“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
My 9-year-old granddaughter Natasha, and I set off at dusk down a rural road. On the first curve we met a pickup truck with its lights still off. “Look at that!” I said, “That’s illegal! He could be arrested for that.”
“But maybe his lights don’t work, and he’s trying to get to the garage to have them fixed.”
“Fat chance! There’s no garage out here in the country.”
“Well, maybe he just forgot. He’s probably had a hard day and is trying to get home quickly to his family.”
“Some excuse,” I grumped. Then I had a bright idea. I decided to notice as many bad things as I could as we drove along and comment on each. Sure enough, Natasha had an excuse for every bad behavior that I called to her attention. She made up a good motive for every bad action just as creatively and persistently as we might rationalize our own behavior.
Who are some people or groups of people you regularly rail against, at least in your mind?
Do you find yourself justifying your animosity toward these people? How?
Because I love myself unconditionally, I’m not very critical toward myself; I always have a good reason for my error or delinquency. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). If I don’t love someone, it’s easy to find fault; to assign blame; to ascribe evil intent; and yes, even to hate.
Imagine that a friend slights you in a meeting. Your thoughts might sound like this:
He meant exactly what he said…. He said it because he doesn’t like me.….He always says that kind of thing. …. Or He said it because that’s the way he is.
Now apply the same responses to yourself when you say something that offends someone: I didn’t mean it the way he took it…. I meant well; my motive was good…. I slipped…. I wasn’t myself…. or It’s just the way I am. Maybe your answers are like mine: I respond favorably to myself because I love me!
1 John 2:9 says: “The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now.”
As long as we hate, we will never see good qualities in another person, just as I refused to give the truck driver the benefit of the doubt. Hate also blinds us to another person’s need. We will never be sensitive to physical, emotional, or spiritual needs if we view others with hatred.
We find that a lack of love is the root of all other sins, of breaking all the other nine of the ten commandments. We don’t love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength because we’re in love with ourselves. Jesus identified the second greatest: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). Would we violate the laws against adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting if we truly loved the other person? Self-absorption, self-protection, prejudice, an unsympathetic response to a hurting person, the failure to witness—certainly a lack of love lies behind these attitudes and actions.
Since Jesus was God incarnate, His very nature was love, and He taught His disciples that love should be the distinguishing mark of His followers: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) Only through the constant filling of the Holy Spirit can we love others the way Christ intended.