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The Golden Rule

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Topic: The Golden Rule

What does the bible mean when we are commanded to love our neighbors?

There are a number of questions / issues intertwined here. First, Christians certainly ought to be loving towards everyone. Even though it is true that a "neighbor" in ancient Israel was another member of the national congregation (not a Philistine, for example, even though they lived nearby), and that in the New Testament, "neighbors" are believers (cf. e.g., Rom. 15:2; Eph. 4:25; Heb. 8:11; Jas. 2:8), still, the commandment to "love others" is one that clearly is not meant to be restricted to other believers only. How do we treat others in love? That is really the question. First, it is clear that we should not think, say or do anything negative, harmful or hateful towards anyone else, even our enemies. That is a very difficult lift for any human being, and only believers walking in the power of the Spirit and putting Jesus Christ first in their lives have any hope of coming anywhere near fulfilling this commandment -- and it's not as if any of us is not going to stumble from time to time. It is written:
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

This is often referred to as "the golden rule", and the above paragraph clearly applies here: we don't want others to attack us, to slander us, to think bad thoughts about us -- at least certainly not if we have done nothing to "rate" bad thoughts / words / deeds from others.  But what about helping others? First, scripture is clear that in cases of genuine need, believers come first since they are our "neighbors" first and foremost:

As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)

"Good" here is actually "the good"; i.e., "that which is good" or even what is REALLY good. This is divine good, something good in God's eyes rather than in the eyes of the world or in the eyes of those receiving it (cf. Ps. 90:17; Prov. 16:7; 2 Cor. 5:9; Eph. 5:8-10; Gal. 1:10; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 4:1; 1 Tim. 2:1-3; Heb. 13:16). If we were a billionaire and we gave an unbeliever who was a down-and-out drug addict a million dollars, no doubt he/she would think it "good" and the world would too. But said person would likely kill him/herself with drugs in short order as a result and would not have been saved in the process even if genuinely grateful for the gift. What is "the good"? For every single person it is the truth:  the gospel first whereby we are saved and the entire truth of the Word of God thereafter whereby we grow, progress and produce for the Lord (Lk. 17:5; 1 Cor. 13:10-12; Col. 1:9-10; 2:6-7; Heb. 5:12-14; 6:1; 1 Pet. 2:2-3; 2 Pet. 1:5-8; 3:18; et al.)  

All this is not to say that giving, e.g., money or food to some indigent and needy person is wrong or that it is not an act of mercy -- It may be. But whether or not it is "good" depends on 1) the motives of the giver; 2) the circumstances of the gift; and 3) is not entirely independent of the worthiness of the receiver. How can we know #3? We often can't, but we often know more than we may be willing to admit to ourselves. In our Lord's example of the "good Samaritan", the person in question was 1) most likely a believer (being in an area where only Jews lived who were all supposed to be believers or, like himself, a marginal believer as Samaritans at least thought they were worshiping the same YHVH); 2) in unquestionable need (but we don't know for certain if the person on the freeway ramp with a ragged sign and unkempt clothes is only faking it); 3) wasn't going to abuse the gift (the example person in #2 might buy booze with your money but the Samaritan gave it directly to the innkeeper); and 4) needed the help desperately which could ONLY come from this man: if he hadn't helped, the man would have died (not true in most situations we face).

All this is apropos of our situation when faced with such. If we know ahead of time from reasonable judgment or past experience that someone is not going to respond in an appropriate way to our help, then this seems to me to be a case of "pearls before swine" (cf. Prov. 26:11; Matt. 7:6; 10:14, 34-36; Mk. 13:13;  Jn. 15:18-19; 17:4; 1 Cor. 4:13; 2 Pet. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:13). God loves mercy and wants us to do the same (Micah 6:8), but He doesn't expect us to extend charity to those who would not actually need it if they were behaving in a responsible way (Gal. 6:4; 2 Thess. 3:10; cf. 1 Tim. 5:17). And we ALWAYS have to keep in mind the reason for all of our loving actions:  the actual salvation and spiritual growth of those who receive them. Clearly, if a person is starving or naked, they aren't going to be able to grow spiritually until helped; but just as clearly, if a person loves drugs or alcohol and has no use for the Lord, all the charity and material help in the world aren't going to change him/her -- God has to help them to change (and many fight off His help to the bitter end -- cf. Lk. 10;16; Isa. 42:20; Jer. 6:10; 17:23; 25:4; Zech. 7:11; Jn. 5:40; Rom. 11:8; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 4:18; Heb. 3:13; 5:11). So when does our love need to cease to be merely passive (i.e., refraining from doing things to others we would not want to be done to us) and become out and out active (i.e., doing positive things for others that we ourselves would want done to us in similar situations)? 

The test is precisely what is found in the last parenthesis. If we see an unbeliever who needs and desires the gospel just as we did, we should share it. If we see a believer who needs and desires encouragement as we might need it, we should encourage them (Mk. 13:10; Jn. 8:31-32; Rom. 1:1-32; 10:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:18-20; Eph. 6:15; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; Philem. 1:6; 2 Thess. 2:14-15; Jas. 5:19-20; 1 Pet. 2:2; 3:15). If we see a believer who needs and desires our material support -- and who is worthy of it in the sense of not being likely to squander it -- and we have the means to provide it, we should do so within our means since that is no doubt what we would desire as well (but we also no doubt would not want handouts from anyone unless it was a question of dire need). But feeling guilty about cases where the person is no Christian, not interesting in being one, or is a Christian on the wrong road for whom material help will not bring a change is totally inappropriate, not the voice of the Spirit, and may have a bad end. Our Lord told us to be innocent as doves -- but also wise as serpents (Matt. 10:16). As with many things in this life in this world where we have to apply truth to situations, both things are true (cf. Prov. 22:17; Col. 3:16; Rom. 13:14; 1 Cor. 11:1-2; Eph. 5:8; Phil. 4:9; Tit. 2:10; Jas. 1:22; 2:14-26; 2 Pet. 1:10; 3:18; 1 Jn. 1:7). We need to be merciful, but also apply good discernment and good judgment. For we are responsible for what we think and say and do, NOT for the decisions of other people. We are responsible to use the time, energy and resources the Lord has given us to advance our own spiritual growth, progress and production. That is the best way to help others in the Church (or who are willing to become part of it); that is the true path the Lord has called us to walk. If we are given opportunities to minister in love and mercy to others, that is wonderful; but we need to be wise about the individual cases, lest we open ourselves up to abuse and fraud unnecessarily. That is surely not of God and does nothing to advance the kingdom of our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:42-46)

God Bless!

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