Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:4NKJV
Question 131 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the duties of equals?” It gives the answer, “The duties of equals are, to regard the dignity and worth of each other, in giving honour to go one before another; and to rejoice in each other’s gifts and advancement, as their own.” Last time, we saw how those in offices of authority must love the ones who are subject to them. Today, we consider how we are to love those who occupy the same level and station of society that we do.
Love looks differently depending on the relationship. That is, if I am going to truly love others as God commands me to, I must consider the nature of my relationship to each individual and love him accordingly. Thus far, the Catechism has considered those relationships where the level of authority differs. So, for example, we have seen that parents have certain rights and responsibilities in loving their children that are different from the rights and responsibilities that those children have in loving their parents. Love requires one party to protect and provide, and the other to submit and be grateful. And by extension, these different duties and obligations apply to all relationships where the level of authority varies. But now, we consider how we are to love those who hold the exact same level of authority that we do. What does love require of me towards those who are neither above me nor below me, but equal to me?
Love for equals is the kind of love required in most relationships. When I’m walking down the sidewalk, every other pedestrian around me is my equal in that setting. When I’m sitting in the classroom, each of my fellow students is in the position of an equal to me. So also is every other driver when I’m driving my car, or every other shopper when I’m pushing my cart. My business colleagues, my fellow employees, my friends, my siblings, everyone who has the same rank that I have is my equal in that relationship. To be equal to someone means that I have no unique duty towards them which they do not also equally have towards me. The second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” explicitly refers to two people who are equal: you and your neighbor. Since your neighbor is equal to you in worth, being, and value in the sight of God, you shall love your neighbor with the exact same level and kind of love with which you love yourself. Love is a never-ending obligation (Rom. 13:8). We owe our neighbors love.
Notice how the Catechism succinctly describes the debt owed by love: “The duties of equals are, to regard the dignity and worth of each other, in giving honour to go one before another; and to rejoice in each other’s gifts and advancement, as their own.” It is not quite true to say that it is hard to show this kind of love for others. Actually, it is impossible! Apart from the grace of God, I will never be as happy when someone else gets rewarded as I am for myself when I do. I will never insist that my brother plays with the toy first, or gets to pick his piece of cake first (unless I think that by doing so I will get a greater reward later!). And though I will never, for a moment, forget my own dignity and worth, I will forget yours at the drop of a hat! Such selfishness is innate to sinners.
Yet Biblical love, which is to say true love, will always put others before itself. It will always cause me to secure the honor and good of my neighbor before I seek for my own. There simply is no other kind of love than the kind that puts others before itself. And the sinful nature will not put others before itself. Thus, Scripture asserts, “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7b). It must be so! The only way a sinner can show any amount of actual love is by having a new nature created by the sovereign power and grace of God in conversion. But the good news for us is that the same God who creates such natures in regeneration is the God who continues to strengthen them in sanctification as we believe Him and seek Him in the means of grace. May God grant that we would ever more love one another!