Loving God is Loving Our Neighbor
Leviticus 19:12, Psalm 138
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
Loving God Is Loving Our Neighbor (Leviticus 19:12, Psalm 138)
When you were a kid, what was your most prized possession? Was it a baseball card with your favorite player’s image and stats on it? Maybe it was a coin someone brought you from another country. Perhaps it was your favorite book, autographed by the author, or a ball signed by your favorite team. Whatever your most precious possession was, you probably treated it with great care. You probably had a special place to keep it safe. Whatever it was, you cherished it. You protected it. You respected it because it was valuable to you. Now that you’re a grownup, what is most precious to you? If you’re a Christian, might it be the name of Jesus? Shouldn’t it be? The book of Acts tells us: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to humankind by which we must be saved.” The name of Jesus is precious, because it is only by him that we are saved from sin and death. So do we treat his name with the respect and honor due it?
The law as stated in the book of Leviticus warned the Hebrew people not to “swear falsely by the name of God, thus profaning it.” In ancient times, people swore their oaths in God’s name, which was fine unless they had no intention of honoring those oaths; in that case, they treated God’s name with contempt, violating its sanctity. Swearing by his name has a different meaning now. The names of God and Jesus are holy, but when we invoke them as curses, we make them as common as any other curse word. Using those sacred names flippantly or disrespectfully violates not only the third Commandment, not to take the name of the Lord in vain, but also Jesus’s two-part summation of all the Commandments: love the Lord your God with everything in you, and love your neighbor as yourself. How can we say we love God if we abuse his name? How can we love our neighbors if we don’t first love God?
And why do we love God? David, the psalmist, tells us: “I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart . . . for your unfailing love and your faithfulness . . . . When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me. . . . May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, . . . for the glory of the Lord is great. . . . Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. . . . your love, Lord, endures forever.” We love God because God first loved us. He didn’t require us to become perfect before he initiated a relationship with us, before he rescued us from sin and death. No, he loved us so much in spite of our sin that he sent Jesus as a sacrifice for us, and when we accept his gift of salvation and sanctification we are no longer our own but his. Now, in our gratitude we are to be a living sacrifice to God. How? By sharing his love and mercy with our neighbors. By loving them as we love ourselves.
How do we do that? Jesus made it easy. He gave us a list: we should feed the hungry; clothe the naked; heal the sick; visit the prisoner. By extension, we should work to secure for our neighbors whatever we deem essential for ourselves. Do we expect meaningful work? Access to services we need, such as transportation, a good education, affordable housing, clean water, medical care? To the best of our ability, we must ensure that all our neighbors have these essentials. It’s true, some people are easy to love; others, not so much. But Jesus didn’t say that we should love only those we like. In fact, he even told us to love our enemies. So if you have a neighbor you don’t particularly like—perhaps you have different political views or a different worldview altogether—just remember that whatever good you do for that neighbor you are actually doing for Jesus. God’s neighborhood is the whole world. Let’s see how far his love can reach through us!
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship and the Lord’s Supper (Children’s Worship and nursery care available), then stay afterward for Discovery Hour (all ages).