In our previous Jesus Says command, we explored the overarching command to love God with everything we are. This is found in Matthew 22:37-38. Jesus’ command was a response to a lawyer’s question “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” (Matthew 22:37, NIV) This fulfilled the lawyer’s question, but Jesus didn’t stop there.
Jesus continued, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:39–40, NIV) It must have been world-shattering to hear the entirety of Jewish Law distilled into two commandments. And if we give this just a little thought it will be world shattering for us as well.
What does it mean to “love your neighbor as yourself”? Those few words tumble out easy enough, but we need to soak in them for a bit. The kind of love expressed here is defined as “to have a warm regard for and interest in another” (BDAG). Think of it in the terms of valuing and cherishing.
We all value and cherish ourselves. Some would say too much. It is rather obvious that a narcissistic personality values themselves, the problem is that they value no one else (or only a select few). Even those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts value themselves. Something which may not be obvious but is there nonetheless. I’m not a clinical psychologist but it is my observation that much depression seems to have an edge of not being valued or wanted by others. We all value and cherish ourselves although it may be expressed in wildly different ways.
As we cherish and value ourselves Jesus says we are to love, value, and cherish our neighbors. Now, we must be careful here and remember Jesus’ answer to the question “who is my neighbor” which he illustrated with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). So, our neighbors are not limited to the folks in our apartment building or the house next door or those that live in our neck of the woods. Our neighbors are everyone we encounter, even for a moment.
Our neighbors are the clerks at the store, the drivers on the highway, our co-workers, the homeless we walk around, the obnoxious jerk two rows down at the game, as well as our family and friends. When our lives intersect with someone else then they are our neighbor. Even right now as you read this our lives are intersecting even though you and I may be half a world away.
But we must remember something important. Loving others as we love ourselves is not done in a vacuum apart from God. That would be worshiping at the idol of humanity. Humanity’s love is so nebulous as to be undefinable. Is love sexual, is it self-serving, is it just brain chemistry, is it only for a few, is it romantic, is it only a fleeting feeling? The truth is we don’t know what real love is apart from God. The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, NIV) We cannot fully follow or obey Jesus’ second commandment to love our neighbor without following His first commandment to love God.
The logical next step in this article is to describe ways to love others. But that would be an impossible task. Actions do not define love, but love decides our actions. I can’t say that love is giving candy to a child because it may or may not be true at that moment. Neither can I say that a certain action is always loving or that another action is never loving. (Although it is always unloving to devalue anyone in any way) I can’t tell you how to love your neighbor, only God can. That fact doesn’t let us off the hook but forces us to prayerfully consider how to intentionally love others.
Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself.