What are the Practical Implications of Loving Others as Ourselves?

In my last post I shared that believers are not required to live by any list of religious laws or rules. Instead we should make moral decisions based on Jesus’ teaching, supported by his actions, that we should live by the principle of loving the Father, ourselves, and each other.

However, many believers are legalists who think we are bound by biblical rules. Some declare that without observing biblical rules we will fall into sin and be punished forever in hell. I don’t think so. Living by the principle of loving others is a far stronger morality than following rules, but choosing this path leads to implications that can radically change our behavior compared to observing religious rules.

The Code of Hammurabi

The Code of Hammurabi

Some Immoral Behaviors are Obviously Harmful

Recently, a friend mentioned to me that the commandments in the Bible are the source of all morality. I suggested they were not–and added that even the Ten Commandments are not the foundation of morality.

In shocked amazement he replied, “What! It’s okay to kill and steal!”

Of course not. Everyone knows it’s wrong to kill or steal. We don’t need a commandment to tell us that. No group can exist without controlling these behaviors, so every society in the world has laws against killing and stealing.

Perhaps you are aware of the ancient Code of Hammurabi, written long before the time of Moses. Similar to Leviticus, the law code prescribes penalties for a wide assortment of social behaviors including killing and stealing. It also includes penalties for adultery. Moses did not introduce the ideas that murder or theft were wrong; this is clear to everyone.

Both killing and stealing hurt people. In Matthew 15, the Pharisees were upset that Jesus did not meet their legalistic expectations. Jesus responded with a list of truly bad behaviors, and they all relate to hurting other people.

Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.

For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.

In Terms of Harm, Some Religious Rules Lose Significance

If we make moral decisions based on avoiding harm to ourselves and others, many legalistic rules are almost meaningless. Among the ‘sins’ I faced 40 years ago were: attending theaters, dancing, playing cards, and so forth. Men couldn’t wear their hair over their ears; women couldn’t cut their hair at all, and they couldn’t wear jeans.

Many of those religious rules were cultural, and none of them was innately harmful. The real harm, however, is that using rules as an absolute, one-size-fits-all guide prevented people from learning discretion or developing moral growth. Behavior was based, not on consideration for people, but on rules imposed by authorities.

This sort of legalism also teaches that holiness, or spirituality, means living by the rules and don’t necessarily involve treating other people with love. Instead, judgmentalism, bullying, exclusion, and gossip are common in legalistic circles.

Loving Others instead of Rules Changes Behavior

When I began to move from concern for religious rules to concern for people, some of my religious views changed. The first had to do with race. I came of age during the civil rights movement, and I am ashamed to say that I was intensely opposed to it. I agreed with the religious arguments against the mixing of the races—but not for long.

One day I read a statement by Paul in a new light: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I realized in an instant that I was not better than a black person; we were equal in Jesus. Of course, this was still a case of taking a biblical statement as directive, but it changed my thinking and put me on the path of considering people instead of inherited rules. By the time I finished high school, I was a civil rights advocate.

Many years later, I considered my inherited views about another despised and excluded group—gays. The legalistic rules regarding gays were ingrained in my religious culture, but I began to question the idea that God had designated this group for special rejection and even hatred. In considering gays as people, I began to ask whether being gay was harmful to themselves or others. I was aware of the accusations of harm; you know them and I will not enumerate them here.

But the harm I perceived resulted primarily from those who persecuted them. I began to support acceptance in society and equal rights. Then, after determining that there is no moral reason to reject gays at all, and reflecting deeply on Jesus’ radical inclusion of people, I advocated full acceptance and integration of gay believers into the church, including leadership positions, ordination, and marriage. I think people are more important to God than church rules.

I believe these views are consistent with Jesus’ teaching of loving others as ourselves. Next time, we will discuss how this might apply to another thorny issue with many legalistic associations—divorce.

Photo Credit: Prof. Mortel via Compfight cc
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Have a great day! ~Tim
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16 Responses to What are the Practical Implications of Loving Others as Ourselves?

  1. michaeleeast says:

    Great post Tim.
    I’m glad to hear that you came to support civil rights for African Americans and gays.
    It is hard to express the sorrow and fear that rejection by the Church can cause.
    The more people that come out and say they accept us the better.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jesus loved people and was very inclusive. So I think it is important for us to demonstrate love and inclusion as well. It appears to me that more believers are coming out to show their support. Judgment and exclusion are still at a terrible level, but not nearly as widespread as a few decades ago.

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  2. Chas says:

    Tim, the two short passages from Matthew, attributed to Jesus, give a useful analogy, but perhaps miss some relevant points. A baby is an empty spiritual vessel that receives whatever is put into it. At first, it knows nothing, but learns everything from the people with whom it spends the majority of its time. What comes out is essentially what has been put in, but there does seem to be some sort of additional factor corresponding to goodness, or badness, because two children who have been raised in the same family, and so exposed to identical influences, can turn out to be quite different people.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, this is a valid observation; you are right about people starting fresh but turning out so differently. How do you think following rules vs. following the principle of love apply to the situation of children?

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      • Chas says:

        Well, clearly it is necessary to establish some framework of what you find acceptable and what you would not. I also think that this framework should be kept to, because it give the child security. Capricious changes (which might accompany mood swings in certain forms of mental illness) in a parent must be a nightmare for their child. They would never know from moment to moment what to expect. It is also important for both parents to ‘sing from the same hymnbook,’ so that a child cannot play one parent off against the other. Having said that, though, if one parent can see clearly that the other parent is wrong in what they are saying, that parent should take the side of the child, in clear view of the other parent, with explanation of why they think the other parent is wrong. Operating within a framework of what is acceptable, founded on the bedrock of love, establishes disciplined behavior in the child, so that it will tend to respond in a loving way to its parents, and to other people. It is possible to see where people have tried to be loving to their children, but have failed, by mistaking their giving of presents for love (almost ‘trying to buy love’), but that is a sign of insecurity in the parent, which will damage the child. This is part of what is becoming a recurring theme of ‘what is the most loving thing to do.’ For me, the answer to that is just to obey what God wants me to do, because it is not always obvious what the most loving thing is. He certainly knows.

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, I agree with you that children need guidelines, but they should be established out of regard for the child’s well-being rather than as arbitrary rules. They should be reasonable and used in a way that does not foster the blind following of rules.

          As the child grows older, I think they should be more involved in the reasons for guidelines and even help to development them with their parents. This fosters personal growth and moral development, so that once they are adults and free of their parents control they can make more sound decisions.

          I planned to address this later in the series, and I might even use some of the language from this conversation with you.

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          • Chas says:

            Tim, I agree that there should always be sound reasons for the guidelines. These should take into account the well being of the child and of other people who may interact with the child. They should never be just arbitrary rules based on some whim of the parents. In an ideal world, the relationship between parents and child ought to be one in which the love of the parents causes the child to respond with love for them, which is where what comes out corresponds to what has been put in. When the child grows older and wishes to have more independence, the parents should discuss with the child what would be reasonable behavior for them, and reach agreement on a code of acceptable behavior.

            Having said all that, I can in no way claim that my wife and I set out to form any framework of this type for our daughter, although we did try to be consistent and to be in agreement with each other. We were just did what seemed best to us at the time. In effect, we let out what had been put into us by our own parents, so trying to be too prescriptive might itself be a danger.

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            I think you are absolutely correct in your perspective on raising children, Chas.

            However, the fact is, whether as parents or as adults relating to other adults, we can only do what we think best–and we are imperfect in doing that. So, hopefully, we grow and learn how do respond better next time. Following legalistic rules don’t give us as much opportunity for development, though.

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          • Chas says:

            Tim, you are quite right about our needing to learn by our mistakes. Over a meal an hour ago, my wife and I were talking about how we had raised our daughter (in the light of what we have been discussing in this blog) and she said similar things to what I put above, and we agreed that we had had to learn as we went along when bringing up our daughter. We both felt that it would have been easier with a second child, has we had one. As you have stated above, we also need to learn from our mistakes in adult life too, particularly in our relationships with others, because some people might react in a different way from others in given situations. In my relationship with God, He has required me to remain flexible, so as not to become set in my ways. In this way, He brought me from believing that the Bible is the Word of God through to my present position, in which I believe that it is all the work of men, but is nevertheless as God has required it to be to fulfill His purposes.

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            I can certainly relate!

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  3. Pingback: Does Abandoning Legalism and Belief in Hell Destroy the Foundations of Morality? | Jesus Without Baggage

  4. sheila0405 says:

    I like this approach, because it goes beyond a mindless, knee-jerk reaction to issues. One must think and consider how one’s words and actions may or may not harm others as we move through our day. This seems to be purposeful living. It takes some work. Looking forward to the issue of divorce. Lots of people experience hurt in a divorce.

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  5. Pingback: Love is All We Need | Jesus Without Baggage

  6. Pingback: How Does Loving Others Apply to Divorce? | Jesus Without Baggage

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