Loving our Neighbor as Ourselves Means Rebuking Them

The above picture is of two bumper stickers I have on my car. The “Hate Crime” sticker is one I had custom made. The idea for the wording isn’t mine; I got it from a sign that I saw a Facebook friend holding. On the surface it may seem a bit exploitive, using a charged term in our culture to make a spiritual point. Some might even deny that failing to warn sinners of the judgement to come is a hate crime. They might say it may be wrong, but it’s not necessarily hatred. However, I think the Bible would teach otherwise. Jesus famously tells us that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). What many don’t realize is that Jesus is actually quoting from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18) when he uses those words. In the same chapter of Leviticus, the very verse before the quotation from Jesus, we read this:

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.

Leviticus 19:17 (KJV)

Here God declares we shall not hate our brother, and this is immediately followed by a command that contrasts hating our neighbor: rebuking them. To let our neighbor continue in sin without at least a warning is to show hate to them. This may seem strange to modern world. If anything, to tell someone else that what they’re doing is wrong would be seen as demonstrating hate. People don’t have negative feelings to those around them when they fail to tell them that they are wrong, they’re just “minding their own business.” However, just as love, biblically speaking, is an act, not a feeling, so hatred is also an act. Just because one doesn’t have negative feelings toward his neighbor doesn’t mean it isn’t still hatred when he fails to help his neighbor. The real roots of failing to help one’s neighbor is cowardice and laziness. Cowardice, because that person doesn’t want to come under pressure for having called out sin, and laziness because we’d rather tend to our own affairs than help out a neighbor. Both of these are ultimately rooted in a prioritization of oneself over others, and this is a mindset we cannot, as Christians, have:

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

So, we cannot hate our neighbors by failing to warn them. This includes our brothers in the church as well as unbelievers. If we truly are Christians, we should want to be told when we are sinning against the God whom we love. Surely, if our brothers are in Christ, they should want the same. If they are not in Christ, then they need to be warned that what they’re doing is sin and the Gospel needs to be proclaimed to them that they may be saved. Rebuking our neighbor also means rebuking them for the unpopular sins, not just the popular ones. Everyone wants to call someone out for the sins that are not socially acceptable, but are you willing to bring up sins that the culture finds acceptable or even sees as good? The command to rebuke our neighbor does not mean that we have to be harsh when we rebuke them. Sometimes kindly pointing out someone’s error is better. Other times, a more harsh tone is required (see Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians for letting a man living in sin remain in their congregation in 1 Corinthians 5). This also doesn’t mean we need to be the sin police, constantly snooping in others’ live to make sure they’re not sinning. But if we see someone in sin and they don’t seem to be aware of what they’ve done, we have an obligation to warn them, if possible. I write this article as a rebuke to myself, as I have many times failed to warn others of their sin. So let us all remember to love our neighbors as ourselves and rebuke those in sin, for their sake. And if you are not a Christian, I implore you to repent for your sins which have put enmity between you and God. The wages of your sin is death (Romans 6:23), but in Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sin. Turn to God and believe in Jesus and you will be saved.

Addendum

I wanted to add an addendum to my article as there was a little bit of confusion. I was not trying to suggest that in every single instance one must warn their neighbor of sin, or we would be in sin themselves. Sometimes it is not the appropriate time to bring something up because of other overriding priorities. If I needed to rush someone to the hospital, I shouldn’t stop outside the hospital door to have a two-hour conversation with someone leaving on why they shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain.  We are only able to warn our neighbor with the opportunities given to us, and sometimes those opportunities never come.  In general, however, we should have an attitude of warning our neighbors, rather than letting them continue in sin, as God’s righteous law tells us.

There was also the issue of whether not Leviticus 19:17 applies in a New Covenant context, as it was written to Jews living in the covenant land. It is clear to me that it bears all the markings of abiding moral law. Jesus, as mentioned earlier, quotes the very next verse. He also tells us that in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), that the definition of neighbor was not restricted to Jews, as the Samaritan neither lived in Judea, nor was ethnically fully Jewish.  In Leviticus 19 itself should have given us indication of this, as it says of the non-Jews living in the land “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself” (Leviticus 19:34).  Finally, James, clearly writing in a New Covenant context tells us that to love one’s neighbor as oneself is the Royal Law (James 2:8) and implies it is abiding law on the Christian. 

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