According to his teaching, “neighbour” crosses all boundaries, real or imagined, of culture, class or creed; and according to the commandment we are to love them as ourselves.
So we are Christians – but what does that really mean? Followers of Christ, yes; devoted to His Word, of course; and having a desire to be like Him, absolutely; but is it so in your life and mine?
The children’s hymn sums up the character of Christ so well: “Gentle Jesus meek and mild…” It is easy to sing this hymn and in doing so dwell upon the wonderful person of Christ; but how far are we from exhibiting those characteristics in our lives? We can be orthodox in our doctrine; theologically dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” and yet fail miserably in resembling Christ in our daily walk. Nominal assent to biblical doctrine is one thing, living accordingly is something else. True Christianity is practical and the outworking of our salvation must be in accordance with the law of God.
The spirituality of God’s law is often forgotten. It is possible that our actions towards the Lord, others and ourselves can be based upon the letter of the Ten Commandments yet, at the same time, our hearts can be unloving – as cold as ice. Our observance of the law may be little more than unpassionately obeying a set of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” Such actions, though appearing to fulfil the demands of the law, reveal a life that does not resemble the life of Christ. The Lord summarised the Ten Commandments when He said in Mark 12:30-31, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” With these words, Christ clearly set out the attitude and motivation for obedience. These two summary commandments in no way water down or relax the veracity of the Ten Commandments, but it is remarkable that in both, Christ teaches that obeying them ought to proceed out of a heart of love toward God and our fellowman. Therefore to “keep” the commandments out of a sense of legalistic duty misses the point completely. In such obedience, there is little joy in the Lord or love for others. Loveless Christianity is a contradiction of terms and is both unedifying and unevangelistic.
Christ obeyed the law in absolute perfection. His obedience flowed from a heart full of love for His Father and for others. That life, perfectly conformed to the commandments, obeyed in love and devotion to the Lord, manifested itself in true gentleness and meekness.
So with this in mind, what should our attitude be toward our fellow men as considered in the second of the two Great Commandments? And how will our keeping of this law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”, manifest the person and attitude of Christ to a sinful world? In His parable of the Good Samaritan, the Lord answered the question as to who our neighbour is. According to his teaching, “neighbour” crosses all boundaries, real or imagined, of culture, class or creed; and according to the commandment we are to love them as ourselves.
We all love ourselves. We want the best for ourselves. We look out for ourselves. We treat ourselves well and have a good attitude towards ourselves, often quite willing to overlook our many faults and not subject ourselves to intense or incessant self-criticism.
The second Great Commandment teaches us to treat our neighbour, that is, those around us, regardless of category, in a similar way. However, some may argue, does the phrase ‘our neighbour’ include everyone, even those who mock, scorn and hate us? Yes, it does. The Lord demands that we love our neighbour as ourselves. To properly obey the final six commandments, encapsulated in, “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”, we must do so in love to our fellowman, regardless of their attitude to us, or their treatment of us. This is the standard which reveals the Christ-like life we say (and sing) we aspire to.
Think of those whom Christ encountered during His earthly ministry. Even as He dealt with those who hated and despised Him, He remained meek and gentle. He loved His neighbour. The rich, young ruler of Mark 10 is a very telling demonstration of the attitude of Christ to others. This young man was full of self and came to Christ wanting to know what he could personally do to inherit eternal life. He did not come in humility, begging the Lord to have mercy on him, rather he felt he already had all the ability he needed, he simply wanted to know how he could save himself. In other words, he was saying that he could have eternal life without Christ and His atonement. It is quite clear that the Lord was speaking to one who was His enemy. Consider the Saviour’s reaction in Mark 10:21: “Then Jesus beholding him loved him!” Had you or I been in the same position, would we have “loved him”? It is clear that Christ’s attitude toward others, even His enemies, was characterised by love. This is what set Him apart, and it is only when our attitude to others reflects His character, will Christ be seen in us.
This love is certainly not natural. It is not the love of the world rather it is the fruit of the Spirit. It is a love only seen in the Spirit-filled life; a Christ-like love, an unconditional love, a love of enemies, a love for Christ’s sake. Only when we live in the Spirit, emptied of self and resigned to the Word, will we have the correct attitude to others and only then will Christ be seen in us.
Such Christ-like love does not ignore sin. Though Christ was full of love and compassion, he was not soft on sin. He spoke the truth in love. Indeed, a true love for God and others will result in a true hatred of sin. This Christ-like love for others will be seen in practical ways and especially as we seize opportunities to point them to Christ. It is the greatest act of love to tell our neighbours of the Saviour who alone is able to save them.
We live in an unloving world. Natural man does not love God and any love he has for others is overshadowed by selfishness. Sinners sin against God and against each other. There is no reverence for God and little or no respect for others. Christians are different. We love Christ because He has first loved us and, through His grace, He enables us to love our neighbour as ourselves.
The next time we sing, “gentle Jesus meek and mild” let us pray that we display the same gentleness and meekness as Christ and
“Weep o’er the erring one,
lift up the fallen.
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.”
That’s what it is to be Christ-like.
Dr Lindsay Wilson.