The lawyer had talked himself into a corner, and he knew it. He had intended to trick Christ, to somehow embarrass this upstart Nazarene carpenter. But his plan had backfired. He wasn't tempting Christ; rather, Christ was convicting him. The lawyer had asked Christ, "Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25). Christ turned the question around: "What is written in the law? How readest thou?" (verse 26). Better be careful here, the lawyer thought to himself. Then, in reply to Christ's question, he named the two great commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself' (verse 27). Now, the lawyer thought, what can Christ answer to that? But Christ agreed with him! "Thou hast answered right," Jesus said. "This do, and thou shalt live" (verse 28). The conversation was certainly not going the way the lawyer expected it to. The lawyer knew, inside, that though he was familiar with what the Scriptures said, he was not in the habit of acting according to that knowledge — not obeying God completely. And even now, his carnal mind rebelled. He couldn't let Jesus show him up — he certainly couldn't admit that Christ was right and begin to change his way of life. "But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?" (verse 29). That's it, the lawyer thought. I'll act as if I don't know what this "prophet" is talking about. Perhaps the lawyer felt that the only way out of the corner into which he had talked himself was to argue with Christ over terminology. After all, what did Jesus mean by "neighbor"? Do we do the same today? Do we attempt to justify ourselves by pretending we don't know who our neighbors are? Who is your neighbor? The man next door? The person who works alongside you? Is it anyone who is in trouble and needs help? Does the term neighbor refer only to members of your family, or does it even refer to those outside your immediate family?
The problem is not determining who our neighbor is. The real problem is loving our neighbor as we ought to. It was the same with the lawyer in this example. Very likely, he assumed he had fulfilled the first great commandment to love God. He did not want to be condemned for breaking the second great commandment by being unresponsive to his neighbor. Neither do any of us want to be condemned — but we all stand condemned until we learn to fulfill the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves! The lawyer's real question was not, "Who is my neighbor?" He knew who his neighbor was, just as each of us knows who our neighbor is: Our neighbor is every human being with whom we come in contact. The lawyer's real problem was that, carnally, he, 1.) didn't want to love his neighbor and, 2.) did not know how to love his neighbor even if he had wanted to. This is our problem as well. Man, under Satan's sway, is just naturally competitive and resentful of neighbor, not caring and concerned. The problem of wanting to or knowing how to love our neighbor is spiritual, not physical. God declares in Romans 8:6-7 that "to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." God's law is spiritual. Man does not naturally perceive spiritual truth — God must reveal it. Therefore we see, throughout human history, conflict between man and his neighbor.
Your brother's keeper?
We can see the results of this carnal approach to neighbor in earliest human history, in the example of Cain and Abel. Adam, the father of Cain and Abel and our first parent, had partaken of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. Adam chose to decide for himself what his relationship would be with both God and man. Notice the impact of Adam's decision upon his children. In time, both Cain and Abel brought offerings to God. Abel's sacrifice was acceptable. Cain's was not. The reasons why one offering was acceptable and the other was not are irrelevant here. The fact remains that Cain's sacrifice was unacceptable to God. Cain had been derelict or greedy and his performance was inadequate. God asked Cain the reason for his fallen countenance and his bad attitude. God reminded Cain that if he obeyed Him and did that which was proper, his offering would also be acceptable, as was Abel's (Gen. 4:7). If Cain decided to cheat on the offering, sin was present. But Cain's reaction was not one of regret or sorrow. He didn't apologize to God, repent of his improper sacrifice and agree to rectify the error. Rather, the more Cain thought about it, the more upset he became. Cain's self-image was tarnished. When he compared himself with his brother Abel, he was lacking. This hurt Cain deeply. But rather than correct his approach and attitude, Cain allowed his rage and frustration to build to such a level that he killed his brother Abel. What did this resolve? Nothing. Cain didn't realize that his real frustration was with himself, God and God's law. His human reaction was to lash out at his brother, who had no part in his sin. All Abel did was obey God. Cain's competitive spirit caused violence within the human family at a time when there was only a handful of people on earth. But Cain didn't understand what the problem was. Likewise, none of us sees clearly our true feelings toward our neighbor until God reveals them to us. Then and only then can we correct our attitude. After Cain murdered Abel, God asked him, "Where is Abel thy brother?" (verse 9). God already knew, of course, but the question was convicting and corrective. Cain replied, "I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain responded to God in a resentful and hostile attitude. Cain's reaction makes no sense to a converted mind. But the way of the carnal mind is resentment toward God and competition, envy, strife and greed toward neighbor. One industrial executive, well known in his field, commented publicly about the competition in his particular business. This man, chairman of the board of his company, stated: "This is a tough business. People aren't happy just to succeed — they want you to fail." A startling statement indeed about man's natural, carnal proclivity toward his neighbor!
God's law magnified
The first step toward fulfilling God's commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is to recognize that we do not, nor can we, truly love our neighbor, humanly speaking. We are prone to be selfish, wanting the best for ourselves, competing with our neighbor, wanting him to fail while we succeed. God established the purpose for human existence, and man, cut off from God, doesn't know that purpose. God must reveal it. God created man to become a part of God's very Family. We have to choose life and walk with God if we are to achieve God's purpose. The godly perspective is that we must want the best for our neighbor as well as for ourselves. The best for our neighbor is that he or she also become a member of the Family of God. With this perspective, we are going to be determined not to hurt or harm our neighbor. We will not be in competition with him or her. Jesus Christ, who gave God's commandments to physical Israel, magnified these spiritual laws in the New Testament. Take, for example, the Sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex. 20:13), and think of how it applies to loving your neighbor. As magnified by Christ, the commandment to not kill means that we must not hate, detest or compete with our neighbor (Matt. 5:21-24). It means that we should express love toward our neighbor in every way in everything we do. We must always keep in mind our neighbor's potential in God's plan. The Ten Commandments continue, "Thou shall not commit adultery" (Ex. 20:14). Spiritually neither are we to even lust after our neighbor (Matt. 5:27-28). Consider: Can we break God's commandment concerning adultery with our neighbor, when God is preparing that neighbor, just like us, for His Family? The other commandments follow (Ex. 20:15-17). All of these commandments, magnified by Christ Himself, reveal how we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Keeping the commandments hinges on remembering that membership in the God Family is intended for every human being. And every human being is our neighbor.
Our neighbor's needs
Our neighbor has the same desires and needs that we have. Do we get hungry? So does our neighbor. How many people do you know who cannot provide essential food for their families? The distress may be caused by unemployment, sickness or some other problem. If we have food, we must learn to share with those in need. This is loving our neighbor. The same applies to other basic needs such as shelter and clothing. We must learn to share the blessings God gives us. What are other ways in which we can manifest true Christian love toward our neighbor? Are you ever aware of someone in pain or agony? Do you know someone who is suffering from a sickness or disease? Do you know anyone who has suffered an injury in an accident? Their physical needs may already be taken care of. But what about their spiritual needs? God expects us to care, to give comfort and solace. When we comfort others we express God's love. We all need the love of others expressed to us, and we must express that same love toward others. When our neighbor is honored by being appointed to some office or rewarded for some accomplishment, we are to be honored as well (I Cor. 12:26). What a contrast to the comment by the executive referred to earlier, who stated that his neighbors are competitors who want him to fail. Trials and tests are common in all our lives. We have trials, and so does our neighbor. While Christ was undergoing the trial of His life, He was praying for Peter, a key disciple whom Satan wanted to destroy. And yet Christ Himself was about to be sacrificed. What a selfless love! Christ instructed Peter, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:31-32). This is the type of love we must manifest toward our neighbor.
The same as loving God
God actually puts Himself in the place of our neighbor. Whatever we do to our neighbor, we are actually doing to God (Matt. 25:31-46). Do we always consider, as we deal with another human being, that we are doing to God whatever we do to that person? This knowledge should have powerful impact when we consider our relationship with our neighbor! In addition, God says: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also" (I John 4:20-21). Our neighbors — each and everyone of them — are made in God's likeness and are to become God (Ps. 82:6). Do we begin to see the importance God places on relationships between human beings made in His likeness? Every human being is a potential member of the God Family, and we must not do anything to deter our neighbor from fulfilling God's purpose in his life. This must be the underlying premise upon which we base our every thought and deed toward our neighbor. Christ taught, "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise" (Luke 6:31). The apostle John wrote, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (I John 3:14). If we can do this, we are perceiving our neighbor from God's point of view. This, then, is loving our neighbor as ourself.