“You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9).
“Loving your neighbor as yourself” is not being partial; it is not showing favoritism to certain people.
Loving your neighbor as yourself is like inviting people to a party.
Imagine the best party you’ve ever been to. They’re serving the finest cheeses and the most delicious chocolates. The DJ is playing your jam. The decorations are on point. You’re having the time of your life!
Out of the corner of your eye you spot someone by the door. It’s that girl – you don’t really know her, but you know her reputation. You’ve heard things. You suspect some other things. She’s peeking in around the doorman, trying to get in. He’s pointing to the guest list and shaking his head: “No.”
Just as you’re about to go back to dancing – you make eye contact. Her eyes light up, recognizing you. She smiles and waves hopefully. You can see the question in her raised eyebrows: “Will you help me get in?”
You turn away.
In this moment, are you loving your neighbor as yourself?
No. You’re not.
So let’s do that again. Imagine the same party: cheeses, chocolates, music, and all. You’re dancing and laughing and living it up. This time, though, the doors are thrown wide open. Through them you see that same girl. She’s standing outside looking hesitant, as though she’s thinking about coming inside but isn’t quite sure. She’s reading over a piece of paper. She glances up and you make eye contact.
“Hey!” you call across the room, walking toward her. “You got my invitation! I’m so glad you came!”
That is loving your neighbor as yourself.
Haven’t we all – at some point, somewhere – been the person on the outside who wants to be invited in? The new student looking for a table in the lunchroom? The player who didn’t get picked for a team? The one left behind when others made their own plans? We have walked in those shoes; we know the sting of being un-invited. When we see neighbors being left out, we know exactly how to love them as ourselves: invite them in.
This inviting has to be done without partiality, because partiality is what gets people left out in the first place. According to James, it doesn’t matter if they’re rich and shop at Lord and Taylor or if they’re poor and shop at the thrift shop. We invite them all. And friends, the best party we Christ-followers have to invite people to is church – the get-together of Christians to celebrate the Resurrection and all that comes with it.
As the church membership vows in our hymnal put it, Christ has opened this party to people of all ages, nations, and races. So if we know people – any people, even those people – and we decide not to invite them to join us…
…well, that’s just not neighborly.
Loving your neighbor as yourself also determines how you treat people once they’re at the party.
Let’s go back to the scene: cheese, music, fun. A marvelous party; a magical evening. You’re laughing and talking with your friends. You see someone new walk toward your circle. He might have been standing there for a while, even, it’s hard to say. You’ve met him before… several times. He lives a couple houses down from you. He’s trying to fit in but looks a little out of place. He says hello, calling you by name.
“Who’s that?” one of your friends asks.
“Man, I don’t know!” you reply, laughing.
Have you loved what’s-his-name as yourself?
No. How can you love someone if you don’t even know his name?
So let’s rewind and start over. A beautiful party, a laughing circle of friends. You see someone new walk nearby, with that awkward look of someone trying to find a conversation to be a part of. “Hey, Frank!” you call. “C’mere, let me introduce you to some folks.”
That’s loving your neighbor.
Surely we’ve all had our name forgotten. Sometimes this is no big deal – when you’re new in a place you expect that it might take a couple times for folks to remember your name. No big deal. But if you’ve been at work for three months, doing your best, and your boss is still calling you “Bob” when your name is really “John”… then that hurts. It makes you feel like a nobody, like you’re so small it doesn’t even matter what your name really is. We wouldn’t want to be treated that way, so we wouldn’t want to treat our neighbors that way, either. We want to work hard to know their names because they are important, too.
If you’re a church-going Christian, then you’re already at the party.
And if you want to love your neighbor as yourself, then you can do nothing but invite all people and know them by name.
Inviting people to church isn’t always as fun as inviting people to a party. But why not? If you go to church, there must be some reason you go. Maybe you like seeing people, or listening to the music, or hearing the sermon. Maybe it’s something harder to describe, like a peaceful feeling or a reassurance that your shortcomings have been forgiven. Whatever it is, when you invite someone to church tell them about that thing you like best… and then invite them to come with you.
So if you want someone to come to your friend’s Halloween party, you’d say something like: “You should come – there’s going to be karaoke, and I’m going to rock that new Avett Brothers song. I’ll pick you up and we can ride together.” It’s not so different with church: “You should come – there’s going to be communion next Sunday, and it always gives me this amazing sense of peace. I’ll pick you up and we can ride together.”
See? It’s like a party!
When you start getting the knack of inviting, don’t forget to invite anyone and everyone. Not just the rich people or smart people or connected people, not just the people who you think would make good committee members or children’s ministry volunteers. Everyone.
Once these new folks are at the party, the next trick is to learn everyone’s names. And that can be hard.
When I was in Charlotte I was appointed near this huge, active Methodist church called Good Shepherd. The pastor there – Talbot, a great guy – amazed me with his name-learning skills. He came to help me with something at my church once, and he even knew some of the names there just because he had met these folks a couple times, years back.
“He’s just got the gift!” I thought. “I wish I could be like that.”
But over time I’ve changed my mind on this. Yes, there are probably a few people out there who just have a knack for name recall. But most of us – maybe Pastor Talbot included – know names because we really work hard at it. I’ve discovered, for example, that if I write a new name on my prayer list and pray for them every day for a week, I’ll probably remember their name. That’s not some “gift,” it’s just time and effort. But it’s worth it, especially when it comes to those with whom I go to church, because they’re important.
Every. Single. One. Right?
And that includes you, whoever you are, out there reading this. Maybe we know each other – you know my name and I know yours. Maybe we’ve never met. Whatever the case, this is true: You are a child of God, and you are important. I hope you have some Christian party called “church” to go to where you are called by name.
And if you don’t – then go make it. Go to your church and start making it a place where everyone’s name is known. Or go visit a church and show them that they’re important by learning their names.
Because this is a party where everyone is invited, and everyone is important.