In his letter to the Romans Paul writes a brief recap of the law. Don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery etc. and tells the reader what Jesus told his students, the laws may be summed up by a principle that underlies them, Love you neighbour as yourself. This is well known and it is really a lot harder than most people seem to think it is. Maybe that is why Paul seeks to offer a bit of clarification, or perhaps a form of nuance, to help people actually live up to this standard.
We never truly love our neighbours as ourselves, we don’t pay for their kids to go to university and we don’t tend to nurse them back to health when they are sick, or perform other deeply service/action-oriented forms of love. Few of us would even take care of our neighbours lawns or clear off their cars for them, to say nothing of loving them. Still, we are called to love them.
Paul says, “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). This is very helpful if we want to seriously commit ourselves to following Jesus by loving our neighbour. This may be especially true if you are among the broad-minded who see the entire planet as a community and people everywhere as your neighbour (to use religious-speak, we might say such people recognize that all people everywhere are made in the image of God and thus worthy of dignity and respect). Of course there are smaller version of who the neighbour is, I would suggest Jesus had a pretty broad view on this question, but even if you make a smaller circle this command is still tough.
Paul makes it a bit simpler by focusing on non-harm. Much of the way I tend to think of love as a verb is pro-active, coaching the soccer team, fixing the bike, helping out in the house. Paul is talking about not harming others. For instance, if like me you drink coffee everyday do you think of who grows the coffee and tends the coffee and harvest, roasts, transports, and serves the coffee? If you, like me, wear clothes do you consider what materials they are made from, what dyeing processes they go through, who designed the clothes, are they made to last, who made them and where? If you, unlike me, eat eggs regularly, do you consider the life of the laying hen? The worker in the CAFO, the transportation, the environmental implications of refrigeration…
My purpose is less to induce guilt and more to remind us that we face countless ethical decisions daily. The fact that we ignore them and refuse to see them as ethical doesn’t make the ethics disappear, just ask the child factory worker making clothes.
So today I encourage you to consider who you might be harming and one way to reduce the harm you cause. Doing so is an act of love.