Leviticus 19:9-18 – Be a Good Neighbor

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Do not steal.

Do not lie.

Do not deceive one another.

Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.

Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.

Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.

Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind but fear your God. I am the Lord.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great but judge your neighbor fairly.

Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.

Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (New International Version)

All of these Old Testaments commands to the ancient Israelites are a development and expansion upon the basic core Ten Commands or Words given by God to Moses.

Those core commands are based in the character of God. That same character is to be the normal daily lived experience of God’s people.

The Levitical instructions are a fleshing-out of God’s basic commands for a specific people in their particular social, economic, and historical situation.

Although we need not, as modern folk, strictly observe the commands, as they are culturally constructed, we very much need to fulfill the ethics and morality which are behind the specific instructions.

Today’s Old Testament lesson has to do with being a good neighbor – a person who conscientiously lives in community with others and pays attention to the collective needs and wants of everyone. It is to live into God’s overarching ethic for the common good of all persons.

A commitment to community life needs good neighbors. They are characterized by the following virtues:

Sacrifice

Israel was chiefly an agrarian society. So, when the season of harvest came, the workers gleaning the fields were to only go over it once. That way, the poor and less fortunate could come behind and pick up what the workers missed or dropped.

Any landowner who instructed the workers to keep working until they got every scrap of grain or fruit was being cruel to the poor. Merciful and generous owners would, conversely, instruct the workers to leave a bit behind and not get everything.

Since God sacrifices on behalf of humanity, so we, too, are to make sacrifices which benefit the common good of all persons in the community.

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:2, NLT)

A sacrificial spirit, not a self-indulgent one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.

Honesty

Cheating, lying, stealing, and deceit have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God. Instead, honest dealings with others, always being above board in all matters, is of upmost importance to God.

Witnesses in court are expected to speak the truth without falsehood. Business dealings are to have accurate weights and measures. Integrity and trustworthiness are the building blocks of any good society.

Since God is truth, so we, too, are to live into truth through being honest in all we say and do.

Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. (Exodus 23:7-8, NIV)

An honest spirit, not a thieving one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.

Fairness

In the ancient world, and still in many parts of the world today, workers were paid at the end of the day for their day’s work. Bosses who withheld expected wages till the next day were quite literally depriving a family of their supper.

For those who are not able to do a solid day’s work, such as the blind and the handicapped, it’s bad enough to simply ignore them, because God is attentive to their plight. That situation is exacerbated exponentially, whenever someone or a group of people, decide to make such persons’ lives even harder than they already are.

Since God is fair in all dealings, so we, too, are to extend fairness to all without any prejudice or favoritism.

The Lord watches to see if we are fair or if we cheat others. (Proverbs 16:11, CEV)

A fair spirit, not an exploitive one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.

Justice

Unequal treatment is about as far from God as one can get. Being concerned only about those with similar political views, economic interests, or spiritual inclinations is a gross practice of injustice. It denies the ethic of the common good of all in favor of the common good of some.

Since God is just in all things, so we, too, are to uphold biblical justice for our fellow humanity, no matter who they are or where they come from.

Never deprive foreigners and orphans of justice. And never take widows’ clothes to guarantee a loan. (Deuteronomy 24:17, GW)

A spirit of justice, not injustice, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.

Love

Hate is the inevitable result of holding onto anger through nursing a grudge and holding onto bitterness. It fails to speak up and speak out.

Love, however, assertively addresses anger and seeks to make things right in a calm and concerned way. Love attacks problems, not people.

Since God is love, so we, too are to love one another.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. (1 John 4:7, NIV)

Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. (Romans 12:21, MSG)

A spirit of love, not a hateful vengeful one, is what God is looking for in a good neighbor.

A good neighbor is one who seeks the common good of all persons because God is good, all the time, and always does what is right, just, and fair.

Gracious God and Father, in a world of fear and suspicion, teach us that love is the only means to conquer fear.

Loving Lord Jesus, Son of God, in a world full of anger and frustration, teach to overturn the tables and tear down the fences which turn away the hungry and homeless; and to practice hospitality without prejudice.

Blessed Holy Spirit of God, in a world of indifference and ignorance, teach us wisdom, to be caring of one another, and to protect one another.

Blessed Holy Trinity, the God whom we serve, help us to know the peace that steals gently in through quiet acts of kindness, just as peace is always within you as one God, now and forever. Amen.

Romans 12:9-21 – Live in Harmony with One Another

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.

Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you but conquer evil by doing good. (New Living Translation)

God’s Word is applied by God’s Spirit through God’s people.

In other words, we all need community. To live in isolation from others, doing our own thing and only keeping to ourselves, is to be spiritually unhealthy – not to mention contra God’s will. We are meant to be close enough to one another to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

Living in harmony with others means we possess both an attitude and action of unity. Put another way, we are to regard everyone as equals by not playing favorites or looking down on some in a condescending way. We are to avoid sticking up our noses at others.

We need a willingness to interact with and minister to every kind of person. We aren’t just supposed to hob-nob with people who can help us get where we want to go, or who feed our ambitions. Rather, we are expected to treat everyone with respect and attention. 

Unity, harmony, and working together aren’t things that simply materialize out of thin air. There must be a great deal of effort expended to maintain healthy relations. 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:2-3, NIV

True harmony is a humble willingness to associate with everyone, not just family and friends. This takes patience and a willingness to lovingly tolerate people’s quirks and idiosyncrasies. Every one of us is unique and distinctive, and, so, we must not think that everyone has to be like me, or that my way is the only way.

Unity and harmony are not natural to us in our fallen state. Left to our own devices, apart from the grace of God, we keep to ourselves and only interact with those whom we like, or look like us. It takes a great deal of energy to maintain harmony and good relations.

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:1-4, MSG)

Conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel is to kick up a sweat for harmonious living. To do it, there must be genuine conversation, listening, and dialogue. Only spouting personal opinions at each other won’t cut it.

Holy Scripture calls us to unity and harmony because we have a nasty tendency to think better of ourselves than what is really true, and of others what is not so good. 

We often inflate our positive qualities and abilities, especially in comparison to other people. For instance, when one research study asked a million high school students how well they got along with their peers, none of the students rated themselves below average. As a matter of fact, 60% of students believed they were in the top 10%; and 25% rated themselves in the top one percent.

Well-educated college professors were just as biased about their abilities. In the study, 2% rated themselves below average; 10% were average and 63% were above average; 25% rated themselves as truly exceptional. Of course, this is statistically impossible. Turns out, the average person believes he is a better person than the average person.

Christian psychologist Mark McMinn contends that this study reveals our pride. He says, “One of the clearest conclusions of social science research is that we are proud. We think better of ourselves than we really are, we see our faults in faint black and white rather than in vivid color, and we assume the worst in others while assuming the best in ourselves.”

The acid test of harmonious love is how we treat the lowly and underprivileged people among us.

“If a poor man comes into your church, behave like him and do not put on airs because of your riches. In Christ there is no rich or poor. Do not be ashamed of him because of his outward dress but receive him because of his inward faith. If you see him in sorrow, do not hesitate to comfort him, and if he is prospering, do not feel shy about sharing in his pleasure. If you think you are a great person, then think others are also. If you think they are humble and lowly, then think the same of yourself.”

St. John Chrysostom (347-407, C.E.) Bishop of Constantinople

People cannot function without harmony. Consider a tuning fork. It delivers a true pitch by two tines vibrating together. Muffle either side, even a little, and the note disappears. Neither tine individually produces the pure note. Only when both tines vibrate is the correct pitch heard. 

Harmony is not a matter of give and take and compromise to make each other happy or satisfied. Rather, harmony comes through a joint mission, a common purpose, and shared values. If we wholeheartedly pursue these values together, not in isolation, but with one another, then we will experience harmony. 

A divided community is a group which has lost its sense of mission and is confused about what values they are to embrace. However, a harmonious group of people knows why they exist, who they are, and what they will do together.

But what if someone offends or hurts me? Then, we bless and do not curse those who persecute us.

“Love to God disposes people to see his hand in everything; to own him as the governor of the world, and the director of providence; and to acknowledge his disposal in everything that takes place. And the fact that the hand of God is a great deal more concerned in all that happens to us than the treatment of people is, should lead us, in great measure, not to think of things as from others, but to have respect to them chiefly as from God – as ordered by his love and wisdom, even when their immediate source may be the malice or heedlessness of another person. And if we indeed consider and feel that they are from the hand of God, then we shall be disposed meekly to receive and quietly to submit to them, and to own that the greatest injuries received from other people are justly and even kindly ordered of God, and so be far from any ruffle or tumult of mind on account of them.”

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Nobody needs to get all up in someone else’s grill about something they did or didn’t do, but to realize that God is working behind the scenes, providentially accomplishing divine purposes. We are to take solace and comfort in that truth, and not create division where there is to be harmony.

We are all in this life together. We are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper. So, let’s work together in a common purpose of loving God, loving one another, and loving our neighbor.

Heavenly Father, you have called us to continue Christ’s work of reconciliation and reveal you to the world. Forgive us the sins which tear us apart. Give us the courage to overcome our fears and to seek that unity which is your gift and your will, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

What Does the Lord Require of Us?

Welcome, friends! Micah 6:1-8 lets us know exactly what God desires for us as God’s people: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Click on the videos below, and we will consider the Word of the Lord together.

Blessed God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, fill the hearts of your people with the fire of your love and mercy, and with the desire to ensure justice is done for the common good of all persons. Amen.

Isaiah 59:9-19 – (Un)Truth in the Public Square

Because of all this, justice is far from us,
    and righteousness beyond our reach.
We expect light, and there is darkness;
    we await a gleam of light, but walk about in gloom.
We grope along the wall like the blind;
    like those without eyes we grope.
We stumble at noonday as if it were twilight,
    and among the strong as if we were dying.
All of us growl like bears,
    and like doves we moan.
We expect justice, but there is none;
    we await salvation, but it is far from us.
Our rebellions are numerous in your presence;
    our sins testify against us.
Our rebellions are with us;
    we’re aware of our guilt:
    defying and denying the Lord,
    turning away from our God,
    planning oppression and revolt,
    muttering lying words conceived in our minds.
Justice is pushed aside;
    righteousness stands far off,
    because truth has stumbled in the public square,
    and honesty can’t enter.
Truth is missing;
    anyone turning from evil is plundered.

The Lord looked and was upset at the absence of justice.
Seeing that there was no one,
    and astonished that no one would intervene,
    God’s arm brought victory,
    upheld by righteousness,
    putting on righteousness as armor
    and a helmet of salvation on his head,
    putting on garments of vengeance,
    and wrapping himself in a cloak of zeal.
God will repay according to their actions:
    wrath to his foes, retribution to enemies,
    retribution to the coastlands,
    so those in the west will fear the Lord’s name,
    and those in the east will fear God’s glory.
It will come like a rushing river
    that the Lord’s wind drives on. (Common English Bible)

It is telling that when the word “politics” is used today, we immediately think of other words like, “polarized” “rancorous” and “corrupt.” The word “statecraft,” that is, the positive use of politics as a vocation in serving the common good of all persons, seems now like some anachronistic concept of the past.

Isaiah the prophet may have spoken over two millennia ago, yet his words are eerily relevant today, when he said, “Truth has stumbled in the public square.”

Politics, today as in Isaiah’s day, has become less about unselfish public servants promoting the welfare of citizens, and more about winning elections and possessing power. 

A party spirit rules the day, where, in the Unites States, Republicans and Democrats are more divided than ever with less and less ability to truly listen to one another in order to advance genuine justice, ethical righteousness, and social peace within both the nation and the world.

We, as citizens of both our local regions and of the world, must avoid getting sucked into the vortex of acrimonious speech and hate-filled rhetoric. 

Christians, especially those who desire to live and love like Jesus, need to be at the forefront of forsaking the hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another; of envying power in order to satisfy personal agendas; and, of believing that malicious talk is justified if it accomplishes my wants and needs. 

We are not to keep looking for politicians, and everyone else whom we disagree with, to change. Rather, we ourselves are to practice repentance and allow the grace of God to transform and renew us. 

If what we speak in the public square is selfish and deceitful, we have no further to look than within, when it comes to turning from evil. A slow, careful, and serious reading of the prophet Isaiah is quite necessary. If it does not lead to repentance, we only have God’s displeasure to anticipate.

So, instead of continually insisting that others change or move over, let’s focus on us and seek the following:

  • Seek our better angels of humility, tolerance, and patience to guide our public discourse.
  • Open our eyes to see the image of God in others who are different from us and who see the world differently than we do.
  • Embrace civility and basic human respect for all persons, no matter who they are, as our presuppositions to all conversations.
  • Develop good listening skills so that we aren’t misinterpreting and misrepresenting another’s viewpoint.
  • Be willing, within our own communities of faith, to participate and worship together as the one people of God, without assigning other identities to each other which are not helpful.
  • Enlarge our hearts so that we are big enough people to hold the differing perspectives and politics of others without demonizing them.
  • Default to grace when we aren’t sure what to do say or do.

The Lord will not contend forever with injustice and unrighteousness in the world’s politics, including the extremely local politics of church, family, and neighborhood. Divine intervention cuts both ways, bringing deliverance and freedom, as well as judgment and retribution.

Let us, then, be found to be truthful and honest in all our words and ways; encouraging and helpful in all our public service; and seeking the peace of everyone in our own relational orbits.

Great God of truth and justice, you have every right to judge the world. Yet, instead of destroying the earth, you sent your Son to redeem lost humanity to yourself. May I, along with every creature you have made, come to our senses and speak truth with grace and act with integrity so that there is again righteousness throughout the land. Amen.