Love of Neighbor Is Possible
JESUS CHRIST’S illustration of the Samaritan showed what genuine neighbor love really means. (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus also taught: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’”—Matthew 22:37-39.
Like many people, do you find it difficult to love your neighbor of an ethnic group other than your own? Perhaps this is so because you have learned about or have personally experienced discrimination and injustice. You or your loved ones may even have suffered abuse at the hands of people of another group.
Since Jesus indicated that one of God’s commandments is that we love our neighbor, it must be possible to overcome such strong feelings. The key to doing so is to view people as God and Christ do. In this regard let us consider the example of Jesus and the early Christians.
Jesus’ Fine Example
First-century Jews had strong feelings against the Samaritans, a people living in an area between Judea and Galilee. On one occasion Jewish opposers contemptuously asked Jesus: “Do we not rightly say, You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48) So strong was anti-Samaritan sentiment that some Jews even cursed Samaritans publicly in the synagogues and prayed daily that the Samaritans would not be granted everlasting life.
Knowledge of this deep-seated hatred doubtless prompted Jesus to give the illustration about the Samaritan who proved himself to be a real neighbor by taking care of the Jewish man beaten by robbers. How might Jesus have answered when the Jewish man versed in the Mosaic Law asked: “Who really is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) Well, Jesus could have replied directly by saying: ‘Your neighbor includes not only your fellow Jew but also other people, even a Samaritan.’ Jews would, however, have found it difficult to accept that. So he related the illustration about a Jew who received a Samaritan’s mercy. Jesus thus helped Jewish listeners to draw the conclusion that true neighbor love would extend to non-Jews.
Jesus had no anti-Samaritan sentiments. Traveling through Samaria on one occasion, he rested by a well while his disciples went to the nearby city to obtain food. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, he said: “Give me a drink.” Since Jews had no dealings with Samaritans, she asked: “How is it that you, despite being a Jew, ask me for a drink, when I am a Samaritan woman?” Jesus then bore witness to her, even declaring openly that he was the Messiah. She responded by going into the city and calling others to come and listen to him. The result? “Many of the Samaritans out of that city put faith in him.” What a fine outcome because Jesus was not fettered by the prevailing attitude of his Jewish contemporaries!—John 4:4-42.
God Is Not Partial
It was God’s purpose that Jesus preach chiefly to the Jews, “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24) Hence, his early followers were of Jewish background. But just three years after the outpouring of the holy spirit at Pentecost 33 C.E., Jehovah made it clear that he wanted Jewish believers to extend the disciple-making work to people of the nations, the Gentiles.
To the Jewish mind, loving a Samaritan as oneself would be hard enough. It would be even harder to show neighbor love to uncircumcised Gentiles, people having less in common with Jews than did the Samaritans. Commenting on the attitude of Jews toward Gentiles, The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia states: “We find, in N[ew] T[estament] times, the most extreme aversion, scorn and hatred. They [Gentiles] were regarded as unclean, with whom it was unlawful to have any friendly intercourse. They were the enemies of God and His people, to whom the knowledge of God was denied unless they became proselytes, and even then they could not, as in ancient times, be admitted to full fellowship. Jews were forbidden to counsel them, and if they asked about Divine things they were to be cursed.”
While many held these views, Jehovah caused the apostle Peter to experience a vision in which he was told to ‘stop calling defiled the things God had cleansed.’ God then directed him to the home of the Gentile Cornelius. Peter gave a witness about Christ to Cornelius, his family, and other Gentiles. “For a certainty,” said Peter, “I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” While Peter was yet preaching, holy spirit came upon the new believers, who were then baptized and became the first Gentile followers of Christ.—Acts, chapter 10.
Jewish followers accepted this development, realizing that Jesus’ command to “make disciples of people of all the nations” was not limited to Jews in all lands but included Gentiles. (Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 11:18) Overcoming any anti-Gentile feelings they may have had, they zealously organized a preaching campaign to make disciples among the nations. Less than 30 years later, it could be said that the good news had been preached “in all creation that is under heaven.”—Colossians 1:23.
Spearheading this preaching work was the apostle Paul, himself a Christian of Jewish background. Before becoming a follower of Christ, he had been a zealous member of the religious sect of the Pharisees. They looked down on not only Gentiles but even the common people of their own nationality. (Luke 18:11, 12) But Paul did not allow those views to hold him back from showing neighbor love to others. Instead, he became “an apostle to the nations [Gentiles],” devoting his life to the work of disciple-making throughout Mediterranean lands.—Romans 11:13.
During the course of his ministry, Paul was stoned, beaten, and imprisoned. (Acts 14:19; 16:22, 23) Did such harsh experiences cause him to become embittered and to conclude that he was wasting his time among certain nations and ethnic groups? Not at all. He knew that there were honesthearted individuals scattered throughout the many ethnic groups of his day.
As Paul found Gentiles willing to be taught God’s ways, he came to love them. For instance, to the Thessalonians he wrote: “We became gentle in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, having a tender affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became beloved to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 8) These heartfelt words show that Paul truly loved the Gentile Thessalonians and allowed nothing to spoil the joy of a good relationship with them.
Neighbor Love in Action
Today, as in the first century, those who attach themselves to the Christian congregation cultivate neighbor love for people of all ethnic groups. By developing a godly view of others and by sharing the good news of the Kingdom with them, true Christians have broadened their understanding of people they might never have come to know. They even have brotherly love for them. (John 13:34, 35) This can be your experience too.
Such love exists among Jehovah’s Witnesses, though they are found in 229 lands and represent “all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” (Revelation 7:9) As a global brotherhood, they are united in the worship of Jehovah, in their refusal to take part in ethnic conflicts and rivalries, and in their rejection of prejudices that rob people of warm relationships with fellow humans.
Associate with the Witnesses, and you will observe how people of all ethnic backgrounds are doing God’s will. You will see neighbor love in action as they proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom. Yes, and in their congregations, you will meet kind, sincere people who show by their lives that they have truly learned to love their neighbor.
[Picture on page 6]
In the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you will find happy people of all races
[Picture Credit Line on page 4]
Arrival of the Good Samaritan at the Inn/The Doré Bible Illustrations/Dover Publications, Inc.