The Constraints of Evangelism Part III: Love your Neighbour as Yourself


Before I get too far into this, I should point out some pretty standard western misreadings of this command of the Lord. This second commandment reads “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Many thinkers here make the mistake of breaking this into 2 commandments (like they sometimes break the first commandment into 3). The second clause “as yourself” they read as a command to “love yourself”. That is NOT the point at all. Loving yourself is assumed here and is made the standard for whether you love your neighbour adequately or not. The reason is clear, people naturally love themselves, it’s just that sometimes (as in the case of suicidal depression or anxieties) they despair of their own ability to improve their joy. They WANT to improve their joy because they love themselves, they just don’t think they can. Even the emo goth people act all depressed and such to enhance their own self image. So this isn’t a doctor Philesque call to self affirmation.

The second major misreading is to think that the first commandment is based on the second. That through loving our neighbours we can come to love God (even if we don’t now). This is patently false. Generally, if you just focus on love of neighbours, you end up ignoring God altogether, or even worse creating a God that fits your twisted understanding of loving your neighbour. Next post I’ll comment on how Calvinist thinking helps alleviate that, but for this post I’ll get on with evangelism.

Our love of God teaches us that God is holy, all powerful, all loving, and completely just. herein lies the problem for us outside of Jesus. Anybody who has done more than a microsecond of honest self reflection knows they aren’t holy (Holy and just God, unholy and justly deserving of death us, I don’t think I need to draw a map here). So as Christians, to love our neighbour, we
probably should tell them how to get out from under God’s wrath (or more precisely, how to get under the only protection from God’s just wrath). In essence, in their sin, people are dead. If you love someone, you don’t want them dead. The only person who claimed (and then backed up His claim) to be the resurrection and the life was Jesus. So introduce people to Jesus so they can come into life. Pretty simple, no?

Now, that does NOT mean you should walk around screaming about people being heathen sinners. Remember, the love of God is primary, so in all things we have to make sure we don’t get in the way of people seeing God’s glory; else they remain dead. So, we speak in love, we really get to know and love them as we love ourselves (because we love God, not primarily for their sake or ours). We help people to see the justice of God, and we stop doing the things that suppress others. Yes, this means you should probably do many of the granola-like things of drinking fair trade coffee instead of the cheap stuff, or checking on the background of major purchases, and trying to invest ethically. But none of this is primarily for the love of others, it’s for the love of God and the love of others. And as you do these things, speak plainly and often about the God you know, and the Christ who saves from sin. Again, not to make people notches on your belt, but because you love them.

Similarly, you tell them about Jesus, you don’t avoid the topic because of any misbegotten idea that to do so is not loving of neighbour. If the Christian message is correct, it is unloving (indeed hateful) to avoid that topic, and is more likely because of our love of personal glory than our love of God (and aggrandizing ourselves makes it impossible to love others in the same way, as aggrandisement is inherently competitive).

Is all of this clear, or should I unpack it more? I look forward to your comments.

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.

2 thoughts on “The Constraints of Evangelism Part III: Love your Neighbour as Yourself”

  1. You’d think it would be easier to love God, eh? Considering everything he has done for us. And don’t people usually say how it’s easy to love those who love you? Anyway, it’s easy to say you love God with out really putting him first, and this is an unfortunate occurance that people struggle with all to often, I wish I could say I was exempt. It’s always good to read things like this that you’ve posted to remind yourself of what’s most important. It’s so easy to forget.

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