Saturday, June 27, 2015

"II. Key Principles. B. Love of Thy Neighbor."--George's Blog

II.  Key Principles

      B.  Love of Thy Neighbor

“Love of thy neighbor” is at the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ, describing how we are to treat those around us, whether closely related to us or belonging to groups historically despised or hated.  This association is so close that the term “christian” itself, in the English language, can be used in either of two senses—each historically connected with the other, but each having quite a different meaning.  When “Christian” appears in upper case, it refers to a believer of Jesus Christ--one of Christian faith--compared to those of other faiths or those of no faith whatsoever.  When “christian” appears in lower case, it means one who is kind or good to his neighbor, loving, generous, patient, understanding.[1]  In this generic sense of showing “good” behavior, one may be “christian” without espousing a belief in the Christian faith.  The reason for this transmutation of the specific term into a generic form is the recognition that a fundamental tenet of Christian doctrine is that loving one’s neighbor.  Hence, it is possible to think of agnostics, atheists, Muslims, Jews as “christian” in their orientation and behavior.  Likewise, it is possible for those of “Christian” belief to be cruel, murderous, conniving—indeed, having any characteristic other than one we associate with “good” or “ christian” behavior. 
That love of thy neighbor is central to Christian behavior is illustrated by the well-known, oft repeated, encounter between Christ and a lawyer said to have come to tempt him:  “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and withal thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Matt. 22:37-40.  While the gospel has “many” commandments, and while God’s truth has, through the centuries, been revealed through the law and the prophets, all of that truth can be circumscribed into two overarching commandments—love of God,[2] and love of one’s neighbor.  It is as though all of the specific laws and commandments are imprinted with a common subtle code, reminding us of the need to love God and our fellowman.  These two principles of behavior supersede all else and are of transcendent importance.  When living the law, one is not to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.[3]  What is important is focusing on the core purpose behind all of the laws and commandments. 
The same themes are reprised in the parable of the good Samaritan found in Luke 10: 25-37, which almost appears to be a slightly altered, and expanded, version of the earlier encounter.  There the lawyer tempting Christ phrased his question as “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?  He said unto him, What is written in the law?  How readest thou?  And he answering said.  Though shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.  And he said unto him, Thou has answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”  Luke 10: 15-28.  The balance of the parable teaches that the circle of one’s neighbors reaches beyond those who are related, close, familiar, of the same tribe, kin and blood, to encompass those who are different than ourselves—those traditionally despised, of lowly or contemptuous parentage or coming from lands thought alien.
This love of neighbor, when genuine, is a critical aspect in the conversion of nonmembers, but in missionary work it is not the ultimate goal.[4]  It is the primary impetus behind the desires of missionaries to share the gospel message and to provide ongoing support to new and existing members.  “And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.  And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted….And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.”  1 Ne. 8: 10-12.[5]  This is certainly the case with the senior missionaries.[6]  No one comes on a senior mission without having a desire to serve[7] and younger full-time missionaries likewise are usually filled with a spirit of service, one frequently intensifying during their months in the mission field.  Also it is precisely this love of neighbor (evidenced in the faces and actions of the missionaries) that attracts nonmembers to investigate the Church.  Indeed, one would expect all Church members, including full-time missionaries, to bear the fruits of righteousness, thereby acting as a light unto the world.  Once others are drawn to the Church, one hopes that their spirits are touched, and transformed, as they gain their own independent testimonies of the gospel.  Everyone knows it is not enough to be drawn to the missionaries; ultimately, each individual must have his/her own confirmation, allowing one to withstand the temptations and trials that will surely come.   

[1] Those not from historically “Christian” countries may well take offense at this “co-opting” the term “christian” to denote “good” or “moral” behavior.
[2] The focus of this section is upon “love of thy neighbor,” not upon “love of God.”  The principles, while different, are nonetheless connected.  We show our love for God by exercising faith, repenting of our sins, fearing him, being obedient, having gratitude, recognizing the Lord’s hand in all things.  And, perhaps surprisingly, we also are told that we show love for the Lord by loving our neighbor.  “And behold I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”  Mosiah 2:17.  Hence, by loving our neighbor we are “doubling” up. 
[3] See Matt. 23: 23-27.
[4] To be sure, Mormon missionaries are not the only ones motivated by a genuine desire to serve.  Many others in Malawi, working for NGOs and other religious denominations, are similarly motivated.  Certainly some come with a sense of adventure (indeed, as they should), wanting a foreign experience, but most are genuinely moved by a desire to help lessen the burdens of those who are poor and needy.  These sentiments and efforts deserve our respect and will certainly be rewarded in the end.  The Lord’s parable of separating the sheep from the goats at the day of judgment reminds us that many will be surprised at the time of reckoning.  See Matt. 25: 31-46.
[5] “That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.  Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.”  D&C 88: 80-81.
[6] See “IX.  Relationship between Senior Missionaries and Local Members.  C. Defining Characteristics of Senior Missionaries.”
[7] But what the senior missionary has in mind as service may not always line up with the Church’s needs at the time. For example, while I know “office work” is necessary for a mission’s operation, I still find it hard to get excited about dealing with landlords, paying bills, filling reports, however critical these tasks may be to keeping full-time missionaries in the field and supporting the local congregations.  Over the years, some senior missionaries may have been disappointed by their years of service, because they did not have an opportunity to serve in precisely the manner in which they expected prior to their callings.