Matthew 22: 39 “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
There are few New Testament imperatives known as well as these words of Jesus. Some might be shocked to realize Jesus wasn’t revealing some new truth, but He was rehearsing an Old Testament law in these words. Our Lord was quoting from the Torah, and this phrase was commonly used by even the Pharisee’s in Jesus’ first century culture. In Luke 10, a Pharisee states this “second great commandment” in connection to the “first great commandment” in exactly the same way Jesus did. Then, in an attempt to justify himself, that Pharisee asked Jesus, “who is my neighbor”?
Jesus answered the self-righteous Pharisee with a parable that forces us to ask a better question; am I being a God-glorifying neighbor? Am I loving God with all, and loving my neighbor as myself? These are important questions for a believer to wrestle with personally, but stay with me for a bit longer. In Jesus’ parable, we recognize that our neighbor is identified as anyone who might come across our path, so to speak.
With this broad application of the word “neighbor” in our minds and a Holy Spirit led desire to be a doer of the Word, many well-meaning Jesus followers have forgotten about their closest neighbors. I don’t want to discourage any Christian from displaying the love of God to strangers or acquaintances. However, I do want to encourage all Christians to give special attention to their closest neighbors. I would consider my beautiful wife Jayme to be my closest and best neighbor. Who is your closest neighbor? The truth is, if I don’t love my closest neighbor best, then what kind of neighbor am I? I think “hypocrisy” is the best word to describe that mistake. God, deliver us from being “hearers only”.
Jayme is my best neighbor. I have been married to this wonderful woman for fourteen years today! Fourteen years of marriage doesn’t make me an expert on marriage by any stretch, but… I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about us loving our best neighbors best. Because I am not an expert on marriage, it is important for me to be a student who is wanting to learn. In my experience, nothing helps me to be a better “neighbor” to my wife than paying attention with a desire to learn about her. In fourteen years, my wife has changed little by little, and so have I. I think she got the short end of the stick there, haha. If I’m not continually trying to learn about her, then I run the risk of misunderstanding who she is now. If I am trying to be the best husband/neighbor I can be for my wife, then I can’t afford to misunderstand who she is today. The truth is, you can’t afford to misunderstand who your spouse is today either. So, let me share four thoughts (this is not exhaustive) that I hope will help us to be better husbands to our wives or vice versa.
1. I know how I can make my spouse upset, but do I know how I can set my spouse at peace?
Causing problems is easy. Any fool with a sledge hammer can tear down a structurally sound wall. Making a mess is easy. It takes wisdom, knowledge, skill, and patience to construct a structurally sound wall. In our marriages, we all know how to hurt and tare down. We need to decide, by God’s grace, that we’re not going to be demolition experts. We will learn to be craftsmen. We are going to learn how to build up. We are going to be peace-makers by the grace of God.
2. I know how others can trouble my spouse, but do I know how to comfort my spouse?
Trouble is part of life. Offenses happen, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. So how will you help bring comfort? If you entertain the idea that your spouse is altogether too sensitive and they need to “get over it”, then you’re not bringing comfort and peace. We need to learn how to be actively involved in the comforting of God toward our spouse.
3. I know how the weight of life weighs upon my spouse, but do I know how to lighten that load?
Unexpected disappointments can be heartbreaking. Family drama can be incredibly frustrating. Being overwhelmed by the business or stress of having too much on your plate is seemingly commonplace in our culture. Your spouse is carrying a burden. Hopefully you can identify whatever that weight might be. They need our help in lifting them up. Some burdens in this life can’t be removed, but they can carried together. Don’t allow heartbreak, stress, or frustration to crush your spouse. Halve that burden, bare that weight, and love them well for their good and the glory of God.
4. I am not Jesus, my spouse is not Jesus. Only Jesus is Jesus.
When life is too heavy to carry alone, when people around us are hurtful, and when there is unrest in the home, we need a Saviour. I will never be my wife’s Savior. She will never be my Savior. Only Jesus is the all satisfying Saviour. When trouble comes, God is our refuge. When hurt comes, God is our counsellor. When tears fall like rain drops, God is our comforter. My wife needs me to know that her greatest need is Jesus. I need her to know that my greatest need is Jesus. Why? If I forget that my greatest need in times of trouble is God, and I mistakenly place all my hope for peace, comfort, and help into my spouse, then I will crush her with the expectation that only God can fulfill. She wasn’t built to handle that kind of expectation, and neither was I. God is the only true and faithful Saviour. He alone is able and faithful to give peace, provide comfort, and deliver us from or through our heartache. I need Jayme to point me to Jesus. Jayme needs me to point her to Jesus. Also, don’t miss this. In the middle of a marriage that is pointing each other to Christ, God’s Spirit works within each spouse to be actively engaged with the Father’s gracious plan of provision for the other spouse. -Soli Deo Gloria