There has been quite a bit of discussion lately, in a lot of places, about the needs of refugees, and the manner in which a loving nation should treat such individuals.
Sadly, the discourse has not always itself been loving. In fact, quite a few have used the occasion to spew hateful venom at those who disagree with them on the issue.
While the Bible does have quite a bit to say about the need to care for strangers, and having compassion on those in need, there is another point that should be considered first: the responsibility to show love toward those with whom you have actual contact and relations.
The apostle John made the point in his first epistle: “”If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20, ESV)
It is quite easy to claim love and adoration for someone you have never met. It’s quite another to put claims of a loving nature into action when actually interacting with someone. The first is mere words. The second takes actual effort.
There is, one might observe, quite a similar dynamic at work in conversations about caring for strangers. It’s all well and good to claim compassion on people whom you have never met, and may never actually meet, especially when your compassion is mostly comprised of demands that other people care for said strangers. But the real test of a loving nature is shown in how you deal with those you around you.
Claiming love for individuals you do not know, while at the same time being hateful to those you do know, is nothing short of hypocrisy.
In a similar vein, the Bible says this about our tongue: “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:8-12; ESV)
Notice again the hypocrisy in using the tongue to praise God whom you have not seen, while vilifying those around you whom you have seen.
A genuinely loving person is patient, kind, gentle and caring. (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) They are not rude (1 Corinthians 13:5a). Those who are rude, impatient, and crass towards their political opponents are not revealing a loving heart; rather their actions are demonstrating a selfish, hateful heart. Such an individual, one might be tempted to conclude, is actually less concerned with helping people and more concerned with scoring political or cultural points against those with whom they disagree.
It is inevitable that people are going to disagree about certain issues. Sometimes such disagreements are going to be rather sharp. But they do not have to be an excuse for an unloving attitude. If Jesus was able to pray, concerning those driving nails into his hands, “Father forgive them,” (Luke 23:34) then we can learn to be a little more patient toward those with whom we have disagreements.
The second great commandment, in all of Scripture, is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (cf. Matthew 22:39; Leviticus 19:18) Jesus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), taught us that we should understand neighbor rather broadly: it most certainly includes strangers and foreigners, even those of a different culture and religion. But it also includes your literal neighbors: those who live next door to you, or in the same community. And if you have trouble loving the one beside you, it is well worth asking how well can you actually love the one half a world away?
The Church of Christ wishes to show love to all men, those both near and far. We invite you to come study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.