5.2.3 Love for our neighbour–love in the congregation
Love for one's neighbour should be especially manifest in the congregation: "Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, leading to edification" (Romans 15: 2). Jesus taught: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13: 34-35). The love of Christ's followers for one another is thus also an identifying feature of the Lord's congregation.
The standard that has been set for their love extends beyond the "golden rule" recorded in Matthew 7: 12: everyone is to love his neighbour just as Jesus loves His own. This love was manifested in the early Christian congregations by the fact that the multitude of those who believed "were of one heart and one soul" (Acts 4: 32). Admittedly, these congregations had to be repeatedly exhorted to reconciliation, peaceableness, and love.
Apostle John associated the commandment to love one another with the commandment to love God. The Apostle describes the appearing of the loving God to mankind in the sending of His Son and in the sacrifice of Christ, and concludes the following: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." He continues his train of thought in greater detail: he who says he loves God but hates his brother is a liar. From this he concludes: "And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother" (1 John 4: 7-21).
Accordingly, our love for God finds its expression in loving concern for our brothers and sisters in the congregation, irrespective of their individual personality or social standing. Apostle James describes any form of discrimination within the congregation as incompatible with the "faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory". No matter what the form of prejudice within the congregation, it violates the commandment to love one's neighbour. Based on this, James concludes: "... but if you show partiality, you commit sin" (James 2: 1-9).
"Love for one another" protects against any irreconcilability, prejudice, or contempt for individual members of the congregation. If the commandment to love our neighbour already requires us to help our fellow human being in situations of distress, this should be demonstrated first and foremost within the congregation: "... let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6: 10).
"Love for one another" is a special power that promotes cohesion within the congregation and brings warmth to congregational life. It prevents conflicts–which occur in any human society–from escalating into permanent antagonism. It enables us to accept our brothers and sisters as they are (Romans 15: 7). Even though the expectations, ways of thinking, and modes of conduct of some members of the congregation may not be comprehensible to others, they will not be denigrated or excluded as a result, but rather be met with tolerance.
Furthermore, such love will expand our view to the fact that others too are numbered among the Lord's elect, the "holy and beloved". This knowledge inspires all to recognise their duty to treat one another with warm compassion, friendliness, humility, meekness, and patience. If there is reason for complaint, we strive to forgive according to the words: "... even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do." Apostle Paul gives the following advice: "But above all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfection" (Colossians 3: 12-14).
Every local congregation can be seen in the image of the body of Christ. Every individual belonging to the congregation is a member of this body. Thus all children of God are united and obligated to one another through their common head: "God composed the body, that ... the members should have the same care for one another." Each individual serves the good of the whole by taking an interest in the circumstances of others. It is a matter of course for us to show sympathy in sorrow and never begrudge good things to our neighbour: "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it." All are to be aware: "Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually" (1 Corinthians 12: 12-27).
In the thirteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, Apostle Paul shows the congregation the way of love, and concludes with the words: "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." If love is practised in the congregation, the effects are more extensive than any gifts, talents, insights, or knowledge could achieve.
The Mosaic Law primarily identifies the people of Israel as neighbours. As the parable of the Good Samaritan shows, Jesus lifted this limitation: every human being can be the neighbour of the other. (5.2.2)
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus even demands that the people show love to their enemies. (5.2.2)
Love for one's neighbour places limits on egoism. It inspires us to show compassion to all. Followers of Christ are not only called to show neighbourly love in earthly matters, but are also called to make others aware of the gospel of Christ. It is also in this context that our intercessions for the departed are to be assessed. (5.2.2)
Love for one's neighbour comes to complete perfection through love for God. (5.2.2)
The standard set for the love among Christ's followers far transcends the "golden rule" ("Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them!"). Each one of us is to love others in the same manner that Christ loves His own. This kind of love protects against irreconcilability, prejudice, and derogatory views of others, since it accepts brother and sister as they are. (5.2.3)