Love your neighbor all year long

Tyler S. Ramey

New Testament giving begins with Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), a command Christ equates with “loving God with all your heart.”  Care and concern for our neighbors are central to Christ’s teaching.  And, as is well known, "neighbor" doesn’t refer exclusively to those who live next door or across the street from us.  “Neighbor" is any person with whom we have contact, a principle clearly taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).

In this parable, Jesus taught that even people with whom we may not be particularly fond of may well be our “neighbors.”  The lawyer to whom Jesus directed his teaching was instructed to follow the example of a despised Samaritan who helped a brutalized man that had been neglected by a priest and, subsequently, a Levite.  The Samaritan cared for the man who had been beaten, robbed, and ignored by those who should have tended him first.

Jesus emphasized to the lawyer, who was schooled in Jewish law, that in spite of the letter of the law, a supreme law of love was in effect, even though it was ignored by the priest and Levite regarding the beaten man.  They were guilty of neglecting their responsibility to "love their neighbor" (Lev. 19:18) which made them also guilty of failing to "love God with all their heart, soul, and strength" (Deut. 6:4).  This is the law to which Jesus appealed when he responded to the lawyer’s inquiry about which law was  most important.  Jesus later chastised the religious leaders who were supposed to be experts at following the Law but who failed to adhere to its most basic principles (Matt. 23:23-24).

If we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, we should ask some fundamental questions.  Do we care for those around us who are down-and-out?  Do we tend to the needs of our neighbors?  Are we attentive all during the year to those who are without resources, or do we notice their needs only during the holidays?  Do we give  to our churches and ministries, yet fall under a parallel criticism of Christ when he said that the Pharisees tithe, but "neglect the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness" (Matt. 23:23)?  Do we expect our churches to fulfill personal obligations to our neighbors by providing a meal, a rent payment, help with utilities, or clothing?  Do we restrict our giving to tax deductible donations over giving that may be more consistent with Christ? 

During the holidays special attention is given to individuals and families in need.  The season tends to fill food banks, benevolence funds, and charity coffers.  While it is always a good thing to provide food, clothing, money, and Christmas gifts to people in need, Christians shouldn’t notice a significant difference in their giving patterns during the holiday season.  Of course, there are some differences during the holidays—Christmas gifts and special meals are provisions not seen throughout the year—but the holidays won’t affect the giving habits of those who function within a biblical pattern of Christian stewardship.

Operating within principles for giving outlined in the New Testament opens evangelistic opportunities, blesses fellow believers, and provides funds for worthy causes.  Keep your eyes and ears open to needs around you all year long, because loving your neighbor every day is as great of a command as “loving God with all your heart.”  You can’t obey one without obeying the other.