What it Means to Love Your Neighbor
Ask yourself what the Bible says about being a neighbor. There’s a good chance you’ll think of the famous command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, NLT). That Old Testament edict is such an excellent summary of how God wants us to act toward others that the New Testament repeats it in eight places!
This gives added weight to what’s already a challenging rule. But I wonder if the very familiarity of the command means we seldom think through its implications as we might. We need details. Well, the Bible has several other passages about how to treat neighbors, and these give helpful specifics. Let’s look at a few principles for neighborly living, keeping in mind that Jesus taught us to think of everyone—even our enemies—as neighbors. What does a person who loves his neighbor look like?
He loves his neighbor in how he speaks. “I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. I will not endure conceit and pride” (Psalm 101:5, NLT). This is a fascinating verse because of how it connects speaking ill of someone with our desire to make ourselves look good. When we put someone else down, it’s often because we’re sore over being hurt by them or because we want to make ourselves look better in comparison. We’re being proud and selfish. There’s no room for such speech if we love our neighbor as ourselves.
She loves her neighbor in how she meets needs. “If you can help your neighbor now, don’t say, ‘Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you’” (Proverbs 3:28, NLT). Most people believe in helping the needy but are quick to qualify it or to make sure that the needy person is deserving. This verse tells us to be less cautious. We don’t help ourselves only when we deserve it or only after the situation becomes dire. So why limit our help to others that way?
He loves his neighbor even when it’s inconvenient. “If you see that your neighbor’s donkey or ox has collapsed on the road, do not look the other way. Go and help your neighbor get it back on its feet!” (Deuteronomy 22:4, NLT). It’s easy for us to selfishly ignore our neighbor, deciding that someone else is in a better position to meet a certain need or show a particular kindness. This verse tells us to step up and help. After all, we don’t meet our own needs only when it’s convenient.
She loves her neighbor from the heart. “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17, NLT). The command in this verse is not only to put aside envy but also to be every bit as happy for our neighbor’s success and well-being as we are for our own. It requires a heart that’s both caring and content.
He loves his neighbor by forgiving him. “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, NLT). This is actually the original “love your neighbor” verse, expanded to include the context. It’s about what may be the most difficult love of all—true forgiveness, the kind that doesn’t bear a grudge or look for ways to get back at someone.
The sort of person who practices these ways of loving others is an incredibly noble and attractive person, right? Don’t you long to be that kind of person? Doesn’t it inspire you? It should.
It also might discourage you or make you feel ashamed of how you fail. That too can happen whenever we take a hard, detailed look at God’s commands.
So to deal with both reactions, let me urge you to look to Jesus, who has fully loved us, his neighbors. Jesus came to us when we didn’t deserve it, at the greatest possible inconvenience to himself; and he forgave us. He put aside concern for his image and loved us from the heart. He died in our place to rescue us from any condemnation over how we fail to love others. And he rose from the dead in power, giving us who are joined to him new life as well—and the ability to love as he does.
Believe it. Trust him. Work with confidence and joy at loving your neighbor. Because if you belong to Jesus, the noble and attractive person I’ve described can be you.
Jack Klumpenhower is a writer and children’s ministry worker living in Colorado.