It’s been a while, but for some time not all that long ago, Matthew 7:1 may have been the most-discussed verse in the entire Bible. “Do not judge lest you be judged” was “America’s new favorite Bible verse” as many people, some of whom barely knew who Abraham was, would pull out Jesus’ words on judgment any time they were told they were in the wrong.
The verse was ripped completely out of context, but that didn’t matter to those who used it that way. What mattered to them was that they had an easily remembered defense they felt could shut down anybody who opposed them. “The Bible says ‘do not judge'” was the only phrase they needed to “win” a discussion and get people to do what they wanted – namely, to shut up and go away.
Over time, though, that verse got less and less use. I would venture to guess that it’s because many who “didn’t want to be judged” by hearing they were wrong have given up all pretense of caring what God says.
However, there’s a new verse being weaponized in conversation today. That verse is known as the 2nd Great Commandment, tabbed as such by Jesus Himself in Matthew 22:39: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Love your neighbor as yourself” is a vital, beautiful command from God’s Word. I have no intention of criticizing it or calling it unimportant. Just like “Do not judge,” though, “Love your neighbor” has been given a whole new meaning. It, too, is being cast by some as little more than a rhetorical tool for taking the upper hand in conversation.
- “Love your neighbor as yourself… which means you have to support socialism or you don’t love people.”
- “Love your neighbor as yourself… which means you have to wear a mask at all times (and/or get the vaccine) or you don’t love people.”
- “Love your neighbor as yourself… which means you have to endorse women preaching or you don’t love people.”
- “Love your neighbor as yourself… which means you must support LGBT causes or you don’t love people.”
- “Love your neighbor as yourself… which means you have to endorse Critical Race Theory or you don’t love people.”
To sum up: “If you really were a loving Christian, you would act and think exactly the way I do.”
Sorry, no. All of these are matters of opinion at best. They do not have God’s authority behind them, and therefore it’s wrong to pretend they do. One can hold the opinion that these are the best ways to love one’s neighbor. One can even advocate that doing these things is the way to carry out “love your neighbor as yourself.” But to imply or outright state that somebody is disobeying God because they don’t interpret the command the same way I do would be a sin.
Twisting a Bible verse to mean “You have to do exactly what I want you to” is a tactic that reeks of arrogance and selfishness. It is a worldly, ungodly tactic to emotionally manipulate a conversation and jockey for a perceived moral high ground to enact one’s will on others, and it’s downright shameful that some Christians would wield the same methods. Loving brethren, acting in good faith, allow for differences of opinion and seek to understand each other. They refuse to lean heavily on their brothers and sisters to force conformity.
The irony is that in forcing everyone to think and act in accordance with one’s personal opinion is directly opposed to loving your neighbor as yourself. The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), the 2nd Greatest Commandment put into action, makes us consider how we would like to be treated. None of us would like to be forced to comply with someone else’s opinions as a test of our walk with God. To do so is not to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. No, rather it is subjecting your neighbor to yourself.
Romans 14 gives us the framework for how we handle matters of opinion – even the one’s about which we feel really strongly. The principles given there are simple: don’t judge your brother for his opinion (14:3), don’t make your brother stumble (14:13), and, most importantly, pursue that which makes for peace and building each other up (14:19). Attempting to force brethren to hold our opinions violates all three of these.
The truth is, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a difficult command. It means deferring to our neighbor (Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3-4). It means training ourselves to see things from our neighbor’s perspective (Romans 14). It means loving each other even when it’s hard to like each other, especially when we disagree. If we’re using it as a weapon to grab an upper hand in an argument, we have missed the point entirely.