Dear Trinity Grace Church,

Pastoral question: “How will we love our neighbour in a worthy manner?”

Last week we thought about the greatest commandment—to love God with all our heart. In other words, we thought about worship. This week, we think about what Jesus says is the second yet equally greatest commandment: to love our neighbour.

This week’s question is, “How will we love our neighbour in a worthy manner?”

The pandemic has certainly challenged what it means to love our neighbour. As Christ-followers, we are remiss if we don’t stop to think about whether we are loving our neighbour well during the pandemic.

If you prefer, you can find a video version of the letter below.

 

First, why do we need to think about loving our neighbour?

Jesus equates loving our neighbour with loving God.

We must intentionally think about what it means to love our neighbour because Jesus equates loving our neighbour with loving God. Jesus effectively teaches that loving our neighbour is a necessary overflow of God’s love for us and our love for God.

After acknowledging that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, AKA to worship God, Jesus affirms that there is a second commandment, which is a corollary to the first and greatest commandment.

“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39)

Did you notice that Jesus says the second commandment is “like” the greatest commandment to worship God with all our heart? Jesus is saying that the greatest commandment and the second are two in one. They are two distinct commands, but they are of the same essence. You cannot obey one at the neglect of the other.

Jesus teaches that everyone is our neighbour.

Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan powerfully teaches us who our neighbour is and how to love our neighbour (Luke 10:25-37). After hearing his story, it’s hard to reject the notion that everyone is our neighbour, even those most unlike us.

We’re to overflow Christ’s love for us to our neighbours.

Jesus develops the second commandment into a new commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

Furthermore, the New Testament is replete with exhortations to validate our faith (as opposed to earning our salvation) through kindness toward our neighbours in word and deed (Rom. 13:8-10, 15:2; Gal. 5:14; Eph. 4:25; James 2:8).

A beautiful word for loving our neighbour is “ministry.”

We are ministers of Christ to build up the Church, his body, and to proclaim Christ’s gospel of grace in word and deed to the world.

 

How has the pandemic challenged our ministry to our neighbour?

Pandemic-induced fears and our government’s policies have certainly challenged ministry to our neighbour. The mandated social distancing and lockdowns have physically and relationally separated us from one another. Some of us fear contracting or spreading the virus; therefore, we avoid social contact. In society at large, we are prevented from being beside hospitalized loved ones. We are prevented from being with those struggling with mental health, where in-person time with friends and family would help their situation. Some of us are suffering from “social hypothermia.” We’re falling asleep into a numbness that threatens the deeply relational and in-person life we’re made to enjoy for God’s glory.

As a church, we have missed the invaluable ministry of presence. Praying together online is one thing. Praying next to each other is infinitely more encouraging. We have missed the joy-filled strengthening that comes from being physically together, physically singing together and hearing one another’s voices, physically partaking in the Lord’s Table together, physically praying together. Our physically congregating reinforces the deeper reality of our spiritual solidarity in Christ. We have been denied this vital ministry for over a year now.

 

Spreading Spiritual Life vs. Physical Life

To save lives by minimizing the virus’s spread, the government has legislated social distancing and lockdown by-laws. To put it another way, there are those of us who want to spread physical life by minimizing the spread of germs. The aim to spread life is honourable.

But we mustn’t forget that spreading spiritual life is more important in the final analysis than spreading physical life. Our most excellent ministry to neighbour is to sow spiritual life in Christ so that our neighbour might reap the resurrected life in eternity.

In these times of pandemic, there is a tension, then. The tension is between loving our neighbour through spreading:

A. spiritual life

vs.

B. physical life.

Put differently, the tension is between:

A. a faithful witness in word and deed to our resurrection and no-fear-in-death hope in Christ expressed through our joyful yet wise gatherings

and

B. a conscious contribution to the scientific flattening of the curve through government-mandated measures, like lockdowns, social distancing, etc.

For the Christ-follower, both are essential expressions of neighbourly love.

On the one hand, if we do not share the gospel in word, we do not love our neighbour. On the other hand, if we do not consider our neighbour’s needs—their fears, their illnesses, their hunger, their suffering—then we do not love our neighbour.

 

Look into the Spiritual Mirror

To be fair, the hypercharged onset of online communication has opened unexpected doors for new ways to love our neighbour. For example, our church responded to a refugee sponsorship mainly through virtual means (watching YouTube video requests, online donations, etc.). We experienced the joy of successfully raising the necessary funds to sponsor and resettle Adib, Khalida and their son Emmanuel. We never met this family in-person or pursued any in-person fundraising. Despite these limitations, over $35K was raised in a collaborative online effort. The process to bring this gifted ministry couple to Canada to serve in an exciting church planting work among Toronto’s Afghani community is well underway. What is more, the culminating joy will be to physically meet the family and help in-person with their settling in Canada when the time comes.

Let us not deceive ourselves, however. In the name of spreading physical life, some of us have forgotten about spreading spiritual life. Conversely, in the name of spreading spiritual life, some of us have forgotten about spreading physical life.
Here are some questions to prayerfully consider:

  • In this pandemic, am I loving my neighbour? Am I still on mission, or have I become complacent in my Christian witness in word and deed?
  • In this pandemic, am I loving my neighbour from a place of faith in Christ by spreading both spiritual life and physical life? Or has fear paralyzed my ministry?
  • What does spreading both spiritual life and physical life look like for me?

One immediate opportunity to concretely love our neighbour well is to take advantage of the government’s latest loosened restrictions for religious gatherings. We are now back to maximum socially distanced capacity for our church building.

If there is nothing preventing you from coming in-person other than fear, please ask God to replace fear with a peace-filled faith.

Please wisely and prayerfully consider joining us for worship at 826 Eglinton Ave E. Yes, our worship is first a ministry unto God. But God in his goodness uses our gathering to worship him as a blessing to encourage his people. Thanks be to God!

Let us not tire in loving one another as Christ has loved us.

Grace and peace,

Albert, Colin, Trevor
Elders