Published on April 13th, 2018 | by Christopher Witmer
Why “Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself” Is So Important to Christianity
The dance is beautiful.
One glimpse of the rhythm and movement fills your heart with such wonder that you lose all sense of time and self.
Such power emanates from the dancers moving one around the other that it seems as if shots of electricity surge out of their fingertips wrapping the others in glory and delight.
It doesn’t take long before you find yourself swept into the magic of it all. One step, two steps, circling around.
There is no pretense, no withholding of joy and sheer love. Radiant, glorious, love completely concentrated outward until sparks and thunder burst like little combustion engines in mid air.
It is the cosmic dance of the Trinity. The eternal rhythm and song set in motion by God himself–Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Like a magnet stronger than a trillion planets drawing the sons of earth into its everlasting dance–its relationship. They beckon to us teaching us the dance a step at a time.
“One step–Do to others what you want them to do to you. Two step–Don’t break trust by lying. Three step–Don’t take what isn’t yours.”
And by this we learn how to live and be in relationship–we learn how to love.
Love is the rhythm of the dance. It’s what keeps it all together. Relationship is the dance itself. Without rhythm there is no dance, only confusion. Without love, there is no relationship, only chaos.
Love–the rhythm–defines the dance. It’s the law. Break it, and you fall out of step with God himself–and you hurt others in the process.
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself
Love is important. We know that. Jesus called “loving your neighbor as yourself” the second greatest commandment.
Over the next several days, I’m going to dig into what it really means to “love your neighbor” because if we miss this simple command, everything we do is completely meaningless.
First, though, I should start by simply explaining why I think love is so foundational to Christianity.
For example, if we can’t love, I believe we may as well shut down this entire website and throw away all of our copies of Do Hard Things (1 Corinthians 13).
Why do I believe so strongly that young people should love their neighbors? Why is loving your neighbor as yourself so important to Christianity?
Because the World Revolves On Love
I like the picture of love being the rhythm in God’s divine dance (inspired by Timothy Keller’s chapter 14 in Reason for God).
Rhythm is so important to a dance that if you break from the rhythm, you cease to be a part of the dance.
It’s the same in relationships. If you break from love, your relationships will splinter and in the process, you’ll quit dancing with God.
If “love thy neighbor” is the rhythm to God’s dance, anyone who doesn’t love their neighbor isn’t dancing with God.
Let me put it in clearer terms: If love is not a growing theme in your life, you don’t know God (1 John 4:8).
I’m not saying as a Christian, you will love perfectly. We all stumble in the dance because we’re human and imperfect. But if you’re aiming to learn the rhythm of the dance, it will become a theme. There will be stretches where you start to pick it up and your feet begin to move effortlessly in step with God.
Love Fulfills God’s Moral Law
Earlier, I said love is the “law” of the dance because I wanted to foreshadow the idea that God’s moral law is really just a detailed explanation of what it means to “love your neighbor.”
Jesus said as much when he said the greatest commandments were to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. He concluded by saying “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Interestingly, the Apostle Paul actually took it a step further and essentially made these commandments one and the same.
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8-10; emphasis mine).
Of course, there are many other verses I could quote, but you get my point.
The Law of God, the rhythm of his dance, love–comes down to this simple idea: Do no wrong to your neighbor.
God’s moral law is just like the laws of physics which he set in place from the very foundation of the world. You can scream that you’re free from the law of gravity as loud as you want, but if you jump off a two-story building you’re still going to break something.
In the same way, you can scream that you’re free in Christ, but if you lie to your friend, you’re still going to break your leg relationally.
It’s a law established from the beginning of time. It’s how relationships work. Obey it or face-plant relationally (stumble in the dance).
What you can’t do is ignore it and expect to have healthy relationships. Rebellion and disobedience to God’s law is death to your relationships. This isn’t about salvation, but simple relational science.
Are you beginning to see why love is so important?
Relationship Can’t Survive Without Love
The whole point for God creating the world and for Jesus dying on the Cross and for the church’s continued testimony was to expand God’s divine dance–his relationship.
And the rhythm of that dance is love. Therefore, without love, you have no dance–you have no relationship–and that was the whole point from the very beginning.
But here’s the thing. I’ve been stressing the importance of staying in the rhythm of God’s dance (loving your neighbor). Unfortunately, we can’t. We can’t stay in rhythm on our own strength. Yet, there is a way.
Let me put it to you another way.
Without Love, We Are Nothing
If the Trinity were a set of magnets, love would be the everlasting, unbreakable magnetic power holding them together.
In this picture, we are like BB’s around these three strong magnets: having no magnetic power of our own but being magnetized and drawn into this divine relationship.
Without that everlasting, unbreakable, magnetic love, everything falls apart. Without it, churches splinter, families disintegrate, and communities devolve into endless cycles of pain and distrust.
Why? Because we have no power on our own to hold things together. Separate from God’s divine, magnetic love, nothing holds together.
(Just like a dance turns into chaos if no one follows the rhythm.)
But, as we experience God’s magnetic love, he invigorates us and we become magnetized and able to draw others in by he love flowing through us.
And thus, we can love our neighbors and fulfill the entire law of God.
It’s Serious Business
“Loving our neighbors” is serious business because it’s the basic physics of relationships. If we hope to develop healthy friendships or marriages, reconcile social injustices, unify churches, or “do hard things,” we absolutely need to take learning to love seriously.
In fact, if we don’t it’s as good as not doing anything at all, because anything good not done with love is totally worthless.
The world literally runs on love.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree that love is the basic ingredient to Christianity? Like I said, I’m going to be writing about this for the next few days, so I’d love to hear any of your thoughts or questions on love in the comments below!
This is the first post of a series of articles talking about what it means to “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.” You can read the second article here.