Saturday, 19 May 2012

Love Your Neighbour

Over the past few months the Salvation Army has been gearing up for its yearly Red Shield Appeal. While I was collecting at Chadstone shopping centre this week I started thinking about why people give of their hard earned money to an organisation that will give it to people they don’t even know. Have you ever thought about it?? Have you ever wondered why people would do it?

But I wonder, how would the world look, how would our communities look, if people chose to give in the same way regardless of whether there was an actual need? What if people gave to others just because they could? What if all people were treated with the same level of respect and kindness regardless of their gender, ethnicity or community status? What if we chose to show kindness to people simply because we wanted to? Over the past few months a Melbourne Christian radio station Light Fm has been running a challenge that encourages its listeners to perform acts of kindness. I also heard just recently that the Salvation Army has teamed up with many other organisations including channel 10 to start an online challenge called 1million acts of kindness. Their purpose is to encourage us to perform acts of kindness in order to create a happier and healthier community.

But what does the bible and Jesus say about random acts of kindness? Well to be honest it doesn’t say much about random acts of kindness but it does talk about intentional ones. Jesus through His teachings clearly sets the benchmark and lays a foundation for how Christians and the community should treat others. In Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus is approached by some of the religious teachers of his time and is questioned about what he believes is the greatest and most important commandment. Jesus responds by quoting two scriptures from the law. Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “To love your neighbour as yourself.” Everything else in scripture is bound by these two commandments. The priests of the day believed that their relationship with God was the only important thing and they felt that the only people that should be looked after were God's people. Luke’s gospel in chapter 10 has this same event but he takes it further by giving an illustration of what loving our neighbours might look like when he shares the story of the good Samaritan. These particular verses when you look at them closely are actually talking about how we respond to those who are excluded by society, unloved, our enemies. But the call to love our neighbour is not restricted to certain people or locations. God calls each of us to live in such a way that we are a blessing to all people.

The first statement to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind is not about a simple emotional attachment. When Jesus commands us to Love God this way He is saying that we are to offer our entire being before God. Every part of our lives and being are to be given in service and worship to God. He then continues with the second commandment taken from Leviticus. “To love your neighbour as yourself.” Why does he put these two together? Jesus is basically saying that just as you give yourselves completely to God, so to we should give ourselves completely to serving others and to look after them in the same way that we take care of ourselves. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbour he is saying that we have a responsibility to be useful and beneficial to our neighbours, the very people we interact with every day regardless of who they are, where they come from or how wealthy they are.

Genesis tells us that every person is made in God’s image and so God values each and every one of us. St Francis was once quoted as saying, “Preach the gospel and if necessary use words.” What did he mean by this? Our faith is expressed not only through words, it is expressed through our actions. Everything we do needs to be an out working of our faith. You see being a Christian is not defined by what church we go to or what programs we are involved in. Being a true believer is when we love God with our minds (that is our thoughts), Our souls (that is our being) and our hearts and then outworking this same idea to our neighbours that is, our parents, our friends, our workmates and those who live in our communities and cities. When God created humans, he created them to live in community, to live in such a way that we would take care of each other, to edify and encourage and to bring joy to those we interact with.

As the people around us see our faith through our unconditional action, they see Jesus at work in us. Henry Blackaby once said that “God is at work every day and all around us.” God calls us to open our eyes, see where he is working and then join Him in what He is doing. Loving our neighbour is more than just helping the poor and giving to appeals like the red shield for supporting our social programs, it’s about appreciation for people, understanding that God loves them and created them in His image, even the ones we feel are the worst, and then blessing them through acts of kindness regardless of their financial or physical situation. As we draw closer to God in faith, who we are will begin to be transformed and our thinking and our attitudes will begin to change as we imitate him by loving others.

So how does all this fit into that idea of performing acts of kindness? Well this scripture is more than just performing acts of kindness. But as I look around at the world and the goings on in our communities, one could be forgiven for believing that we are in a troubled world. Life is getting harder in many ways and people just don’t seem to be smiling. People are working harder and longer, the cost of living is getting more expensive, life is moving faster and it just feels like everyone is out for themselves. We live in a world that tells us that it is all about us and it appears to forget about others. And then you get initiatives like 1million acts of kindness and you think, hey can it really work? Can it really make a difference? I want to tell you that Kind acts produce happy people. Not only does it make others happy and cause them to smile, it makes the giver happy as well.

When Jesus commanded us to love our neighbour as ourselves I really believe that he believed that one person could make a difference and change the world. You see changing the world starts with us. Our attitudes need to change and we are called to outwork our faith in Christ by loving those around us. Performing an act of kindness is but one way we can do this. As God’s people we can change the world, one act of kindness and one life at a time. But it starts with us. Who knows, someone might even ask you why you are doing it? What a great opportunity to share the reason; because God loves them and so do we.

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