Lord's Day Liturgy

Your Neighbor’s Slop

It is a universal law that all men seek their own advantage. It is obvious by reflecting on one’s own motives, it is obvious by looking at one’s neighbors and at the history of humanity. It is an inescapable reality that parents know, that philosophers and policy makers write about, and that advertisers depend on. Every human being thinks about himself or herself first.

The question is not if this is true, the question is if this is good. It’s hard for most of us in conservative Christian circles to consider, but if there was no god, what would be bad about self-interest and self-preservation? Or for those who grew up in a culture with a pantheon of selfish gods, knowing that we become like what we worship, a culture of self-firsters makes sense.

Worldly wise men have even attempted to build nations on the principle. Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan provides a perfect example. Here’s his argument (in my words, not his). Men are pigs, but they can’t help being pigs. Don’t tell them that being a pig is bad, just try to convince them that they’ll actually get more slop overall by not stealing their neighbor’s slop. If the neighbors get mad they might kill you, meaning less slop for you. Fear is a powerful motivator.

God’s Spirit says that this is fleshly. The self-principle in man produces immorality, impurity, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, and “things like these” (Galatians 5:19-20). It is natural, but it’s not good.

The alternative is to walk by the Spirit and “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Of course it’s natural for us to listen to our flesh, and this is why we need to meditate on the cross. As John Owen might have told Hobbes, “Be killing self or it will be killing you.”

Lord's Day Liturgy

Not Running Over Pedestrians

We finished our discussion about The Art of Neighboring at Men to Men last Monday and the ladies will finish at their next meeting. The elders recently finished another book, If You Bite & Devour One Another, and the Life to Life leaders and wives are working through it together, too. Being a good neighbor and not biting people is like driving a car and not running over pedestrians; that’s how it should be. Paul connected both behaviors with love in his letter to the Galatians.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:14–15)

Neighbor identifies any one who is next to you, someone on your street and, as was the case in the Galatian church, someone next to your seat. The whole point of the Old Testament can be tweeted with characters to spare and without losing any punch. It’s originally found in Leviticus 19:18 and Jesus called it great (Mark 12;31). Come to think of it, we might prefer the 613 laws in aggregate over this spear tip, then at least we’d have some cover.

In the flesh we do not want to love and build up, we want to criticize and tear down. We prefer sledgehammers over finishing hammers. Solomon said that he who belittles his neighbor lacks sense (Proverbs 11:12), and how much more he who attacks another part of his own body. A part that hits other parts should not be surprised when it becomes the head of the nail. Watch out.

And repent. Other people are not your primary problem. The flesh is your primary problem. A neighbor might sin against you. He probably will. What will you do? If you’re walking by the Spirit, then love will serve him, joy will draw him close, peace and patience will bear with him in kindness and more. It is not freedom to say whatever you want. It is freedom to love your neighbor.