When people try to force their unbiblical political agenda onto the Bible, we should reject this. The Bible should shape society and politics. But woe to us if we try to use the Bible to justify secular beliefs about what is most loving. Attempting to contort “loving your neighbor” to secular ideas of the common good which run contrary to God’s law is in fact “hating your neighbor” and it is the opposite of obedience to God.
For years now, one of the major apologetic verses for Christians has revolved around Jesus’s teaching to “judge not.” This teaching of Jesus, typically ripped out of context from Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37, has been used to thwart any attempts to apply God’s law and standards to the lives of people. If you were to suggest someone was living sinfully, they could respond with “judge not” and neutralize the threat with stunning effectiveness, even though the original context warned against making judgments with a double standard.
While this popular tactic has been employed by non-Christians and also nominal Christians uninterested in walking in obedience, there is a new teaching of Christ which has become a weapon not just of defense but offense: “love your neighbor.”
On July 11, 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris said “I do believe that the act of getting vaccinated is the very essence—the very essence of what the Bible tells us when it says, ‘Love thy neighbor.’” For many government officials, this biblical teaching was used to provide a spiritual reason for getting the vaccine. What is the sinister implication behind these statements? Disobedience to the biomedical security state is disobedience to Jesus. Even evangelical leaders, through Biologos, issued a statement with the title “Love your neighbor, get the shot!”
How did we go from “judge not” being the most common verse used to bludgeon others into tolerance to “love your neighbor?” In what follows, I will answer that question.
“Love Thy Neighbor”: How the Bible Is Being Weaponized Against Christians
As the culture has moved from a place of neutrality and ambivalence towards open hostility to the teachings of Christ, and as Christianity is now seen as a negative social mark, a more active weaponization of the Scriptures against Christians is becoming increasingly common. “Judge not” was very popular within a more libertarian mindset. It was very popular to abuse this phrase when Christianity was more dominant culturally to neutralize the threat of biblical orthodoxy. They just wanted to be “left alone.” If I’m not a Christian, I don’t need to submit to God’s laws, so please leave me alone and stop judging me. But we’ve moved from a neutral “judge not” culture to a hostile “love your neighbor” culture.
Now, with Christian dominance in culture waning, our culture is still using the words of Jesus without being bound by the moral authority of his teachings. Ironically, people actively use the teachings of Christ to enforce the teachings of secularism—apparently, the most effective false teaching uses biblical language. With the rise of expressive individualism and the craving for safety and security today, people are more likely to use “love” and “loving your neighbor” to not only justify their sins and selfishness but to compel others into approving of sin. “Judge not” was more speaking to power. “Love your neighbor” is those in power speaking down to those they are trying to control. If the best way to “love your neighbor” is to make them feel safe, even if what you’re doing does nothing to make them safe, then it is completely justified, so the argument goes. What is important is that others feel safe.
This is done under the biblical language of being “selfless” and “laying down your rights.” “Love your neighbor” has cultural currency even if cultural Christianity is on the decline precisely because our culture is haunted by Christ. “Love your neighbor” is about compliance to certain edicts, while “judge not”’ is used to justify leaving people alone. As one worldview has waned and another ascended, this nascent secularism seeks a transcendent religious text on which to base obedience. What better text than the Holy Bible, which served as the bedrock of our civilization’s construction? Again, the irony is thick: the teachings of Christ become weaponized against Christians themselves!
What Does Love Thy Neighbor Really Mean?
But what is the original context to “love your neighbor”?