Loving others as ourselves is a far better guide to morality than following rules, but we can’t just stop following rules and begin making moral decisions on the fly. Instead, we must be proactive in learning how to love others. Frankly, loving others is more difficult than following religious rules, even though it is the ethical way to live, as Jesus taught us.
To begin loving others, I suggest a few beginning steps. The first is to try to grasp what it means to love others as ourselves by looking at Jesus’ words and actions, as we talked about that last time. After that, we can take other actions.
Recognize that Loving Others Properly Requires Learning and Growth
Small children are unable to make moral decisions for themselves. We all begin life as selfish individuals bent on getting what we want from others, so to learn how to behave properly we need help from those with more understanding and experience.
Some parents, teachers, and other influencers do a better job than others; unfortunately there are those who control with authoritative rules, and their answer to the inevitable ‘Why’ is ‘Because I said so!’ This sets a foundation for either legalism or rebellion as a child matures.
Instead, guidelines should be based on regard for the child’s well-being, and not as arbitrary rules, and they should be reasonable and used in a way that does not foster blindly following rules. As a child matures, they should increasingly develop their own personal guidelines so they can make sound decisions for themselves.
Followers of Jesus who abandon religious rules, in favor of treating people with love, experience similar development. We can begin establishing our personal guidelines with concepts that seem self-evident: don’t steal, don’t assault people, don’t kill. But we need to grow beyond that.
Focus on the Words and Actions of Jesus
Reading and reflecting on the stories of Jesus in the four Gospels is very important; both his words and his actions help us understand what it means to love others with their best interest in mind.
We should read and re-read the Gospels, but it is also essential to reflect on what it means to love ourselves and others in a practical, everyday, way. One way to do this is to visualize potential situations and consider our possible actions.
- Do they show compassion, empathy, and sensitivity?
- Do they help people?
- Do they hurt people?
- Do they involve revenge or retaliation?
- Are we using people for our own purposes without regard to their welfare?
- Will we benefit at another person’s expense?
- Is our action self-destructive?
I encourage you to think of a situation right now and apply these questions to help lead to the most loving response. You’ll probably want to add your own questions to the list. We grow through the increasing capacity within us to see others as the loving Father sees them.
Find Trusted Mentors as Resources
It is good to find a few trustworthy followers of Jesus we can talk with about loving others and to serve as a sounding board in discussing ethical questions. We can learn from each other. Good books are another resource to learn how to live as a believer who loves others.
However, be careful of those who would lead you into legalism (following religious rules), even if they quote Bible verses at you. Legalism takes the focus off loving the Father, ourselves, and others and leads to self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and increased guilt. Ethical growth does not come through keeping rules.
Don’t let others, even long-time believers, dictate what actions are appropriate for you; this is between you and the Father. The Father works with each of us individually and needs no spokesman or enforcer. No follower has a right to judge another. We are each on our own journey.
By cooperating with the love of the Father, and being proactive in learning to love others, we experience personal (spiritual) growth. Growth is sometimes difficult but it is extremely important.
Growth is a Lifetime Experience
We will certainly make mistakes in interacting with people; but from those mistakes we learn to do better next time so that we are always growing in our ability to love people more appropriately. On the other hand, following legalistic rules gives little opportunity for ethical growth.
We should continue to grow by:
- Aligning our attitudes with the attitudes of the Father who loves us all
- Contributing to the good of others instead of causing pain and suffering
- Looking out for our own best interest by avoiding self-destructive attitudes and behaviors
Along the way, we will likely develop flexible guidelines for ourselves on how to respond to various situations. This is very helpful, especially in spontaneous situations. However, we can never transfer what we have learned into rules for someone else.
When we act with love toward ourselves and others we reduce suffering in the world and we avoid carrying a load of guilt for our actions. We also build self-respect. None of us will become perfect in loving others, but committing ourselves to loving the Father, ourselves, and others makes a huge differences in all our lives.
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The purpose of this blog is to support those re-evaluating traditional religious beliefs.