering it, Jesus is about to change everything. When we hear Jesus say things like “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Love your enemies” we all, like this expert in the Law, want to justify ourselves…they have built their entire understanding of the Old Testament and their faith on the idea that love for neighbor only means those in the faith.
So Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. It is a story we are all probably very familiar with. Too familiar with in fact because we don’t see how scandalous Jesus is being.
Just by way of refresher: A Jewish man is traveling when he is beaten, robbed, and left for dead alongside a road. A Priest and a Levite both see the man and pass by on the other side of the road. Jesus gives no explanation as to their decision. Maybe they were late. Maybe they didn’t want to be made unclean for worship in the Temple…because if the man died or were already dead they couldn’t worship. Maybe they feared that sticking around would make them vulnerable to ambush by the same men who robbed this guy. Whatever their reason, Jesus doesn’t seem to care…because whatever their reason was it wasn’t good enough, in Jesus’ eyes, for them to ignore a hurting man.
Instead, Jesus tells of a man, a Samaritan, who stops and helps this man. We have so come to like this story that we automatically think of Samaritans as “good” people. But in being so familiar with this story we miss how scandalous this was for Jesus’ listeners. In order to fully grasp how hard it was for people around Jesus to hear this story we have to rename him with some of today’s monikers of people you and I might hate or distrust or not want touching us…
We might rename this…
The story of the Good Abortion Rights Activist
The story of the Good homosexual
The story of the Good Al Sharpton
The story of the Good Sarah Palin
The story of the Good Democrat…or Republican
The story of the Good Taliban or Al-Queda
Jesus radically changes our idea of neighbor.
He takes this OT concept of “Love your neighbor as yourself” and forces us to see EVERYONE as our neighbor.
And by everyone, Jesus means EVERY ONE…even our enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
You and I are called, as followers of Jesus, to demonstrate love even for those who hate us and would persecute us…those who dislike us…those who make us angry…those who would just as soon kill us as look at us.
These are the very same people Jesus calls us to treat as neighbors…to Love as ourself. When we start to see what Jesus really means when he says this kind of stuff it is not an easy realization.
Think back of the past few weeks or months…when have you been most angry or fearful…watching a protest on the news…hearing about another terrorist attack…reading a post or tweet from someone online…I believe our anger and our fear are the best indicators of the people we are most challenged to learn to love as neighbors.
Jesus doesn’t stop with simply redefining neighbor…
Jesus radically changes our idea of love.
John 15:12-13 says,
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Jesus defines love by the willingness to sacrifice on behalf of the person…and Jesus’ entire life was an example of this…
We, in our sin, are enemies of God, and yet
Romans 5:6-8;10 says,
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Jesus took this idea of “loving our neighbor as ourselves” and lived it out in the grandest example…while we were still powerless and living as enemies of God he loved us so much he sacrificed himself to win our salvation.
And that what He calls us to live out every day of our lives toward those around us we both like and dislike, those who would do us good and those who would do us harm.
Here is how we should define love based on the Life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…Love is the willingness to give up everything we see as valuable, including our life, for the betterment of anyone around us.
There are many who would say, “Yes, but if I love someone I have to tell them the truth!” I would agree. Part of loving someone means we speak the truth to them, but I would also say that telling someone the truth only comes after you have lived sacrificially on that person’s behalf.
“But if I love this way then people will take advantage of me!” You are absolutely right. But love is not about the person accepting our offer of love…it is about whether I am willing, whether you are willing to offer your life in sacrifice for them.
Loving others in this way will bring you persecution…it will cause people to be angry with you…to call you weak, accuse you of being a heretic, make false claims about you…they will say you are complacent about sin and you are sending people to hell…that you are not telling people the truth…
And yet we are called to sacrifice…sacrifice our reputation…sacrifice what others think of us…maybe even sacrifice our life work…our income…our good American life…maybe even our last breath…to defend the weak, the powerless, the beaten up, the downtrodden, the unrepresented, the discriminated against
When I play sports I get VERY competitive. Just ask Sue Donaldson or Shannon Moen or anyone else I’ve play Volleyball with. Who ever said, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game” is an idiot. Winning is WAY more fun than losing. Play hard, play to win…
This week I was playing basketball at the school where I work. Even in this pick-up game of basketball I don’t like to lose. We have this kid who does some stupid things when playing, and he was on my team. He takes shots no one should take. He doesn’t pay attention to people around him so the ball is always getting stolen. When he gets a fast break he gets moving too fast and can’t stop so he ends up trying to shoot a basket from behind the basket…
So Thursday we are playing and he keeps making these stupid plays, when one member of our team says, “You are an f_____ retard!” For me that crossed the line…I shouted out at him, “Do not call him that! Just because he makes a stupid play doesn’t give you the right to call him that!”
People laughed because I was simultaneously defending and insulting the kid. That wasn’t my intention. The play was stupid, but that doesn’t give people the right to berate or cut at his self-worth. And I knew it was my place to stand up for him.
We live in a world where people are broken, hurting, and sinful. There are lifestyles we disagree with. There are political stances we may abhor. But as Christians, we are called to love in the very same way Jesus loved us. Sacrificially. Willing to sacrifice everything, even our lives, to defend others…especially those in minority.
How you and I treat and defend the homeless is an indicator of our love.
How you and I treat and defend the immigrant whether legal or illegal is an indicator of our love.
How you and I treat and defend those of a different race, sex, sexual-orientation…says more about our love than anything else.
We can have all kinds of opinions on whether or not a particular action is sinful or not…
what should be done with someone who has entered our county illegally…whether a person’s decision making has led them to this point in their life…
What Jesus does not allow us to have a difference of opinion on is whether we should live in sacrificial love toward the people around us, and demonstrate that love in very practical ways.
Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross says that we who follow His name are to live with such love and forgiveness that we are willing to stand and die sacrificial deaths even for those with whom we vehemently disagree.
And Jesus’ Resurrection is God’s undeniable stamp of approval on living life like that.