A lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)
Thanksgiving may not have its origin in biblical history, but it is a tremendous chance to honor God through loving others. Many of us will spend time with our immediate family, our extended family, and our close friends. Guests are a blessing, but perhaps they can also cause conflict. As you prepare for the holiday, consider Jesus’s words to the Pharisees above: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I cannot help but stand in awe of Jesus’s words. Jesus wisely answers the question by pointing to precepts behind the commandments. Not only this, but he insists that “all the Law and the Prophets,” known to us as the Old Testament, depend on these two sentences. This claim is audacious, but it is true! Jesus’s perceptiveness into the Scriptures’ intent testifies to his divinity. Only God himself could make such a claim! Let us respond in reverence and love for Jesus by obeying his commandments (John 14:15). One of his commandments is to love, so let us then love one another this Thursday.
Maybe you say, “Well this sounds nice but what does it mean? How am I to love my neighbor this Thanksgiving?” Here are nine biblical ways you can love your neighbor on Thursday:
1.) Forgive Others’ Sin Against You
“but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15)
This verse is mysterious to me, but what is clear is the importance of forgiving others’ sins. Thanksgiving often means family comes into town, and sometimes this means old rivalries are made new. Old grudges take new life. Are you on the receiving end of such trespasses? Thursday may be your chance to be free of it. Do not claim your rights of victimhood, but consider your responsibility in Christ: be merciful to others as God is merciful (Luke 6:36).
2.) Confess Your Sin Against Others
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)
Love your neighbor by making the first step toward reconciliation. Confess the sin you’ve committed against another person. Acknowledge and own your part in whatever family conflict you have found yourself in. You will find true healing on the other side of confession.
3.) Pray to God; Not to Others
“Pray then like this:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.’” (Matthew 6:9)
At my Thanksgiving, I know I’ll be asked to pray in front of non-Christians. So, I write this point for myself: Do not water down your prayers due to a fear of others. Instead, pray with all reverence due to your fear of the Lord. Speak directly to God and glorify him in front of others. Testify to his majesty. Aim to inspire others to worship through your undiluted devotion.
4.) Read the Bible
All Scripture is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:16)
5.) Defend Your Faith Respectfully
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect… (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Perhaps you spend Thanksgiving with non-believers. Perhaps you are even outnumbered! If this is you, you may know that along with the good food, Thanksgiving can bring light or harsh criticism against the Christian faith. Consider it an opportunity to love your neighbor by demonstrating the grace of God to others. Do not respond harshly, but love your neighbor by responding “with gentleness and respect.” Sarcasm and spite will likely harden their heart, but your sincerity may soften it.
6.) Focus on the “Worthy of Praise”
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:7-9)
What excellence in others can you seek to highlight? What honorable actions did your family accomplish this year? Glorify God this Thanksgiving by edifying your conversation.
Sometimes we fall into political arguments when we really want to be discussing Christianity. We sometimes judge others’ distance from Christ by their distance from our own political standpoint. And so we feel vindicated in starting or contributing to divisive political conversations. But ask yourself, “If I succeed, will the person to whom I’m speaking be any closer to Jesus? Will they know more of him? Be more like him?” In a recent sermon, Pastor Josh Moody said:
There is a need for Christians to advocate for moral matters in politics, for sure. Go to it, Christian. But remember, remember that Jesus is the one who saves. Not politics.
7.) Recognize Others’ Suffering
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)
In an ironic twist, I have often failed to follow this verse because I thought it the opposite of Philippians 4:7-9! One of the great blessings of the holiday season is the time we spend with family and friends, and, rightfully so, we want this time together to be happy.
But Paul does not contradict himself. Some people who eat at your table may be suffering. Romans 12:15 reveals that acknowledging this means a chance to demonstrate Christ-like hospitality. Make sure you do not silence the cries of those who long to share their burdens with you.
8.) Remind Christians of their Election
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall… Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities. (2 Peter 1: 10, 12)
I have often made this mistake: focusing my conversation with non-believers on their lack of fruit, and letting poor behavior from professing Christians slide due to their allegiance with Christ. But is this not backward?
Peter demonstrates here how you can love your neighbor by reminding fellow Christians of their allegiance to Christ, and the fruits of the Spirit that must come as a result. Let us accept partial responsibility for the sanctification of our brothers and sisters in Christ, for we know it glorifies God and we know they have expressed a commitment to this end.
9.) Share the Gospel
“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
Jesus rose from the dead and told his disciples this. This is not a request, but a command from the One who defeated death and had authority over all. This is how you love your neighbor, Christian, by revealing the love of God for them (1 John 4:10).
I want to write directly to those who have done this in the past with no success. Maybe you have shared the Gospel with your family and friends and you know it will only lead to more conflict. If this is your situation, continue to demonstrate Godly behavior to them. Who knows what God may do? As Peter writes, “they may be won without a word… when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (1 Peter 3:1-2).
So, love your neighbor this holiday season as you seek to glorify our Savior, Jesus Christ.