Why Do I Love My Unbelieving Neighbor? (2)

I do not love my unbelieving neighbor because I know that God loves him. But I do love him for God’s sake. Love for the neighbor is not rooted in a desire simply to be a decent human being. Atheists believe it is possible to love the neighbor without any love for God. Some of these atheists expressed their faith in a general human capacity for goodness with advertisements in 2008 that read: “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” Contrary to that the Bible teaches and the believer knows that true love for the neighbor is rooted in a love for God. Without the love of God in my heart I cannot love my wife, my children, my governor, my parents, my brothers and sisters in Christ, or my unbelieving neighbor. God’s love must come to me first, transform me so that I love him, and then for his sake I can love my neighbor.

In his exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism Rev. Hoeksema explained that loving the neighbor for God’s sake is the requirement of the summary of the law. He wrote,

When the Lord teaches us in Matt. 22:38 and 39 that the great commandment is the love of God, while the second commandment, concerning the love of the neighbor, is like unto the first, the meaning is, of course, that the love of God is the principle of the whole law and that without it there is no love of the neighbor possible. The latter is rooted in the love of God. It is evident, therefore that the law requires that we love the neighbor for God’s sake.

True love for the neighbor is always an expression of love for God that is controlled by the law of God. Men do not love their neighbors when the kindness they show to them measures up to their own human standards. Men might think it is a loving-kindness to the neighbor when they tolerate and even encourage the neighbor’s sins. In reality that is hatred for God and therefore hatred for the neighbor. When men seek to “love” their neighbors in such a way they are pursuing the neighbor’s material good at the expense of his spiritual well-being. Christians love others according to God’s law in order to “promote the advantage” of the neighbor both materially and spiritually (Lord’s Day 42, Q/A 111 of the Heidelberg Catechism).

Since Christians love the neighbor for God’s sake, they love the neighbor for the same reason that they love God. GRATITUDE. Why are Christians filled with gratitude to God?  For the personal salvation God has graciously given to them for the sake of Jesus Christ. The reason I love my unbelieving neighbor is not because God loves him but because God loves me! If I had a Muslim neighbor next door, my thought would not be, ‘because God loves him I am required to love him.’ But my thought would be, ‘because God loves me I must love him.’ Gratitude is expressed in love for the neighbor because of the personal knowledge that says, ‘I am an unworthy sinner loved by God, so I will also love my neighbor, who may be an unworthy sinner, but no more unworthy than me.’

Why did Paul love and desire the salvation of unbelieving Jews and Gentiles? Why does a believing wife cleave to and love an unbelieving husband (1 Peter 3)? Why do Christians honor and pray for the salvation of wicked rulers? Why do Christians give a reason of their hope to Muslims and other unbelievers and pray for their salvation? Such love for the neighbor is not rooted in a knowledge that God loves everyone with whom Christians have contact. Christians love others, are kind to others, and desire the salvation of others because they are thankful for how great a salvation God has given them!

In the future I plan to take the time to examine some Scripture passages that demonstrate that Christian love for the neighbor is based on God’s love for us, not his love for all men. And perhaps in another post I will answer the question, do Christians love people that God does not love, and if so, why?  

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Why Do I Love My Unbelieving Neighbor?

The title of this post is a question that I asked myself after reading the title of a “Breakpoint” message by John Stonestreet—Our Muslim Neighbors: Christ died for them, we could at least love them. The title seems to suggest that Christians ought to love unbelievers (specifically Muslims) because God loves them. The Bible clearly teaches that God sent Jesus to die for sinners as an expression of his love for sinners. And the logic of Stonestreet’s argument seems to be that if God loves unbelievers in the cross of Jesus Christ then that love of God is the reason that Christians also must love unbelievers.

The issue here is not that God loves unbelievers and sent Christ to die for them. The Bible is very clear that in his love for his people who were yet sinners, hardened unbelievers, God sent Christ to die for them. The issue here is the extent of God’s love for unbelievers that was displayed in the death of Jesus Christ. Is Jesus’ death an expression of God’s love for all sinners or only for some?

Stonestreet’s title suggests that God’s love in the cross of Jesus Christ is universal in extent—it is a love for all sinners. Stonestreet does not explicitly say in the title or in the body of his article that Jesus died for everyone. This is the inference that I am drawing from his assertion that Christians should love people because Christ died for them. In the body of the article Stonestreet speaks of the calling of Christians to “love our enemies,” to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” and to “reach out to all our neighbors (emphasis his).” If we are to love all of our neighbors, and Christ’s death for the neighbor is the basis of that love, then Christ must have died for all of our neighbors. So Stonestreet seems to find a love of God for all men in the cross of Jesus Christ as the ground that necessitates the love of Christians for their unbelieving neighbors.

The idea that Christians must love all men because God loves all men is quite prevalent in the church today. Even in many Reformed churches where the idea that Jesus died for all men is rejected, it is still popular to teach that God loves all men. In these churches they deny that God loves all men in the death of Jesus Christ, but they teach that God loves all men in the preaching of the gospel. The preaching of the gospel is a “well-meant” offer of salvation to all men in which God sincerely loves all men and desires the salvation of all men. It is commonly said this is what drives the church to do missions. Why does the church do the most loving thing it can do for sinners and preach the gospel to all men as it has opportunity? Because God loves all men. Therefore, the church must love all men and seek the salvation of all men too.  So whether it is because God loves all men in Jesus’ death, or because he loves all men in the preaching of the gospel, the conclusion is the same, the reason that Christians must love the neighbor is because God also loves the neighbor.

There is no question that Christians must love their enemies, do good to all men (Matt. 5:43, Gal. 6:10). There is no question about the duty of the church to preach the gospel to all men as it has opportunity (Matt. 28:19). There is no question about the duty of the individual Christian to love and desire the salvation of his unbelieving neighbor whether he be an atheist or a Muslim.

But the calling of a Christian to love the neighbor cannot be grounded upon the love of God for all men. Christian love for the neighbor cannot be grounded upon the love of God for all men because God does not love all men. God did not love all men in the cross of Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches that Jesus died for His elect sheep alone (John 10:15). God loved only the elect in the cross of Jesus Christ. And God does not love all men in the preaching of the gospel. In the preaching of the gospel God also only loves and desires the salvation of his elect (Matt. 13:11-17, Matt. 22:14).

Scripture teaches that God’s love is powerful. It does not matter if one says that God’s love for all men is found in the cross of Christ or in the preaching, either way, if God loves everyone with his powerful love then everyone would be saved. But everyone is not saved. Which means that God’s love must be a weak love if his love is universal. There is no hint of a weak universal love of God that fails to save those who are the objects of that love in Scripture. God’s love is powerful and saving for those chosen by God in eternal election (Rom. 8:29-30).

Christ did not die for all men. God does not have love for all men. Christians then do not love their unbelieving neighbors because they know God loves them.

Oh yes, Christians must love Muslims and their other unbelieving neighbors. Why?

We will answer that question in the next post.

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