Exploring the Biblical meaning of 'Loving Our Neighbors’

Chapter 10

Loving the Sick, Handicapped, Burdened, Lonely, and Prisoners

"The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him,"What are you going through?" – Simone Weil.


Rescue two National Park rangers? That’s backwards. Rangers rescue us!

Yet I once did exactly that - and almost missed the chance.

Past midnight one 1970’s summer night, I was driving homeward through the desolate lava beds west of Idaho’s Craters of the Moon. Ahead, a set of headlights came into view, stopped on the opposite shoulder. Beside them stood a man holding a flashlight. As I approached, he began gesturing with the light. I took his motions to mean I should pass slowly, giving him extra room. But then, in my rear-view mirror, I saw the flashlight waving frantically! So I stopped.

It was a National Park Service car, with two rangers on patrol. They’d tried to make a U-turn on the narrow highway above a deep spot in the lavas. Their car hung up on the steep shoulder’s outer edge, and they couldn’t get it loose! Cell phones didn’t exist yet, so they had to wait for help. That late, on that lonely stretch of US 20-26-93, cars might only pass every half hour or so.

Ours was the next one that came along – or at least the first that stopped.

I drove one of the rangers to Park headquarters to get a tow truck.

Just as I nearly passed those rangers without realizing they needed help, it’s very easy to miss the love and help many people need. It’s often simple: encouragement, visits, phone calls, or help with errands.

Those needs can go deeper. One young, distraught woman told me she couldn’t believe God existed. Would he have allowed the things she’d lived through to happen? Her stepfather had habitually beaten her with a 2x4 and sexually abused her. She felt worthless, and began using alcohol and drugs. She married a man who beat her just as her stepfather had. She divorced him, but repeated the same process three more times. Finally she became suicidal.

I shared real-life experiences that I hoped would encourage her that her future could be much brighter. .But it was clear that her healing would be a long, slow process.

We’re not always sure a caring God exists. But remember Elisha’s servant. In his (and Elisha’s) time of trouble, only the enemy was visible. But God’s army was there too! (2 Kings 6:14-17.)


Does God care about "neighbors?" in difficulty?

Scripture shows he is tenderhearted and full of love.

"The Lord lifts the fallen and those bent beneath their loads" (Ps. 145:14).

"He releases prisoners from jail, singing with joy" (Ps. 68:6).

More Verses: Job 5:11; Ps. 34:2; 34:18; 35:10; 68:6; 68:19; 72:13-14; 81:6; 107:14-16; 146:7-8; 147:3; Isa. 29:18; 33:23-24; 35:3-6; 40:29-31; 42:7; 49:13; 49:24-25; 61:1-3; Jer. 31:8; 31:23-25; Mic. 4:6-7; Zeph. 3:18-19; Zech. 9:12; Luke 4:18-19.


How does God want us to treat these people?

The same way we’d treat Jesus if we saw him in their situation. Care. Watch for needs. Meet them.


"When they were discouraged, I smiled and that encouraged them and lightened their spirits" (Job 29:24).

"A wonderful God ... comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials ... So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us" (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

Also read: Lev. 19:32; Job 4:3-4; Isa. 50:4.


Be aware.

It was the first painfully lonely Christmas after my first wife and four older children had left. My church announced a Christmas Eve candlelight service. Still hurting deeply, I hesitated, but finally went.

The service was moving and beautiful. Afterwards, a young couple greeted me and asked, "What are you doing tonight?"

I told them, "Going to the laundromat. My clothes are already in the car."

"We hate to see you alone," they said. "Why don’t you stay overnight with us? You can even wash your clothes there."

So, instead of a lonely laundromat Christmas Eve, I savored the warmth of that young couple’s companionship.

Four years later, when Yvonne was pregnant with Yvette, I couldn’t get off work to take her to doctor’s appointments. But two young women from our church drove her to those checkups, and took her shopping. After Yvette was born, they offered rides for follow-up doctor’s visits. God bless them!


Watch for opportunities.

One day, while playing back-yard baseball with my kids, I tore my right leg muscles badly enough to be confined to bed for a month.

At work, I’d been attending a large Bible study with several dozen fellow employees. Many knew I was hurt, that I was our family’s only driver, and that without me the family couldn’t shop, go to church, or run errands.

Would you like to guess how many members phoned to say "How are you? Can I help?

Not one! Not once!

I knew they cared. They just assumed someone else would do it.

How often have I, too, missed a chance to cheer someone? To lift a burden and help a neighbor through a hard spot? I’m sure the answer is "too often." When I get engrossed in my own schedule, it’s easy to forget others.

In one five-year period when either my wife or I were sick continuously, unable to attend church, we received one "how are you" phone call from our church secretary. Plus one visit – which we’d requested. No follow-up at all.

Later, a young woman from the congregation told us she’d heard we were sick and wanted to call us. She went to the pastor’s wife and asked for our phone number.

The response? "What do you want THAT for?"

It left us feeling "that church doesn’t care!" And that behavior caused both us and that young lady to stop attending.

"Make the most of today. Translate your good intentions into actual deeds."

Grenville Kleiser.

One of those illnesses began in 2003, when Yvonne got sick from toxic mold in our apartment. She was too weak to be up more than 10 or 20 minutes at a time, and had several serious relapses.

I became the "househusband." Then I broke my ankle, and for two months the kids did all the extra work. But all of us pitched in to fix her meals, shop, bake, do the laundry, and take care of the pets. Why? We loved her!

Later, when I suffered a lung infection from a "Dagwood sandwich" of causes, including bronchitis, lung inflammation, bacteria in a sleep apnea machine, toxic mold, and allergy to dust, my wife and kids pitched in unreservedly. I learned how much they loved me too. I was proud of them!

God’s love shines out when we help people.


Give others a chance.

A lady from a drug rehab program asked us to take her to church. She was trying hard to turn her life around after more than ten years on alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, and other drugs.

But many churches wanted nothing to do with her. The pastor’s wife at the first church we took her to pointedly avoided her. We found another church that would accept her, and there she made great strides in her Christian life.

Six months later, she returned to her home town and tried to find a church where she could continue that growth.

Not one church in that city of 7,000 would accept her!

It didn’t matter that she had recommitted her life to Christ, was living drug-free, or had been divinely healed of "incurable" Hepatitis C. She was shunned.

We tried to support her with tapes, letters, and phone calls. But going on was very difficult, and made more so by those who should have loved and encouraged her.

How will our nation recover from today’s plague of drugs if that’s how we treat those who want to reform? Aren’t we telling them not to try?

What do you think God will tell those churches at the Judgment?


Don’t analyze why.

We criticize Job’s friends for failing to understand. Yet those three men began well. They visited Job and sat with him for a full week.

"When three of Job’s friends heard of all the tragedy that had befallen him, they ... traveled from their homes to comfort and console him ... Job was so changed that they could scarcely recognize him. Wailing loudly in despair, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air and put earth on their heads to demonstrate their sorrow. Then they sat upon the ground with him silently for seven days and nights, no one speaking a word; for they saw that his suffering was too great for words" (Job 2:11-13).

Job’s friends only fell short when they stopped loving, started analyzing – and were wrong!

When Job’s trials ended, his friends were there again. "All of his brothers, sisters, and former friends arrived and feasted with him in his home, consoling him for all his sorrow and comforting him because of all the trials the Lord had brought upon him." (Job 42:11)

More Scriptures: Job 29:12-17; John 11:19; 11:31-33; Rom. 12:8; Philemon v.13-14.


God answers in many ways.

Sometimes God acts clearlyand positively. But sometimes he says "no." Then our faith is tested. We ask "Why not? Is God even there? Why doesn’t he do something?"

I asked that when I visited a friend who’d had two surgeries in three weeks. I’d prayed for her healing for a year, and had unmistakably felt God’s presence in those prayers. Yet her condition had steadily worsened.

As we talked, ‘Jona’ told me that when she woke from her first operation, a black-haired man with a mustache was sitting in her chair, legs crossed, arms clasped around his knees. She assumed he was one of the doctors. When she regained consciousness after her second surgery, the same man was sitting on her bed.

One of her friends had been in her room the entire time. Curious, Jona asked her who the man was. The reply? "Jona, no one’s been here!"

Yet Jona had seen him. Not once, but twice! Who had he been? An angel? Jesus? I didn’t know, but left assured that God had heard our prayers. He’d chosen his own way to show her he was with her and loved her as his child.

That experience made me curious to view a pictorial Israeli web site. Almost all the Israelis it showed had jet-black hair like the "doctor’s." Not brown or blond as we often see in paintings of Jesus;

Also read: Matt. 25:34-36, Luke 14:12-21, 1 Tim. 5:9-10.


God gives unexpected answers!

My family loves to explore. We’ve visited several very remote, essentially uninhabited, almost roadless parts of the West, where the lightest rain literally made the few dirt roads slipperier than ice. Even at a crawl, all four wheels on our car would simply slide sideways until they decided to stop! We quickly realized that, if it rained after we entered that country, we might not get out again for days, until after the roads had dried.

But when my wife Yvonne became a Christian, she’d received one marvelous gift: simple faith. She trusted God. And, in that remote back country, she applied her faith in ways that amazed me.

Whenever a storm threatened to strand us, she prayed. She believed that if faith could move a heavy mountain (Matt. 17:20; Mark 11:23), it could certainly move a much lighter rainstorm! I’d think "Yes - but you can’t just do that!" She had no such qualms. The first storm she prayed over simply faded out. Others disappeared, changed direction, or slowed up long enough for us to reach the safety of paved highways.

Yet our most unforgettable lesson in answered prayer came the day God didn’t stop the rain!

We’d driven 50 miles from town and turned onto one of those infamous dirt roads, heading for an area where we’d found nice petrified wood. After a rain, the first three miles off the paved highway became the slipperiest road we’d ever seen. Then, surprisingly, came a short stretch of blacktop, after which the road changed back to "rain-sensitive" dirt.

That day we parked along the inner bit of blacktop, put on our packs, and began hiking up the mountain.

We were almost a mile from the road when a dark raincloud came over the peak and bore down on us. This time, we all prayed earnestly. But the storm didn’t listen. It came relentlessly on. We huddled under a stout juniper while torrents of heavy rain cascaded down. Finally it passed, and we began trooping back toward the car.

After so much rain, our exit road was surely impassable! How would we get out? But we had to try. There was nowhere to go for help; no cell-phone service. We stowed our gear in the car trunk and drove back along the rain-washed blacktop toward the dirt stretch. Mist rose from the puddles as we splashed through.

Then, less than a hundred yards from the where the dirt road began, the blacktop suddenly began to dry. By the time we reached the dirt itself, there was no sign a rainstorm had ever passed that way. We drove out over three miles of bone-dry dirt without the slightest problem!

We reached the paved highway and turned toward town. And, in less than another hundred yards, the blacktop was again puddled with fresh rainwater!

God hadn’t stopped the storm from raining on us. But he had prevented it from closing our only way out. He’d split the rain around those three miles of dirt with incredible, mathematically exact precision!

The earlier storms impressed me with how well my wife could pray. That day vividly taught me how well God could answer!


"Figuring it out" isn’t important.

Can we always understand why things don’t go the way we’d like?

One year our home-town beauty-contest queen went on to win the state title, and with it a trip to the Miss America pageant.

No one from our lightly-populated state had ever placed in the top ten at Atlantic City. But, that year, when the ten finalists appeared, there was Karen!

The field narrowed to five, four, three, then two! Karen was still there! By now our whole town was glued to the TV. We were one step away from being home to Miss America! 

Then the winner was announced. It was Miss Ohio, not Karen! Our spirits plunged!

But then reason asserted itself. Karen was the first person from our entire state, let alone our home town, who’d ever done nearly so well. We should definitely show her we were proud of her! And Karen was a nice person, one everyone liked.

Karen told us later she’d experienced the same roller-coaster emotions we had. When she placed second, she thought she’d failed. But when she arrived home, the mayor and city council were waiting at the airport to welcome her and tell her how proud they were of her. A special motorcade drove her home through streets lined with celebratory banners. More banners and balloons decorated her neighborhood. Neighbors waited at her home with congratulations and warm praise.

By the time Karen finally sat down to dinner, alone with her family, she was feeling very good about herself again. She might "only" be the first runner-up. But the whole town had told her how proud she should be. And, finally, she was.

Then the front door banged open. A little neighbor girl rushed in, bounced across the carpet, punched Karen in the arm with all her five-year-old might, and shouted:

"You dummy! You lost!"

When things don’t go perfectly, is God still guiding? Or is Satan opposing? Are we winners? Or dummies? Is God sending storms "as punishment, or, in his loving-kindness, to encourage (Job 37:13)?" How do we know?

Often, we can’t. And "since the Lord is directing our steps, why try to understand everything that happens along the way?" (Prov. 20:24.)

So what do we do?

lf the events involve us, we trust.

If they affect our "neighbors," like Job, Jona, or Karen, we love.


Put loving ahead of logic.

When bad things do happen, can we still believe that "My Father constantly does good?" (John 5:17)

My wife lost an unborn baby at three months while we lived in Santa Maria, California. Its death affected her profoundly. For the next six months she was continually angry at God. She wouldn’t attend church. No amount of counseling, talking, or prayer helped.

Then, at Easter, she felt a quiet, clear impression that we should attend one specific church service. We went. Near the beginning, while the choir sang, she suddenly turned to me. "I feel as if God just gave me a message for the pastor, and that I’m supposed to tell him now," she said. "Should I? I don’t know what to do! Please pray and ask God."

Was the impression real? Or just her own feelings? If she told him, would she just look foolish? I prayed quickly, then suggested a test. "Why don’t we ask that, if this is of God, he’ll lead the pastor to come down where we’re sitting?"

Sure enough, minutes later the gentle, reserved pastor stepped down into the main aisle and walked toward us! Yvonne got up and quietly gave him her "message."

The pastor returned to the pulpit, smiling. "Friends," he said, "You know that Mrs. Ahlstrom has been very upset about losing her baby. She’s been out of church, and hasn’t known what’s been happening here.

"But the church has been growing, and I’ve been talking about building a larger sanctuary. Some of us are for it, and some against. The church board wants to pay off the old mortgage first. We’re at an impasse."

"Without knowing any of that, Mrs. Ahlstrom just told me that God impressed her that the vision I’ve had for the church has been from him, and that he will help us fulfill it."

Simply by ministering through her, God reassured Yvonne that he loved her despite the miscarriage. Her anger vanished. She worshipped wholeheartedly again.

And the church came together! Money flowed in to pay the outstanding debts. Just five months later Yvonne and I watched the church burn the old mortgage. We moved to Orlando too soon to see the new sanctuary, but a friend has told us it’s very beautiful!


Help – and Pray!

The Bible encourages us to both visit the sick (Mat. 25:36) and pray for them. James 5:14-15 says: "Is anyone sick? He should call for the elders of the church and they should pray over him and pour a little oil upon him, calling on the Lord to heal him. And their prayer, if offered in faith, will heal him, for the Lord will make him well."

The day Yvonne lost her unborn baby, she almost died four different times from an allergic reaction to a pre-operative shot. Her doctor later told her she’d suffered many side effects, including damaged nerve endings throughout her body. That affected her memory. She’d start across the kitchen and forget where she was going.

Two years later, at our new church in Orlando, Florida, our daughter asked to take part in a children’s water baptism service. We went. As the service ended, the minister announced a time of prayer for the sick, conducted by "healing teams" made up of the church’s lay people (not its ministers). Yvonne decided to ask prayer for her gums, which had become infected. She went forward and disappeared into the crowd.

Minutes later she reappeared, looking so stunned I thought her chin would drag the carpet! She slid into the pew and whispered, "You’re never going to believe what just happened!"

A team member had asked Yvonne how she could pray. Yvonne began, "I have a gum disease." The woman interrupted. "That’s not all that’s wrong with you. You have a bad back, and you have damaged nerve endings all over your body."

Now, the woman could have noticed Yvonne’s curved spine. But damaged nerve endings? No way! She couldn’t have seen them; couldn’t know. Yet she did! It was an unforgettable example of the the "gifts of the Holy Spirit" in action.

Did the prayer work? We know this: Yvonne’s memory returned to normal.

Another modern-day healing happened to me during a vacation trip from Florida up into the Appalachians.

Friends had given us a book that had an especially attention-getting chapter on minerals. I wanted to check the locale. We planned to leave Friday evening after work. But, for the entire week before, I’d had a severe flu. And by Friday afternoon it was no better.

Should we go? It was a hard call. Common sense clearly said "cancel." But I wanted badly to see the area. Sick or not, I decided we’d start.

As I drove, I prayed. A Scripture came to mind: "My son, endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3, KJV). Then another: "And as they went, he healed them" (Luke 17:14, KJV).

Then a higher Presence seemed to take over that prayer, as if it was no longer me praying, but Someone Else praying through and for me. That special, powerful prayer continued for perhaps twenty or thirty minutes. Well before we reached our planned overnight stop in Gainesville, Florida, all traces of the flu were gone. I felt as rested and refreshed as if I’d never been sick!

We should pray for healings today. But the Bible makes it clear we’re not to stop with that. We’re to minister practical love, help, and encouragement; visit, run errands, bring meals, pick up prescriptions; do whatever’s needed. "When you did it to these my brothers you were doing it to me!" (Matthew 25:40.)


How should we treat ‘special’ neighbors?

Not the way some unthinking people do.

For years, a man who’d lost a leg at age four polished 2,200 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

He covered about a mile a day, polishing one star after another on his hands, his knee, and the stump of his amputated leg. Many people appreciated his efforts, but not everyone. While he worked, people deliberately stepped on his fingers. Every so often, someone stole his crutches.

Is that behavior funny, or crude and cruel? Would we treat Jesus that way? How do you imagine God reacts?

"You must not curse the deaf nor trip up a blind man as he walks. Fear your God; I am Jehovah!" (Lev. 19:14)

More Scriptures: Deut. 27:18; Ps. 35:11-14; 109:16-17; Prov. 22:22-23; 25:20; Isa. 47:6; Ezek. 22:2; 22:9; 22:30-31; Matt. 25:42-45; Heb. 11:36-38..


Is providing good insurance "Loving the Sick?"

Our daughter’s friend’s husband developed leukemia. They had insurance, under which they paid 20% and the insurance 80%. But when her husband died, that 20% left ‘June’ owing over $4,000,000! She had no choice but bankruptcy.


Another friend developed rheumatoid arthritis. Her doctor told her "you have a choice. You can let your arthritis run its course. You’ll spend most of your life in bed, in pain. But you’ll live longer. Or we can give you treatments that will make your life much, much better. But they’re very expensive, and you’ll die sooner."

‘Lorna’ said "I want a good quality life, even if it’s shorter!" In seven years, her new treatments have cost over $2,000,000. She has been able to afford them, but only because both she and her husband have good insurance through work, and good jobs that let them pay what the insurance wouldn’t.


One company I joined had excellent health, dental, and life insurance, retirement plans, and profit-sharing programs. But then it began reducing them "to remain competitive." We accepted that, until they boasted their yearly profit-per-employee was $28,000! Not incomeprofit! That told us the company hadn’t needed to cut benefits at all. It had simply created record profits by cutting health care!

Those cuts meant that when all four of my family were sick, only one could see a doctor.

At my layoff, Human Resources gave me a $300+ monthly pension, and offered us medical insurance for "only" $1,100 a month. Several network news specials claimed the policy would actually have cost the company about $400 at that time. (It’s far higher now.)


Will God reward executives or politicians who make decisions like that? How will he judge national leaders who do not provide health care policies that work? Experience shows that the lowest costs, and longest life expectancies, occur in those countries that set up group policies for their people. It is those policies that pass the test of "conservative" (keep what works) given by former Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, "Mr. Conservative." Nations that depend more heavily on individual policies experience much higher costs, more limited coverage, and lower life expectancies.

Let’s love – and help – our neighbors who get sick. All of us need that. It’s loving ourselves!


Why were people imprisoned in Bible times?

Besides criminals, many prisoners couldn’t pay bills or taxes, belonged to the wrong political party, or were punished heavily for minor crimes. Some were falsely accused. No forensic analyses or DNA tests could prove their innocence.

Joseph was a classic example. "One day ... Potiphar’s wife began making eyes at Joseph, and suggested that he come and sleep with her.

"Joseph refused. ‘Look,’ he told her ... ‘How can I do such a wicked thing as this? It would be a great sin against God.’

"But she kept on with her suggestions ... Then one day ... she came and grabbed him by the sleeve demanding, ‘Sleep with me.’ He tore himself away, but as he did, his jacket slipped off and she was left holding it ... When she saw that she had his jacket, and that he had fled, she began screaming ... ‘He tried to rape me, but when I screamed, he ran, and forgot to take his jacket.’

"When her husband came home that night, she told him ..."That Hebrew slave you’ve had around here tried to rape me, and I was only saved by my screams. "Her husband ... was furious. He threw Joseph ... where the king’s prisoners were kept in chains" (Gen. 39:7-20).

Judah’s king Asa jailed the prophet Hanani (2 Chron 16:7-10). Israel’s king Ahab did the same thing to Micaiah (1 Kings 22:1-28; 2 Chron 18:25-27).

Jeremiah was imprisoned for his preaching, and appealed to King Zedekiah: "What have I ever done to deserve this?’ he asked the king. ‘What crime have I committed? Tell me what I have done against you ... Listen, O my lord the king: I beg you, don’t send me back to that dungeon, for I’ll die there.’

"Then King Zedekiah commanded that Jeremiah ... be placed in the palace prison instead, and that he be given a small loaf of fresh bread every day as long as there was any left in the city" (Jer 37:18-21).

Paul, too, was imprisoned for his faith:

"It is because I believe the Messiah has come that I am bound with this chain" (Acts 28:20).

Wars imprisoned many. Psalms 79:1, 7, and 11 cry: "O God, your land has been conquered by the heathen nations ... Listen to the sighing of the prisoners and those condemned to die."

More Scriptures: 1 Kings 22:26-28; Rom. 16:7; Phil. 1:7; 1:12-14; 2 Tim. 1:8; 1:11-12; 2:9.


How should we treat prisoners?

Jesus said, "‘For I was ... in prison and you visited me ... Then I will turn to those on my left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones ... For I was ... in prison, and you didn't visit me ... When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing help to me’" (Matt. 25:34-46).

Paul appreciated prison visits. "May the Lord bless Onesiphorus and all his family because he visited me and encouraged me often. His visits revived me like a breath of fresh air, and he was never ashamed of my being in jail. In fact, when he came to Rome, he searched everywhere trying to find me, and finally did. May the Lord give him a special blessing at the day of Christ’s return" (2 Tim. 1:16-17).

What a contrast with 2 Timothy 4:16! "The first time I was brought before the judge, no one was here to help me. Everyone had run away. I hope that they will not be blamed for it."

Also read: Ps. 68:6; Col. 4:18; Heb. 10:34; 13:1-3.

In the Bible, prisoners sometimes conducted jail services. In Acts 16:22-31 "A mob was quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the judges ordered them stripped and beaten [and] thrown into prison. The jailer was threatened with death if they escaped, so he ... put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet into the stocks.

"Around midnight, as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to the Lord – and the other prisoners were listening – suddenly there was a great earthquake; the prison was shaken to its foundations, all the doors flew open – and the chains of every prisoner fell off!

"Trembling with fear, the jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down before Paul and Silas. He ... begged them, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

In Acts 28:23 Paul was a prisoner ministering to free men: "A time was set, and ... large numbers came to his house. He told them about the Kingdom of God and taught them about Jesus from the Scriptures. He began lecturing in the morning and went on into the evening!"

Acts’ final two verses (28:30-31) tell us that Paul, still under guard, "lived for the next two years in his rented house and welcomed all who visited him, telling them with all boldness about the Kingdom of God and about the Lord Jesus Christ."

The Gospel has changed many prisoners’ lives for the better. But how can we tolerate common prison practices like rape? Shouldn’t that carry severe penalties? Why do we turn our backs?

The Bible emphasizes practical prison ministries. One church we attended held regular support group meetings for wives and children of prison inmates. That’s a form of "loving our neighbors" that should surely be encouraged.



"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see" – Mark Twain














































































































































































































































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