Tough Passages #1: Love Your Neighbor (Leviticus 19:17-18)

Whether because it’s been co-opted by a “church person” and used to beat you on the head or because it seems old and out of touch, the Bible (and the idea that you can take it at face value) is unpopular at best.  And it’s true that the Bible does contain verses that are difficult to understand on first glance.  This year, we’re going to look at some verses that have been brought up as ridiculous, and my understanding of how you can see God’s love and glory even through the hard words of the Bible. For January, we’re tackling Leviticus 19:17-18.

The Verse

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:17-18, ESV

The Secular Response

How can Christians call themselves Christians if they hate, or don’t love?

This pretty much means that every single Westboro Baptist Church protest is inherently Un-Christian […] if The Lord says love they neighbor, then what book are they reading?

Ivana Wynn, ranker.com

Our Reply

Ivana, you’re absolutely right.

To be fair, most Christians have distanced themselves from the WBC over the years. Some even doubt the entirety of their name, claiming that “Westboro,” “Baptist” and “Church” are all erroneously applied to the organization.  They’re a hate group, and they’re clearly having a detrimental effect on the perception of Christians in the world.

But Ivana, it’s even worse than anyone knows.  This verse is actually a very sharp rebuke of the whole Church today.

No Christian truly loves the way they ought to.  I’m not saying this in some merely theoretical or collective way; we each, individually, miss the mark on love and compassion by miles.  And the reminder faces us every day as we walk by those we should seek to help, shirking our responsibility to be the hands and feet of Jesus on earth, and ignoring those who silently scream for the grace of God to be poured out in their lives.

And as a Church, we continue to prove Martin Luther King Jr.’s prediction from his jail cell in Birmingham:

[T]he judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

On Monday, we celebrated the work and wisdom of Dr. King, and his tireless work toward a peaceful, reconciled society…all the while sitting in a society which is far from peaceful or truly reconciled.  Our world is falling apart.  And many of the problems we face as a society today, from crime and corruption to poverty and hunger, are still problems because the Western Church has abdicated its responsibility to give sacrificially and be the salt and light to our communities and to the nations.

This is a problem, and a deep-seated sin that the Church (especially the American Church) thinks about only with willful ignorance and blithe smiles.

We’re too comfortable in our pews (and fighting hard to stay that way).  We’re too calloused to the hurting of those outside.  We’re too insulated and not welcoming enough; and we’re too concerned with protecting a God who doesn’t need it and preaching morals in a world that already has plenty.

And we don’t love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

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Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture!  Next month in Tough Passages, we’re going to look at divorce through Luke 16:18.  In the meantime, there will be lots of great content coming out every week!

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