Loving Your Neighbour as Yourself
by Noriko Iguchi, August, 1998
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
I John 4:20, 21 (N I V)
In early August of 1997, I was informed that my elder brother was in a critical condition and I needed to return home to Japan immediately so I went home to see him from the Philippines where I study. This was my second emergency trip home in four months because of his his illness.
To go home to see him, I put aside my studies in graduate school and the Basic Discipleship Training that I was undergoing in the church I attend in Manila. On the way to Japan by airplane, I told myself to concentrate on serving my brother who is not a Christian and my mother who was taking care of him.
When I went back to Japan, my 35-year-old brother, Atusushi, was in such a condition that he moved in and out of conciousness. He was born frail and his immune system was quite weak. Therefore, his body could not resist the diseases that attacked him. As a result, he got epilepsy, meningitis and other illnesses. Now he is suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. He has been living with sicknesses since he was 5 years old.
The relationship between my brother and myself has not been a happy one for years. Since my teenage days, I perceived him as being selfish. I knew that he was handicapped physically and mentally, but I could not accept his character of selfishness. Though we lived in the same house, there was not much deep communication between us. However, the Lord showed me my brother’s hidden good character and led me to repent of my wrong attitude toward him two years ago, when I was away from home, studying in the Philippines. I apologized to him last time I went back to see him. This time, the Lord gave me a very important lesson on “loving your neighbour as yourself” in dealing with my brother.
A few weeks after my arrival in Japan, my brother’s condition stabilised and so he regained some strength to talk. In the beginning, the communication between us seemed improvement over what had been before. It was smooth. I listened to him. He talked about TV programs that he had watched in his hospital room and about the memories of his younger days. However, later on, our relationship began to turn to sour. He began to say to me, “I don’t need your help!, I can do this by myself!” He even said, “You don’t have to be here (in his hospital room) with me. You go home!” and refused my help. He was quite demanding and often he was not willing to show his gratitude to me and to my mother when she and I did something for him. As days went by, I got fed up with his attitude. I thought, “Who does he think he is?! He acts like a king! Mum has been suffering from rheumatism, but she takes care of him very patiently, bearing her own pains in her hands and feet. I also put aside my studies and the Basic Training to come back to see him!” He even said to me, “You have to help me before I ask you to do something. You have to guess what I need.”
How to love such a person? He is seriously sick, but quite unlovable!! I was puzzled, because I knew that I had to love my brother. But how? I simply did not have the power to love him. Pastor Eric Chang, in one of his message tapes that I listened to, gave some very practical advice to me, who was desperate. He spoke about love citing 1 Corinthians 13, saying something like this: “Love is something that comes from the Lord. We do not have love. So, we have to receive it from Him. Today many people talk about love, yet they actually do not know how to love. In 1 Corinthians 13, we can see that the love is written in both positive and negative forms. Positive forms are like ‘love is patient, love is kind.’ Negative forms are such as ‘love does not boast,’ or ‘love is not proud.’ To begin with, we can start practising love by doing these negative forms. Then, you will be ready to let God’s power come through you. God will take care of the positive forms.” (Note: I have not quoted Pastor Eric Chang verbatim) After listening to the tape, I wrote down those negative forms of love. I picked up one of the eight and said to myself, “Okay, I will try not to get angry about my brother’s words.”
Although the days passed, the relationship with my brother did not get better. I wondered what was lacking in me. What should I do, or what should I be? I did not know how to love my brother and I felt depressed about this.
One day the Lord gave me the answer through a book that I was reading. The title of the book is “Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit”. The author, Jean Vanier, is the founder of the community called “L’arche” ( in English, The Ark), where mentally retarded and non-handicapped people live together. In this book, J. Vanier shares his insights from his experience in sharing life with handicapped people. He tells us that, to love a person genuinely is not to do something to the person. It is so easy to hurt the person by doing something to him/her. You think you serve the person very hard, but unconsciously you are saying to the person, “You cannot do what I am doing for you.”
Vanier encourages us to learn from Jesus how to approach people with suffering, as in Jesus’ way of coming close to the Samaritan woman. The account of the Samaritan woman as written in the Bible in John 4, tells us how she was looked down on by people. She had lived with five men, and the man she was staying with was not her husband. People looked at her very lowly and did not want to associate with her. Probably, she was very lonely and she was feeling guilty about her life.
How did Jesus approach her? Vanier shares that Jesus looked at her and said, “Will you give me a drink?” (v.7) That means Jesus asked a favour of her. In other words, Jesus came near her and was in essence saying, “I need you.” Here Jesus teaches us how to come close to those who are poor and in need. It is not possible to be of help by remaining in higher place than the one you are trying to help. Jesus’ way of coming to the Samaritan woman was that, first He acknowledged that He Himself was poor and then He told her that He needed her!
This author also says that to love a person is that you let the person discover his/her own hidden beauty and that you let the person see it. To love is to make room for the person to exist. And to love is to show the person that he/she is important and he/she as being worthy.
Through this book, I learned what was wrong with my attitude. That is, my way of serving my brother hurt his feelings because unconsciously I made him feel that he was useless and was not able to do what I was doing for him. For sure, I did not mean to hurt him, yet I did damage his heart by my attitude.
Realising this, I was very happy and thankful to the Lord. I repented and apologised to my brother. Gradually the Lord helped me perceive that it was frustrating for my brother to see me so healthy and in such good shape. He, in his weak and handicapped condition could not physically do the things he wanted, but I could do whatever I wanted since I was healthy. As I tried to listen humbly to my brother’s complaints about me or others, I came to understand his agony about his situation. Then, I noticed that he was not that demanding when he was relatively healthy. ( As mentioned earlier, he has never been very healthy since his younger days.) I came to see that perhaps his irritation about his health hardened his heart and it made him act in that way.
This experience made me serve him much better even when he seemed demanding and selfish.
After going through this lesson of loving my neighbour, namely my brother, as myself, I found out one thing. He had been someone that I could not love for years. However, the Lord used my brother, the most unlovable one for me, to teach me how to love. The Lord’s way of showing things is paradoxical. Before, I could not give thanks for my brother but now, I can. I also give thanks to the Lord for teaching me this important lesson.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
II Corinthians. 8:9 (NIV)
(As of November 25, 1997, my brother has a bit more strength compared with the time when I was told to go and see him in August. Therefore I was able to come back to Manila this month. Presently, a pastor living near the hospital pays regular visits to him and follows him up spiritually.)
(Since the original writing of this sharing, my brother passed away on February 11, 1998.)
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church