Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself
By Joe Keim
March 1, 2015
I was recently asked to speak on the subject, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” After studying and doing my research, I was very much amazed at what I found.
For instance, consider that:
- Eight times in the Bible we are commanded to love thy neighbor as thyself.
- The phrase, love thy neighbor as thyself, is one of the most repeated commands in the Bible.
- Jesus said: to love God and your neighbor as yourself is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.—Mark 12:33
Why was it so important for God to continually remind us throughout Scripture to love our neighbor as much as we do ourselves? I think we probably all know the answer to that. It doesn’t come naturally for us, and it’s hard! At times, it’s very, very hard! In fact, loving our neighbor as our self is so difficult at times, and beyond our own ability, that we cannot do it on our own. It’s impossible! We have to know a higher power—working within and through us—Jesus Christ.
Let’s go ahead and read the eight Scripture passages about loving our neighbor as our self, and then I would like to make a few comments. The first one is found in the Old Testament. The last seven are found in the New Testament.
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD. —Leviticus 19:18
Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. —Matthew 19:19
In Mathew 22:35-40, the Bible says a lawyer walked up to Jesus and asked Him a question, tempting Him: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus answered him, saying, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Jesus concludes by saying: On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
In Mark 12:28-31, we are told that one of the scribes asked Jesus, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus responded by saying: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Several verses later, v-33, the scribe responded with: “And to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Luke, the doctor, records the lawyer’s story this way (Luke 10:25-29): “Behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Him saying, Master, What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Instead of giving the lawyer an answer, Jesus asks, “What is written in the law?” To which the lawyer responds: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.
Verse 29 says: …But the lawyer, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?
Next, let us move on to the epistles of Paul and James, where they continue writing about loving thy neighbor as thyself.
When Paul wrote to the church at Rome, he said: Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. — Romans 13:9
Again, Paul writes to the church in Galatia: For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. —Galatians 5:14
Lastly, James writes to the twelve tribes of Israel: If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: —James 2:8
Eight times, God said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself! Each time, it was a command; not a suggestion.
Most of us have been taught that we are not to think of ourselves too highly, and I believe that is scriptural. Matter of fact, I don’t like being around people who think of themselves as better than others. You probably don’t either. However, when we look at each one of these verses, we are told to “love thy neighbor...as thyself.” So what happens if I don't love myself? Can I still love my neighbor?
Let me ask you a question, friend. If your love for self could be measured, using a scale of 1 to 10, what number would you give yourself?
If you just gave yourself a 2, 5, or a 7, the reality is, you will have a very difficult time loving your neighbor beyond a 2, 5, or a 7.
Furthermore, if you find yourself tearing others down and putting a low value on their lives, you might first look at yourself and see that it starts with you. First, you have to love and value your own life. When you find that you can give yourself a 9 or 10, you will immediately notice a difference in how much your value and love for others increases.
Just in case you think I’m somewhere out in left field, let me explain what I don’t mean by loving self. I don’t mean that you should become puffed up and proud of yourself. God forbid! That’s worldly love and, as you already know, God hates it.
The love I’m trying to describe begins with God. Let’s look at 1 John 4:7-8:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of [from] God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.
Consider these facts:
- Loving others is dependent on us knowing God.
- The level of love and value I place on self and others goes back to how well I’ve accepted God’s love.
- If I have a hard time receiving God’s love, I will have a hard time loving who I am. If I have a hard time loving who I am, I will have a hard time loving my neighbor.
So, if I’m having a hard time loving my neighbor, I have to go back to the very beginning; that is, I must learn how to receive the love that flows from the throne of God.
You might ask, how do I do that? I believe it goes back to God’s Word. If you do not read God’s word, your faith in God will become weak and begin to struggle. When your faith in God struggles, so will your life in the area of loving self and others.
Our understanding of love begins with the most frequently quoted verse in the Bible:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. —John 3:16
Let’s read that promise from God again. This time, I would like for you to place your name whenever you see a blank line. Ready?
For God so loved _________, that he gave his only begotten Son, that if _____________ believeth in him, ___________ should not perish, but have everlasting life (go to heaven). —John 3:16
This is what the Bible calls being "born-again" or "born from above." In this new birth experience, God reveals His amazing love to you. This miracle will produce in you a new nature that will allow you to love others like never before—regardless of their response to your love.
This new birth is an event that takes place in the moment of time and eternity. It is also the start of understanding and fully receiving God’s love. Consider the apostle Paul's prayer for the Christians in Ephesus:
…that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. —Ephesians 3:17-19
As we experience God's love and respond in love, we will be transformed into His image. We will also be fulfilling His greatest command, and that is: to love God and our neighbor as our self.
I would like to end this first part of “love thy neighbor as thyself” by sharing a story.
A particular Amish community was experiencing a lot of problems within. Church people were arguing over this and arguing over that. Months turned into years, and small problems turned in big problems. Eventually, some of the families had enough and moved elsewhere. And then more families moved...and then more. At some point, it was said that about 200 families had moved out of this particular community. Of course, this greatly saddened the remaining families and led them to reach beyond themselves for help. They invited wise men from other communities to come and meet with their remaining families.
The big meeting day finally arrived. As family after family arrived and parked their buggies, they walked to an open area where the meeting was to take place. When everyone had found their place, the meeting was brought to order. Next, the wise men asked for members of the community to share the arguments and problems that brought so much heartache and pain to this once active community of Amish families.
One after the other, folks shared from their heart. Sometimes, folks shared in anger, other times in frustration and confusion. Finally, the last member had his say. For a moment, everything became silent as they waited for the wise men to get up and tell them where they had failed as a community.
Jonas, one of the wise men, stood to his feet and cleared his throat. He said, “Friends, now listen closely; your problem is not whether one should or shouldn’t wear bright orange when hunting deer, neither does having or not having bulk milk tanks have anything to do with all the division and anger that has come from this community.” Jonas waited a moment, and than continued. “All this confusion, anger, bitterness, and division could have easily been avoided if you had heeded God’s command, when He said: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
You see, dear reader; most of our church problems are not what they seem. Neither are family and work problems. In many cases, our bitterness and divisions come from a lack of love for God, then self, and lastly others.
In the book of Revelation, the apostle John begins the book by writing to the seven churches. To the Church of Ephesus, the Lord asked John to write:
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. —Revelation 2:4-5
In part 2, we will take some time and see what Jesus meant, when He said, “Loving God and loving my neighbor….”
- Hang all the law and the prophets. —Matthew 22:40
- There is none other commandment greater than these. —Mark 12:31
- Is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. —Mark 12:33
- But the lawyer, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor? —Luke 10:29
— by Joe Keim
« Back to Articles