Loving Those Closest, Loving Those Far

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Paul will not permit us to compensate for neglecting those nearest us by advertising our compassion for those on another continent. Jesus, it must be remembered, restricted nine-tenths of his ministry to twelve Jews because it was the only way to redeem all Americans. He couldn’t be bothered, said Martin Thornton, with the foreign Canaanites because his work was to save the whole world. The check for the starving child must still be written and the missionary sent, but as an extension of what we are doing at home, not as an exemption from it.

Eugene Peterson, Traveling Light: Galatians and the Free Life in Christ, p. 184

For those in Christ, our loving concern is to be extended to every human being, reaching as far as those whom we are furthest from. But it must not bypass those nearest to us. It must encompass and encounter those in our orbit. It must be given to those we look upon every day, particulary our family, and even our enemies, of whom it has been said are often one and the same. Love begins in the neighborhood, and for householders, in the home.

This is a grand mystery. We are commanded to love. We are commanded to love those in the household of faith. We are commanded to demonstrate love for the world in the same manner Jesus demonstrated his love for us. We are to act in loving concern for those who are suffering, those who are downtrodden, wherever they may be found. We are called to go to the nations. We are sent into the world. We often miss the opportunities that are right in front of our faces, foregoing faithful, straightforward obedience in our immediate circumstances for the pursuit of some grand purpose or glorious cause.

This observation is not meant to condemn. Rather, it is intended to invite reflection and discernment. I have long puzzled over the Christian compulsion to pursue grand ambitions in faraway places to the neglect of fellow citizens sharing the same city or state. And yet, some of these grand efforts have acheived great good, leading to transformation and faith. Work has been done in the name of Christ. Nevertheless, it seems we choose to go around people in order to get to other people whom we believe really need the love of Christ, rather than tending first to the needs of those where we are.

Above, Eugene Peterson resolves the tension by reminding us that ultimately the command to love is fulfilled by way of a both/and rather than an either/or, and that the calling to love in the Christian life is one of integrity. If we extend love to those far away, we had better be faithfullly loving those right here.

I confess I am not as successful in keeping the command to love as well as I would hope. It is not an easy command to keep. In order to demonstrate love for humanity, the Son of God crossed the veil separating heaven from earth. He put off divinity and put on flesh. He left a throne for a manger. He set aside the privileges of deity for poverty. He left the security and stability of God’s throneroom and became a refugee. The Ancient of Days became a baby. He left the position of Creator and took a job as a carpenter. He left home in the Galilean countryside and instead became one who had no place to lay his head. The one who came to us as life and light was plunged into death and darkness. He was propelled to obedience through love, a love for the Father, and a love for us. Jesus put aside a lot, for love.

When I see a love like that, I find a reservoir from which I can draw which is not only a well, but a river of life, which Jesus said springs up in those who embrace him and enter his kingdom. As an eternal spring, its supply is ample for those who are near and for those who are far, both. We cannot exhaust it. It is the love of God.

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