Monday, September 21, 2009

Love your neighbor

The question sometimes crops up of whether Christians should treat unbelievers the same way as they treat fellow Christians. And, in case they should be treated differently, how does that pan out?

The question is often framed in an adversarial manner. There are unbelievers of the “Theocracy Watch” variety who imagine that all Bible-believing Christians are closet witch-burners who look back wistfully at the goode olde days of the Spanish Inquisition. Inside every outwardly amicable, Bible-believing Christian is a little Torquemada scratching and clawing to get out–like a those chest-popping, acid-dripping critters from the Alien franchise.

Of course, there’s nothing to say to people like this. Given their deep-seated suspicion, any denial on our part would be scoffed at.

However, the question is still worth answering, if only for our own sake. Let’s take a few examples.

Suppose you’re hiking with some friends. One of your hiking companions, who happens to be an atheist, sprains his ankle. If you go at his pace, that will slow you down.

Suppose a dangerous weather front is approaching. If you lag behind to help him out, you do so at considerable risk to your own safety.

What would you do? What should you do?

Suppose you’re a consistent unbeliever. In that case it would be irrational for you to risk your own life to save his. You’ve only got one life to live.

Suppose you’re a consistent Christian. In that event, all things being equal, you’d assume a personal risk. You’d stay behind to tend to his needs as best you could.

(I say, “all things being equal.” You do have to balance the risk against other obligations. For example, if you’re an only child, you shouldn’t assume the same degree of risk, for your parents may depend on you in their old age. If, on the other hand, you’re one of nine kids, then you can assume a higher risk.)

In this scenario, a Christian would treat an unbeliever better than his fellow unbelievers would. So Christian ethics is more loving and neighborly to the unbeliever-next-door than secular ethics.

On a related note, it’s not as if Peter Singer’s influential brand of secular ethics is very loving or caring–not even where his fellow infidels are concerned.

This, in turn, shades into a related issue. Atheists sometimes quote polling data according to which a majority of Americans distrust atheists. They then complain about how unfair this is to atheists.

But should a Christian trust an unbeliever? Well, it’s a matter of degree. Let’s take another example.

In a combat situation, who would want to take with you? A comrade who believes in the afterlife, or a comrade who denies the afterlife?

A consistent unbeliever would be less reliable since, from his perspective, he has everything to lose if he’s killed. So he’s less likely to risk his own skin to save his comrades under fire.

Now, in real life, people can be inconsistent. A lot depends on what we know about a person.

But that’s a general sense in which Christians would be inclined to treat an unbeliever differently than a fellow Christian. That’s not the same thing as mistreating an unbeliever. Treating him unjustly. Or treating him worse. It’s just a question of prudence.

Take another example: if two men are running for public office, one a competent Christian, and the other a competent atheist, should a Christian voter treat one differently than the other?

Well, there are situations where their policies may overlap, but as a rule the atheistic candidate will have policies which are unsympathetic to Christian values. So we don’t trust him to represent our interests.

In the last two examples, no injustice is done to the unbeliever. To the contrary, we’re simply taking him at his word. We take his ideology to heart. We take his agenda seriously. If he’s sincere about what he says he believes, then, to that extent, he can’t be trusted.

1 comment:

  1. Steve,

    of the two "Love your neighbor" articles, this one and the one after, I like this one best as it captures the essence of 1 John 3:16.

    John 3:16 uses the Greek word "zoe" for "life".

    1 John 3:16 uses the Greek word "psuche" for "life".

    For me I emphasize the phrase "so loved" in John 3:16 and point to 1 John 3:16 which unpacks that phrase "so loved" and puts the good works we were chosen to do for the Glory of God on our shoulders like you put a yoke on an ox!

    Your last two of the three illustrations in this article come out clean in my opinion when reconciling the "Way, the "Truth, and the Life" demonstrated by the Church of Jesus Christ.

    God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for His Elect and it is described by John thus:::>

    " By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers." 1 John 3:16

    That word "lives" in the verse is also the same Greek word "psuche" as the word "life" is in the same verse.

    So, the "Way" God "so loved" the world is demonstrated by Christ.

    Paul the Apostle said it succinctly this way:::>

    Php 3:17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

    Peter, this way:::>

    1Pe 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

    And, can anyone forget Our Lord?

    Here is His Word:::>

    Mat 4:19 And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."


    Mar 8:34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

    The "Way" God "so loved" the world is the only "Way" left for us to love the world! That is a separating Word and only God's Elect, His Sheep, will "so love" the world that "Way". Goats won't and don't love the world or one another that way!

    As to your first point about treating differently unbelievers, I note both Jesus, making the distinction; and Paul too, at these two places. First Jesus and then Paul:::>

    Joh 17:9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

    Eph 1:15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,
    Eph 1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,