Love Your Neighbor

love your neighbor

Love Your Neighbor

I wrote about the different kinds of Christian love within the Bible and how they differ from modern-day views on the word love. Modern-day views of love are so twisted that without proper exegesis, it’s easy to misunderstand the term love, which complicates the Great Commandment of loving God and neighbor. 

After understanding what love is from a scriptural point of view, it’s easier to understand what loving your neighbor means. We’ve established what love is in the Bible; now let’s explore the neighbors in the Bible.

New Testament Neighbors

The concept of loving one’s neighbor is central to the teachings of Jesus Christ and is mentioned throughout the Bible, particularly in the New Testament.

  1. Matthew 22:37-39: In this passage, Jesus summarizes the two greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He declares that all of the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

  2. Mark 12:30-31: Similar to Matthew 22, Mark’s Gospel records Jesus’ teaching on the two greatest commandments, including loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

  3. Luke 10:25-37: In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus illustrates the command to love one’s neighbor through the story of a Samaritan who shows compassion to a man in need, regardless of ethnic or religious differences.

  4. Romans 13:9-10: The Apostle Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching on loving one’s neighbor in his letter to the Romans, stating that all the commandments can be summed up in the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

  5. Galatians 5:14: Paul reiterates the importance of loving one’s neighbor in his letter to the Galatians, saying that the entire law is fulfilled in the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

  6. James 2:8: The Epistle of James also emphasizes the royal law of loving one’s neighbor as oneself and warns against showing favoritism or discrimination.

Old Testament Neighbors

In the Old Testament, the command to love one’s neighbor is also present, although it may not be explicitly stated in the same language as in the New Testament.

  1. Leviticus 19:18: This verse contains one of the most direct commands to love one’s neighbor in the Old Testament: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

  2. Leviticus 19:34: In the same chapter, the Israelites are instructed to treat foreigners living among them with love and fairness: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

  3. Deuteronomy 6:5: Although this verse is part of the Shema, a foundational prayer in Judaism, it emphasizes the love of God with all one’s heart, soul, and strength. Loving God is closely connected with loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

  4. Deuteronomy 10:19: Similar to Leviticus 19:34, this verse reminds the Israelites to love foreigners, since they were once foreigners in the land of Egypt: “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

  5. Proverbs 3:27: While not explicitly about loving one’s neighbor, this verse encourages generosity and kindness toward those in need: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.”

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

At first glance, this reading is a feel-good story that tells the reader to be good to others, but after reading it multiple times, there are a few things worth contemplating.

Luke 10:25-37
love your neighbor

Expert in the Law

First, the question comes from a scholar of the law. The translation above says, “expert in the law.” We could describe this person as a lawyer or, at a minimum, a highly educated person.

When this scholar “tests” Jesus, he stands up to address him, which means he is in a lower position, and calls Jesus “Teacher.” 

The question asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus responds

“What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

Jesus answered the question with a question, and what stood out to me was what Jesus replied to immediately afterward. 

Expert in the Law

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

Dilemma

If I stood before Jesus and asked, “What must I do to go to heaven?” and He said, flap your arms like a bird and jump in the lake; I would start flapping away!

You can’t get more specific than Jesus himself saying,  “You have answered correctly;” and that’s precisely what Jesus says, “do this and you will live.”

The scholar, in a very scholarly fashion, couldn’t accept that and asked a follow-up: “And who is my neighbor?” This is when we get into the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Samaritans

Studying the history of the Old Testament reveals the deep division between the Jewish population at the time and the Samaritans. Their origins trace back to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and its capital, Samaria, after the kingdom split into two in the 10th century BC.

During Jesus’s time, Samaritans were a distinct group with their own religious and ethnic identity, separate from the mainstream Jewish community.

Jesus’s interactions with Samaritans in the Gospels, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the story of Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), challenge these prejudices and suggest a message of love, compassion, and inclusivity that transcends ethnic and religious boundaries.

Literal Sense

The literal sense of scripture is one of the four senses of reading scripture. It’s concerned with what the author is saying, how they’re saying it, and what’s incidental to it. 

For example, when Matthew says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, the literal meaning is that’s what happened.

“All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”

One aspect of the literal sense shows that the term “Good Samaritan” during Jesus’s time was a paradox. It would be like explaining what a good Al Qaeda member is to an American servicemember. 

There was a long-lasting hatred between the Jews and Samaritans. 

Who was a Neighbor?

The story compares characters that the Jews and the scholar knew well: priests, Levites, and a Samaritan.

Jesus then asks, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” 

The scholar answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”

What is mercy?

This is an excellent time to ask the question, what is mercy?

Whatever mercy meant to the scholar, Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise.”

Final Thoughts:

Jesus didn’t respond by saying, “Be like the Samaritan,” or “Don’t do what the Levite did,” He essentially said, “Treat others with mercy.”

I feel this is important because He doesn’t elevate the Samaritan but highlights the act, the verb, the behavior.

Jesus isn’t just telling us to have mercy on those we have a long-lasting hatred for but to have mercy on all people, especially those we deal with daily.

Here’s the real challenge for us: Christian development has changed with time, and our own personal development should change with time.

When we were children, our neighbors may have been kids we played with who were not directly related to us. When we were adolescents, our neighbors were kids in school. As adults, our neighbors could be work colleagues or sub-sectors of the societies we belong to.

The term neighbor isn’t just about the person living in your neighborhood; it’s about other people you come into contact with. Loving your neighbor is about loving others

I don’t hear Jesus telling me to be like the Good Samaritan.

I hear Him telling me to be merciful and love my neighbor