The typical person — both Christian and non-Christian — has a “don’t judge” attitude. Their chief moral principe is “love other people.” (Or, said perhaps more accurately, “support others’ personal autonomy”).
This guiding principle rears its head when someone makes a comment like, “We shouldn’t support same-sex marriage” or “Jews are going to hell, apart from saving faith in Jesus” or “Bruce Jenner is a man.”
There are large problems with having “Love Your Neighbor” as your highest moral principle. Here are three:
1. It Puts Loving God Second
Many Christians and non-Christians alike know that Jesus said to, “love your neighbor as yourself.” They also focus in on the times when Jesus showed love for the social outcasts, or said “don’t judge”, or said “whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” All of those events have contexts, which almost always are not exclusively about loving other people.
If you have a view of Jesus that can’t explain why people wanted to kill him, then you’re missing something. No group of people sets out to kill a guy who just goes around loving other people.
The greater problem with “love your neighbor” is that is it puts the second greatest commandment in front of the first which is:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 (Emphasis mine)
Jesus said that we show our love for him by keeping his commands (John 14:15). There will be times when showing love for your neighbor shows contempt for God. Your neighbor might be same-sex attracted, and it would be considered loving today — The 2nd greatest commandment — to support them in that. However, this shows a rejection for 1st greatest commandment, since it flies in the face of all that is taught on sexuality in scripture.
“Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:4-6
If we show our love for people at the expense of showing love for God, we have grossly misunderstood Jesus.
2. It Justifies Disregarding Biblical Authority
While very much related to the 1st problem, the 2nd issue with “love your neighbor” is that it is often used as a reason for disregarding the clear teaching of scripture on a issue. We looked at Jesus’ statement on marriage, which excludes same-sex relationships, since he describes marriage as one man and one woman.
“Don’t judge” is usually joined at the hip with “love your neighbor”. All too often, Christians don’t want to point out habitual sin in the life of another Christian. For example, gossip is said to be a sin numerous times in scripture, but frequently, we don’t say anything about gossip because we don’t want to seem “judgey” or self-righteous.
We want to maintain the appearence or feeling of love for our neighbor, at the expense of biblical authority. However, Jesus was clear when he said, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone.”
When we don’t follow the teaching of scripture on an issue because we are “loving our neighbor” we disrespect scripture’s authority, and we err.
3. It Is Incapable of Being Consistently Applied
As I’ve previously pointed out, most people think loving, by definition, involves the rejection of judging. So, “loving your neighbor” means defending his right to do what makes him happy. For example, when Bruce Jenner was on the cover of Vanity Fair, many people had negative things to day.
Jenner supporters, who seem to have “love your neighbor” as their highest moral principle, were quick to say things like:
- “You’re wrong for judging him.”
- “You’re not supporting him.”
- “Christians shouldn’t tell other people they’re wrong.”
- “You’re just forcing your moral view on him, and you shouldn’t do that.”
It was lost on the people saying these statement that they were doing the very thing they were condemning the other person of doing.
- They were judging the person criticizing Jenner.
- They weren’t supporting the person criticizing Jenner, or cultures’ reaction to the situation.
- They were Christians telling other people they were wrong.
- They were trying to force their moral view on others.
These are examples of self-contradictory statements. Often times, the “tolerant” crowd is the most judgmental and intolerant. And most of the time, it’s cloaked in “love your neighbor.”
We should certainly love our neighbor, but never at the expense of loving God or submitting to the authority of his word. We also need to be careful not to fall into the trap of using self-contradictory statements, many of which are often used as a club to stop discussion and dissent.
If you’re interested in a much more complete treatment of the concept of biblical love, check out my sermon on Biblical Love and Wedding Cake.