Exploring the Biblical meaning of 'Loving Our Neighbors’


Chapter 3

Loving Our Families: What Does the Bible Teach?

"What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family" – Mother Teresa.

 

Six-year-old ‘Katie" tried hard to control her emotions. "My mommy says Daddy doesn’t love her or any of us anymore. I heard her crying all night last night. And I don’t think my Dad loves me either."

"Why don’t you think your Daddy loves you?" we asked.

"I tell him ‘I love you.’ He doesn’t say ‘I love you’ back."

 

I knew Katie’s feelings all too well. I’d broken into uncontrollable sobbing as my first wife and four older children drove away from our El Cajon, California home for the last time. My first marriage had just ended, and it felt as if my life had ended with it. Our four children were staying with their mother, and she was moving a thousand miles away.

Losing my family struck at the very core of my being. Deep, wracking sobs tore me. It felt as if every atom in my body was being ripped apart from itself. Emotionally, I felt as if I’d jumped off a skyscraper and broken every bone in my body, but somehow lived.

I’d seen no hope for saving the marriage. My wife and I saw everything in opposite ways. I could do nothing right. Stress mounted. My health was rapidly failing. Deep pains wracked my chest. Finally there was no avoiding the hard choice.

Afterwards, I hesitated going back to my church, because it strongly disapproved of divorce. But those Christians "loved their neighbor" (me) more than they hated divorce. They hugged, reassured, loved unreservedly, and never condemned. On my first Sunday back, the choir sang "through it all." The pastor’s text was "thou art the lifter of my head" (Ps. 3:3, KJV). So appropriate!

My emotions swung uncontrollably. At work I operated on autopilot. I’m still amazed I wasn’t fired. My pastor told me "don’t feel as if you’re any less worthwhile a person." Excellent advice, but my emotions wouldn’t listen! It took another person’s love (my present wife, Yvonne, who I met three years later) to finally begin healing me.

Through it all, I learned that, even when we fail, God loves us and can pick us up again. He is a God of love, forgiveness, and second chances.

 

Our families are our closest "neighbors!" And love does begin at home! (1 Tim. 5:4).

 

"What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family" – Mother Teresa.

 

What are God’s reasons for marriage and families?

"The Lord God said, ‘It isn’t good for man to be alone; I will make a companion for him, a helper suited to his needs.’ Then the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and took one of his ribs ... and made the rib into a woman, and brought her to the man.

"‘This is it!’ Adam exclaimed. ‘She is part of my own bone and flesh!’ ... This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife in such a way that the two become one person" (Gen. 2:18-24).

A pastor told us that Genesis’ phrase for "helper," "ezer kenegdo," means "a strong partner." Literally translated, it means "the help that opposes." In Hebrew, that compares a husband and wife to two equally heavy, strong posts which stand by leaning against each other.

1 Peter 3:7 agrees: husbands and wives are partners. "Remember that you and your wife are partners in receiving God’s blessings, and if you don’t treat her as you should, your prayers will not get ready answers."

When Eve persuaded Adam to sin, part of her punishment was that Adam was no longer called her "husband" but her "master" (Gen. 3:16). Hos. 2:16 raises a tantalizing question about that event. There, God says that when Israel turns back to him, "She will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.’ A coincidence? Or might a similar transformation take place in God-centered marriages?

Marriage means far more than having someone to help pay the bills, or to cook, clean, and mend. More than sex or even children. It includes companionship, love, laughter, warmth, vision, and partnership: meeting life as a team.

 

More Scriptures: Prov. 18:22; Eccl. 4:9-11; Mal. 2:15; Eph. 5:31-32.

 

Does God Love Our Families?

"Your wife shall be contented in your home. And look at all those children! There they sit around the dinner table as vigorous and healthy as young olive trees. That is God’s reward to those who reverence and trust him" (Ps. 128:1-4).

 

God has shown his love for my new family in many ways. But in our hardest trials he often did it through what St. Paul called the "gifts of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Sometimes that simply meant apt words of encouragement or guidance from Christians who didn’t even know us. But often they were quiet, loving messages spoken through Yvonne with the help of Holy Spirit.

Those messages began during an especially difficult time, during which she’d cried for God’s help at the altar of our small San Diego church. Later, at home, she began experiencing God’s presence in a new way. Often, she’d feel warmth and a feeling of being lifted up. Then, out of her spirit, she’d begin speaking quiet words she’d sense were from God, but which she seldom remembered later. Those "messages" contained only love, reassurance, comfort, and direction. Many went like this: "My children, I love you. I’m pleased with what you’re doing. Keep on. Don’t get discouraged. I’ll be with you."

God used those special "words" to assure my family of his presence and love in many difficult times when we might have given up.

Later we learned Paul called Yvonne’s "gift" the "gift of prophecy," which simply means "speaking forth." Predicting the future may be its best known form, but isn’t one we ever experienced. Usually it’s given to Christians in church, where it follows much the same pattern God granted us at home.

Those "prophecies" always encouraged us. But my human mind sometimes wondered if they were just a little-understood part of Yvonne’s subconscious. Then one unusually detailed message came while we were building furniture. It told us to go to a specific hardware store near our home in Titusville, Florida, and buy one particular brand of orbital sander: no other!

We went. Yes, the store had the sanders – in the back room! They were just getting ready to sell them for the first time. Their initial order wasn’t even unpacked. Nor had advertising begun.

The clerk got one for us.

I asked: could Yvonne have known that? To me, the answer was clear. No, she couldn’t. But God had.

 

Do these Biblical "snapshots" remind us of modern families?

"Jacob’s son Joseph was now seventeen years old. His job, along with his half-brothers ... was to shepherd his father’s flocks. But Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things they were doing" (Gen. 37:2).

"But when David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking like that, he was angry. ‘What are you doing around here, anyway?’ he demanded. ‘What about the sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know what a cocky brat you are; you just want to see the battle!’

"‘What have I done now?’ David replied. ‘I was only asking a question!’" (1 Sam. 17:28-29).

 

Jesus’ brothers first reacted to him with skepticism and disbelief.

"‘Go where more people can see your miracles!’ they scoffed. ‘You can’t be famous when you hide like this! If you’re so great, prove it to the world!’ For even his brothers didn’t believe in him" (John 7:2-5; compare with Gen. 37:1-11).

 

(Also read Gen. 26:34-35; 45:24; NLT.)

 

What does the Bible teach about loving our wives?

"And you husbands, show the same kind of love to your wives as Christ showed to the Church when he died for her ... That is how husbands should treat their wives, loving them as parts of themselves. For since a man and his wife are now one, a man is really ... loving himself when he loves his wife! No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it" (Eph. 5:25-30).

More Scriptures: Eccl. 9:9; Eph. 5:33; Col. 3:19; 1 Peter 3:7.

For a touching example of love, read Gen. 24:67. For a poignant picture of the pain of not receiving it, see Gen. 29:31-35.

 

What does the Bible teach about loving our husbands?

Surprise! The NIV Exhaustive Concordance only lists one passage that tells wives to love their husbands! "Older women must train the younger women to live quietly, to love their husbands and their children ... being kind and obedient to their husbands" (Titus 2:4-5; also read Eph. 5:33; Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1-6; and Ps. 45:11.)

Why only one? Perhaps because in Bible times many wives were purchased, not courted, or marriages were arranged.

For instance, Deut. 25:5-10 tells how, if a woman’s husband dies without a son, the husband’s brother is to marry her, and their first son will be counted as the first husband’s son. (The brother could refuse. Verses 7-10 describe what happened if he did.)

In Ruth 3:1-2, Ruth’s widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, told her "My dear, isn’t it time that I try to find a husband for you and get you happily married again? The man I’m thinking of is Boaz! He has been so kind to us..." The rest of chapters 3 and 4 describe the social and civil practices that had to be followed before the marriage took place. (Another example: Gen. 21:20-21.)

Such marriages are still common in some parts of the world. One of my library board members once brought back a Port Moresby, New Guinea newspaper from a Pacific tour. It reported on a village council meeting that had set standard prices for brides.

Under the new law, when a villager wanted a virgin bride, he had to pay her father a set sum in cash and livestock, such as cows, goats and pigs. That amount was always the same.

But there were two "bargain" clauses.

First, if the woman had been married once before, the price was about one-third as high.

Second, "if she has been married twice before, she shall have no commercial value at all."

One of my department heads responded "The price should be higher. She’s experienced!"

 

What does the Bible teach about faithfulness?

"Drink from your own well, my son – be faithful and true to your wife ... Be happy, yes, rejoice in the wife of your youth. Let her breasts and tender embrace satisfy you. Let her love alone fill you with delight ... For God is closely watching you, and he weighs carefully everything you do" (Prov. 5:15-21; also 27:8; Mal. 2:13-16; Matt. 5:31-32; Heb. 13:4).

Living by the Bible’s sexual standards today may seem out-of-date, but it can pay remarkable dividends.

After my divorce, I moved from San Diego’s suburbs to the Pacific Beach area. There I met a lady who became a good (though never romantic) friend. Two years later, when I accepted a job in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she told me "My grandfather lives there. You could room with him!" She arranged it, and I did.

Her former boyfriend also lived in Fort Lauderdale. A few months later they made up. She came back to Florida, and they shared an apartment. It didn’t last. They had a fight, and he moved out.

Then she asked if I’d move in. "It wouldn’t mean any sex," she said, "We’d just be roommates."

"Just friends" or not, it didn’t seem right. So I told her "no."

She took my decision well. But her grandfather didn’t! Angered, he tripled my rent! I couldn’t afford that, so I found a young man who needed a roommate, and moved.

Charles attended Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and often invited members of its young adult group over for weekend dinners. I didn’t know any of them, so I usually went for walks while they visited. But one April night I had to finish my income tax. So I stayed, and met his guests, including my present wife, Yvonne!

As we dated, we discovered she’d grown up in the same Chicago neighborhood I would have if my mother had lived. She’d worked in two Chicago banks, several miles apart, yet my father had had accounts in both. She’d opened his account at one, and, after his death, closed it at the other. We’d probably seen each other once when he and I stopped at her bank, though we hadn’t been introduced. He’d been her cab driver once.

And, shortly before we met, we’d each prayed "God, would you send me someone I can love?"

Were those simply coincidences? Or Providence? Is there a "right" mate for each of us? And is it possible we may only meet if we live the way God teaches?

 

What does the Bible teach about divorce?

In Matthew 5: 31-32, Jesus taught that anyone "who divorces his wife, except for fornication, causes her to commit adultery if she marries again, and he who marries her commits adultery."

Many Old Testament passages on divorce deal with slaves, virginity at marriage, or intermarriage with idol-worshipping nations. For examples, see Ex. 21.8; Lev. 21:7; 21:10-15; 22:12-13; Deut. 22:13-29; 24:1-4; 1 Chron. 8:8-10; Ezra 10:3; 10:16-19; Mal. 2:14-16.) These are harsh passages. Jesus was different. He opposed divorce, but he consistently taught love and forgiveness (for two examples, see Mat. 5: 38-48 and John 8:1-11).

The original Greek texts of 1 Tim. 3:2 and 5:9-10 tell us that prospective church leaders had to be "a man of one woman," and widows who wanted to work in the church must have been "a woman of one man."

Yet the Bible makes compassionate exceptions.

Paul wrote, "If a Christian has a wife who is not a Christian, but she wants to stay with him anyway, he must not leave her or divorce her. And if a Christian woman has a husband who isn’t a Christian, and he wants her to stay with him, she must not leave him. ... a united family may, in God’s plan, result in the children’s salvation.

"But if the husband or wife who isn’t a Christian is eager to leave ... the Christian husband or wife should not insist that the other stay, for God wants his children to live in peace and harmony ... be sure ... you are ... marrying or not marrying in accordance with God’s direction and help" (1 Cor. 7:12-17).

Would Paul also allow divorce for abuse? I certainly believe so. If he allowed a couple to divorce because they differed over Christianity, can we seriously doubt he’d do so if the man beat her?

After drinking with his buddies one night, one of our neighbors came home and began yelling, punching his wife, and throwing her against the walls. Fearing for her, we called the police. After they took him away, we helped her pack and leave with her young daughters before the judge could release him. Finally she got a divorce.

 

God does wrap us in his arms of love, even after divorce. For me, by far the most painful part of that experience had been not seeing my older kids grow up.

More than ten years later, while Yvonne and I lived in Orlando with our two young children, Bill Gaither’s Vocal Band came to our church. In mid-concert Bill set a chair on the stage, pointed directly at our daughter Yvette in the midst of the crowd of 2,000, and asked "would you please come up here?" He sat her on his knee, and sang her a song about a father watching his baby girl being born, growing up, going to school, graduating, and getting married. After each verse, Bill sang "I’ll be there."

Bill didn’t know me, or my past hurts. But God did. And through Bill he seemed to say, "I love you. And this time it’ll be different."

It was.

 

More Scriptures: Deut. 22:28-29; Job 31:1-12; Prov. 6:24-35; 7:4-27; 12:4; 23:26-28; 27:8; Eccl. 7:26; Matt. 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-9; Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 6:13-20; 7:1-5; 7:10-11; 7:32-34; 7:39; 2 Cor. 12:21; 1 Thess. 4:3-5; 1 Tim. 3:12; Heb. 12:16; 13:4.

 

What does the Bible teach about loving our children?

Children are easy to love.

My youngest son was fascinated with model rockets. But the biggest rocket engine available in our town only burned for one second and powered the rocket up a mere 300 feet. Not enough! Solution? The Internet! Order one that burned 13 seconds and climbed 1,500 feet! Attach the engine to a 3-foot mailing tube. Much better!

Except that the parachute didn’t open! And the unchecked plunge back down from that height meant a major rebuilding job.

He persisted. Finally the new rocket was ready. But he decided that this time he’d do a "ground test" to be sure the chute would pop out. So he made a "test stand" out of several large rocks, which he placed in our apartment parking lot to hold the rocket firmly in place. Then he lit the engine.

It worked beautifully - for a few seconds. Then the rocket nimbly climbed over the rocks and skittered under our car, where it lodged below the gas tank. Our son raced for shelter around the corner of the building, fervently praying "No ... No ... No ... No!"

His prayer was answered – partly. The rocket freed itself from beneath the car and continued across the parking lot. This time it lodged under the engine of our neighbor’s pickup truck.

Back around the building’s corner! Now his prayers included counting: "9 ... 10 ... 11 ..."

The count reached 13. The engine stopped. The gas tank, the pickup, and the building were all intact. A final prayer: "Thank you, God!!!"

 

Once we’d been driving across Colorado all day. My four older kids, still small, were competing to spot white horses. The prize was a wish. Near sunset, as we crossed a petroleum-drilling area near the Kansas border, my middle daughter spoke up: "I’m not going to wish on white horses anymore. I’m going to wish on oil wells!"

 

Our kids’ insights can amaze us. Yvonne once decided to decorate a home-made dresser with ceramic tile. We lived 15 miles from Mexico, so we went to Tijuana expecting it’d have the best selection and prices. As we drove back up the freeway away from the border, my middle son spoke up: "Dad, do you know what we just did?" My mind blanked completely. So he explained: "We’re an American family, right? Well, we just drove a Japanese car to Mexico, bought Italian tile, and a German tile-cutter!"

 

We even love our children when they make us look for holes in the floor. Yvonne once discovered my "height/weight ratio" was wrong. That evening Yvette, Bill, and I entered our neighborhood grocery store. Always-friendly Bill spotted a cashier he knew. In a voice that positively echoed back from the rear of the building, he shouted "Hey! My Dad‘s 20 pounds overweight! He has to go on a diet!

 

"Children are a gift from God; they are his reward ... Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them" (Ps. 127:3-5).

Also see: Ex. 1:15-22; 2:1-9; Ps. 113:9; 128:1-4; Isa. 49:15; 66:13; Mal. 3:17; Luke 9:47-48; 11:11; 15:20-32; Acts 7:9-14; 1 Thess. 2:7.

 

Involving children in family activities shows love.

When my wife and I began looking for agates, jaspers, and quartz crystals, we took our young children. When we Iearned to pan for gold and gems, they did too. When we saw pronghorn antelope, deer, elk, moose, wild horses, beaver, eagles, red-tailed hawks, and horned toads, so did they.

Bill and I once waited while several dozen elk trotted across the road ahead of us. Another time, we all gently eased the car through a pack of wild horses standing directly on our track. They edged aside, but so little we could easily have touched their bite-scarred sides out both windows!

While Bill and I worked 400 feet above one desert valley, a band of wild horses eyed us, then trotted away out of sight. As we stood to leave, I glanced up at a small hill just above us. All along its crest were the horses’ eyes, ears, and foreheads, just peeking over the hill, watching us, clearly wondering who we were, why we were there, and whether we meant to hurt them.

Those experiences helped the kids mature into the thoughtful, caring, adults they’ve become.

"Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you." - H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

 

Discipline is part of loving our children, but harshness isn’t!

When my father left home for college, he never returned. He didn’t see any of his family for over 20 years, nor his mother for more than 40!

His reasons? He’d felt he was raised with harshness instead of love, both in his family and church.

 

A depressed, suicidal young woman once told me, "In all the years I attended church, I never once saw any love! The only thing my church ever did for me was to make me feel as if I could never be good enough!"

What a shame! Discipline is needed at times, but love is always necessary! Discipline may deter us from becoming what we shouldn’t, but love helps us become what we should. Radiant love plays a great role in helping our children grow into mature, balanced, fulfilled adults. If our home and church aren’t filled with love, we should ask why – and seek it!

 

Scripture teaches parents to balance love and discipline:

"Discipline your son and he will give you happiness and peace of mind" (Prov. 29:17; also read 13:24; 23:13-14).

"Fathers, don’t scold your children so much that they become discouraged and quit trying" (Col. 3:21; also see Prov. 11:29; Eph. 6:4).

 

One neighborhood where we lived was full of dysfunctional families. Several had one mother, three children, three different fathers, and a still-different boyfriend. One mother, whose children our son Bill often babysat, worked at a strip club, was an alcoholic, and a drug user. When she came home, the first two questions her five-year-old would always ask were "Mommy, are you drunk?" and "How many drinks have you had?"

We took him and his brothers to church with us. But when he told his mother he’d asked his Sunday School class to pray for her, she was furious. She never let him come again. And soon they moved away.

 

Wild animals train their young – but it can take time.

My family loves to see one of America’s most beautiful animals, the pronghorn antelope. Pronghorns are strikingly colored, can run 60 mph, and are unexpectedly fun-loving. They often "pace" our car, running though the sagebrush beside us. Then they’ll accelerate, angle across the road ahead of us, and "leave us in the dust," as if laughing at the slowpokes.

And once we saw a pair do something truly incredible which their fawn tried unsuccessfully to copy.

That day, along a back-country road, a pronghorn father, mother, and child appeared. As usual, they raced us. But this time, instead of angling across our road, they turned and headed at full speed towards a nearby barbed-wire fence. I watched, expecting them to jump. They didn’t even try! One after the other, both deer-sized parents simply ran directly through the fence, right between two wires, never appearing to touch either one, never slowing. I was incredulous. They couldn’t have done that!

The fawn seemed to think "They did it. I can too." And it tried. But it hit the fence so hard it bounced straight back, landing flat on its side in the sage. Apparently unhurt, it jumped up and ran along the fence looking for a way to follow its parents.

Even today, I tell myself "No. They absolutely couldn’t have!" Yet I saw it. And I wonder if the baby finally learned its parents’ skill.

 

More Scriptures: Gen. 37:3-4; Prov. 29:15; Jer. 31:20; Lam. 3:27; 1 Tim. 3:4-5; Heb. 12:5-11.

 

What does the Bible teach about loving our parents?

There are many more Scriptures about how to treat our parents than our husbands, wives, or children! They tell us to act in love toward our fathers and mothers; respect them, honor them, listen to their advice, and support them financially.

"Honor your father and mother, that you may have a long, good life in the land the Lord your God will give you" (Ex. 20:12).

For example: At the height of the time Saul was trying to kill David, David worried about his parents’ safety. So he "went to Mizpeh in Moab to ask permission of the king for his father and mother to live there under royal protection until David knew what Godwas going to do for him. They stayed in Moab during the entire period when David was living in the cave [of Adullam]" (1 Sam.22:3-4).

More Scriptures: Lev.19:1-2; Deut. 5:16; Ruth 2:10-12; Prov. 1:8-9; 4:1-6; 4:10; 6:20-24; 13:1; 17:6; 20:7; 23:22-25; Matt.19:16-19; Mark 10:17-19; Luke 2:51; 18:18-20; Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20; 1 Tim. 5:3-4.

 

How strongly does the Bible emphasize honoring our parents?

Aren’t you glad today’s laws aren’t this strict?

"Anyone who reviles or curses his mother or father shall surely be put to death" (Ex. 21:17).

More Scriptures: Ex. 21:15; Deut. 27:16; Prov. 15:5; 19:26; 20:20; 28:24; 30:11-14; 30:17; Ezek. 22:7; Matt. 15:1-9; Mark 7:10-13; Rom. 1:30; 1 Tim. 1:8-9; 5:8; 2 Tim. 3:1-2.

 

John the Baptist’s call included reuniting parents and children:

"His preaching will bring fathers and children together again, to be of one mind and heart" (Mal. 4:6; also read Luke 1:13).

 

What does the Bible teach about loving brothers, sisters, grandparents, and grandchildren?

Various forms of the word "brother" occur almost 800 times in the Bible. "Sister" is found more than 100. But most of these verses refer to fellow Israelis, Christians, or human beings; few to siblings.

 

"How wonderful it is, how pleasant, when brothers live in harmony!" (Ps. 133:1; see also Gen. 50:15; 50:18-21; Lev. 19:17a; Ps. 50:20-21).

 

"So Boaz married Ruth, and ... the Lord gave her a son.

"And the women of the city said to Naomi, ‘Bless the Lord who has given you this little grandson; may he be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and take care of you in your old age; for he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you so much, and who has been kinder to you than seven sons!’

"Naomi took care of the baby, and the neighbor women said, ‘Now at last Naomi has a son again!’

"And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse and grandfather of King David" (Ruth 4:13-17; also read Ps. 128:6; Prov.17:6).

 

 

"Of all nature’s gifts to the human race, what is sweeter to a man than his children?"
–Marcus Tullius Cicero

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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