What It Means to Love Our Neighbor
“You must love your neighbor as yourself.”—MATTHEW 22:39.
WHAT does Jehovah require of those who worship him? In a few simple and profound words, Jesus summarized the answer. The greatest commandment, he said, is to love Jehovah with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30) As we have seen in the preceding article, love of God involves obeying him and keeping his commandments in response to the love he has shown us. For those who love God, doing his will is not a burden; it brings them delight.—Psalm 40:8; 1 John 5:2, 3.
2 The second greatest commandment, Jesus said, is linked to the first: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) It is to this commandment that we now give attention, and for good reason. The times in which we live are marked by a selfish, distorted form of love. In his inspired description of “the last days,” the apostle Paul wrote that people would love, not one another, but themselves, money, and pleasures. Many would have “no natural affection,” or as one Bible translation puts it, they would “lack normal affection for their families.” (2 Timothy 3:1-4) Jesus Christ foretold: “Many . . . will betray one another and will hate one another. . . . The love of the greater number will cool off.”—Matthew 24:10, 12.
3 Notice, however, that Jesus did not say that the love of everyone would cool off. There have always been and will always be those who display the sort of love that Jehovah both requires and deserves. Those who truly love Jehovah will strive to view others as he does. Who, though, is our neighbor whom we must love? How should we show love toward our neighbor? The Scriptures can help us to answer these important questions.
Who Is My Neighbor?
4 When telling the Pharisee that the second greatest commandment was to love one’s neighbor as oneself, Jesus was referring to a specific law given to Israel. It is recorded at Leviticus 19:18. In that same chapter, the Jews were told that they should view others besides fellow Israelites as their neighbors. Verse 34 states: “The alien resident who resides as an alien with you should become to you like a native of yours; and you must love him as yourself, for you became alien residents in the land of Egypt.” Thus, even non-Jews, especially the proselytes, were to be treated with love.
5 The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day, however, saw the matter differently. Some taught that the terms “friend” and “neighbor” applied only to Jews. Non-Jews were to be hated. Such teachers reasoned that the godly must despise the godless. “In such an atmosphere,” says one reference work, “it was impossible for hatred to starve. It had plenty to feed on.”
6 In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed this issue, shedding light on who should be treated with love. He said: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you; that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45) Here Jesus made two points. First, Jehovah is generous and kind to both the good and the bad. Second, we should follow his example.
7 On another occasion, a Jew well-versed in the Law asked Jesus: “Who really is my neighbor?” Jesus responded by relating a parable that described a Samaritan who came across a man, a Jew, who had been assaulted by robbers and stripped of his possessions. Even though Jews in general despised Samaritans, the Samaritan dressed the man’s wounds and brought him to the safety of an inn, where he could recover. The lesson? Our love of neighbor should extend to people other than those of our own race, nationality, or religion.—Luke 10:25, 29, 30, 33-37.
What It Means to Love Our Neighbor
8 Love of neighbor, like love of God, is not merely a feeling; it involves action. It is helpful to consider further the context of the command recorded in Leviticus 19 that exhorts God’s people to love their neighbor as themselves. There we read that the Israelites were to allow afflicted ones and alien residents to share in the harvest. There was no room for stealing, deceiving, or dealing falsely. In judicial matters the Israelites should show no partiality. Though they were to give reproof when needed, they were specifically told: “You must not hate your brother in your heart.” These and many other commands were summed up in the words: “You must love your fellow as yourself.”—Leviticus 19:9-11, 15, 17, 18.
9 While the Israelites were to show love to others, they were also to keep separate from those who worshipped false gods. Jehovah warned of the dangers and consequences of bad associations. For example, concerning the nations that the Israelites were to dispossess, Jehovah commanded: “You must form no marriage alliance with them. Your daughter you must not give to his son, and his daughter you must not take for your son. For he will turn your son from following me, and they will certainly serve other gods; and Jehovah’s anger will indeed blaze against you.”—Deuteronomy 7:3, 4.
10 Similarly, Christians guard against forming relationships with those who might weaken their faith. (1 Corinthians 15:33) We are admonished: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers,” those who are no part of the Christian congregation. (2 Corinthians 6:14) Further, Christians are counseled to marry “only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) Yet, never should we be disdainful of those who do not share our belief in Jehovah. Christ died for sinners, and many who once practiced vile things changed their ways and became reconciled to God.—Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
11 In showing love to those who do not serve God, we can do no better than to imitate Jehovah himself. Though he is no lover of wickedness, he shows loving-kindness to all by extending to them the opportunity to turn back from their bad ways and receive everlasting life. (Ezekiel 18:23) Jehovah “desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) It is his will that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) That is why Jesus commissioned his followers to preach and to teach and to “make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) By our participation in this work, we show love for both God and neighbor, yes, including even our enemies!
Love for Our Christian Brothers
12 The apostle Paul wrote: “Let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.” (Galatians 6:10) As Christians, we have an obligation to show love for those who are related to us in the faith—our spiritual brothers and sisters. How important is this love? Making this powerful point, the apostle John wrote: “Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer . . . If anyone makes the statement: ‘I love God,’ and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 3:15; 4:20) These are strong words. Jesus Christ applied the words “manslayer” and “liar” to Satan the Devil. (John 8:44) Never would we want those terms applied to us!
13 True Christians are “taught by God to love one another.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9) We are to love “neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18) Our love should be “without hypocrisy.” (Romans 12:9) Love moves us to be kind, compassionate, forgiving, long-suffering and not jealous, boastful, arrogant, or selfish. (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5; Ephesians 4:32) It impels us to “slave for one another.” (Galatians 5:13) Jesus told his disciples to love one another just as he loved them. (John 13:34) A Christian should therefore be willing to give even his life in behalf of fellow believers when necessary.
14 Especially should love be manifested within a Christian family and particularly between husband and wife. So close is the marriage bond that Paul said: “Husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies.” He added: “He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:28) We find Paul repeating this admonition five verses later. A husband who loves his wife will not imitate the Israelites of Malachi’s day who dealt treacherously with their mates. (Malachi 2:14) He will cherish her. He will love her as Christ loved the congregation. Love will likewise move a wife to respect her husband.—Ephesians 5:25, 29-33.
15 Clearly, this kind of love is the identifying mark of true Christians. Jesus said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) Our love for one another draws people to the God whom we love and represent. For example, from Mozambique comes this report about a Witness family. “We had never seen anything like it. In the afternoon, a fierce wind began to blow, followed by heavy rain and hailstones. The strong winds destroyed our reed house, and the zinc roofing sheets blew away. When our brothers from neighboring congregations came and helped to rebuild our house, our astonished neighbors said: ‘Your religion is very good. We have never received help like this from our church.’ We opened the Bible and showed them John 13:34, 35. Many of our neighbors are now studying the Bible.”
Love for Individuals
16 It is not difficult to love our neighbors collectively, as a group. Love for individuals, however, can prove to be a different matter. For example, some people’s love for neighbor goes no further than a donation to some charitable organization. Indeed, it is far easier to say that we love our neighbor than it is to love a coworker who seems not to care for us, an obnoxious person who lives next door, or a friend who disappoints us.
17 In this matter of love for individuals, we learn from Jesus, who perfectly reflected God’s qualities. Though he came to earth to take away the sin of the world, he showed love for individuals—a sickly woman, a leper, a child. (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 1:40-42; 7:26, 29, 30; John 1:29) Similarly, we show love for our neighbor by the way we deal with the individuals with whom we come in contact day by day.
18 Never should we forget, however, that love of neighbor is linked to love of God. Though Jesus helped the poor, healed the sick, and fed the hungry, his motive for doing all these things as well as for teaching the crowds was to help people become reconciled to Jehovah. (2 Corinthians 5:19) Jesus did all things for God’s glory, never forgetting that he represented and reflected the God whom he loved. (1 Corinthians 10:31) By imitating Jesus’ example, we too can show genuine love of neighbor and at the same time remain no part of the world of wicked mankind.
How Do We Love Our Neighbor as Ourselves?
19 Jesus said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” It is normal to care about ourselves and to have a healthy measure of self-respect. If that were not so, the commandment would have little meaning. This proper love of self is not to be confused with the egocentric love of self mentioned by the apostle Paul at 2 Timothy 3:2. Rather, it is a reasonable sense of self-worth. One Bible scholar described it as “a balanced self-love that is neither a narcissistic ‘I am divine’ nor a masochistic ‘I am dirt.’”
20 To love others as we love ourselves means that we view others as we want to be viewed and treat others as we would like to be treated. Jesus said: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) Notice that Jesus did not say to mull over what others have done to us in the past and then repay in kind. Instead, we are to think about how we would like to be treated and then act accordingly. Notice, too, that Jesus did not restrict his words to friends and brothers. He used the word “men,” perhaps to indicate that we should act in this way toward all people, everyone we meet.
21 Loving our neighbor will protect us from doing what is bad. The apostle Paul wrote: “The law code, ‘You must not commit adultery, You must not murder, You must not steal, You must not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there is, is summed up in this word, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor.” (Romans 13:9, 10) Love will move us to look for ways to work what is good toward others. By loving fellow humans, we demonstrate that we also love the one who created man in His image, Jehovah God.—Genesis 1:26.
How Would You Answer?
• To whom should we show love, and why?
• How can we show love to those who do not serve Jehovah?
• How does the Bible describe the love we should have for our brothers?
• What does it mean to love our neighbor as ourselves?
1. How do we show that we love God?
2, 3. Why should we give attention to the commandment to love our neighbor, and what questions arise?
4. According to Leviticus chapter 19, to whom were the Jews to show love?
5. How did the Jews understand love of neighbor?
6. What two points did Jesus make when talking about love of neighbor?
7. What lesson do we learn from the parable of the neighborly Samaritan?
8. What does Leviticus chapter 19 say about how love was to be shown?
9. Why did Jehovah command the Israelites to keep separate from other nations?
10. Against what do we need to be on guard?
11. What is the best way to show love to those who do not serve Jehovah, and why?
12. What did the apostle John write about loving our brother?
13. In what ways can we show love for fellow believers?
14. How can we manifest love within the family?
15. What did observing brotherly love in action move some to say and do?
16. What is the difference between loving a group and loving individuals?
17, 18. How did Jesus show love to individuals, and with what motive did he do so?
19, 20. What does it mean to love our neighbor as ourselves?
21. By showing love to others, what do we demonstrate?
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“Who really is my neighbor?”
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Jesus’ love extends to individuals