I’ve expressed a few times lately that we need to look for what the Bible doesn’t say as much as what it does say. This is another such time.
One statement I’m hearing a lot lately is, “If you love your neighbor, you would do X.”
Ever since I heard it the first time, it’s been eating at me. What’s so bothersome about it? Is it not scriptural? After thinking about it for a few weeks, I finally understood.
The entire statement is absurd.
Nor is it scriptural.
How’s that for an audacious statement? Read on, and I’ll explain why.
The most obvious one is what the scripture in question actually says: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What I call the biggest little word is missing: If. Meaning there are no qualifiers attached.
Loving one’s neighbor can take many forms, and yes, that can include doing X if someone asks us to (the key word being “ask”). Yet there are things we must never do.
One is to use force or the threat of force to make sure people do something or act a certain way—such as through local or federal authorities.
The worst part of the statement is it implies that anyone who doesn’t do X doesn’t love their neighbor. As such, it’s an attempt to shame people into compliance. That’s coercion, the other thing one must never do.
Liberty is defined as:
• the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views
• the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved
• a right or privilege, especially a statutory one [such as the US Bill of Rights]
• the power or scope to act as one pleases
But what does the Bible say about liberty as well as loving one’s neighbor? Are they mutually exclusive, or do they go hand-in-hand?
The story of the Good Samaritan is the oft-cited example of loving one’s neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).
The Cliff-Notes version is a man is robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Three people encounter him: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan (it almost sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?). Only the Samaritan stops to help him.
So now we need to look for what’s not said. In this case, no angel (nor God) came down and demand of any one of the men to stop and help. The story also doen’t include any authority forcing the three to act, nor do any of the men complain to the authorities to force the other two to act. They all had the option to walk away. Including the Samaritan.
Mark 10:17-22 has been sticking with me lately:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (ESV)
The key statement is in the last verse: “He went away sad…” Yet the verse, “Jesus looked at him and loved him,” is equally poignant.
Jesus loved him, and because of that, allowed him the choice—the liberty—to walk away even as it may have broken his heart to do so. He told the man the truth, and with conviction, which is important. But again, looking for what isn’t said, he didn’t threaten or force the man into changing his mind with local/worldly authorities, or coerce through shame.
We are called to be just like Jesus, and that includes giving people the liberty to make their own choices, to walk away without us piling on threats or shame as they do so.
So in answer to the question I asked above, loving one’s neighbor must include liberty, no “ifs” about it. We can’t do one without giving the other.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (ESV): “and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”