Loving Your Neighbor

According to a Mexican legend, San Ysidro was plowing his garden when an angel appeared: “The Lord wants to see you, Ysidro. Come with me.” But Ysidro was busy. He refused the command.

Again the angel appeared: “Unless you come at once, the Lord will send winds and drought to wither your corn.” Ysidro was unperturbed. He had fought the wind before; drought could be relieved by river.

Twice more the angel appeared, but Ysidro would not leave his work. The fourth time, the angel said simply: “If you do not come with me, the Lord will send you a bad neighbor.”

Ysidro paused in the middle of the row and turned to the messenger. “I’ll go with you now,” he said quietly. “I can stand anything but that.”[1]


Nobody wants to be the bad neighbor, and everybody wants to have a good neighbor but Jesus makes it clear in his parable of the Good Samaritan that the definition of neighbor is much more liberal than just “the person who’s house is nearest to your own.”  Your neighbor is anyone and everyone  – most especially those who have a need.  So what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself?

Listen to the Parable of the good Samaritan.  (Read Luke 10:25-37)

When Jesus says that the second greatest commandment is to Love your neighbor as yourself; he is quoting out of Leviticus 19:18. So let me have you open your Bible and turn there.  The nineteenth chapter of Leviticus has plenty to say about your neighbor.  Starting in the thirteenth verse we read the following commands about how to treat your neighbor. 

l       Do not oppress your neighbor. (v13)

l       Judge your neighbor fairly. (v15)

l       You are not to act against the life of your neighbor. (v16)

l       Don’t hate… but do reprove your neighbor… don’t sin because of your neighbor… [which means don’t hate your neighbor while you rebuke him] (v17)

l       Love your neighbor as yourself (in context not taking vengeance against or bearing grudge against him) (v18)

In the parable of the good Samaritan it was the identity of the neighbor which caused the Lawyer the most consternation.  But it was the actions of life which framed the answer.  Loving your neighbor as yourself doesn’t mean that you have to have a good self image about yourself and having the same towards your neighbor.  Nor does Jesus advocate a personal narcissism which somehow overflows into being grossly infatuated with your neighbor. 

The meaning of the word “love” is clarified in two verses for us which use the same construction. 1 Kings 5:1; 2 Chronicles 18:28-19:2.  The final passage provides the most light on the meaning of loving your neighbor as yourself.  The parallelism invoked in that verse teaches us that to “help” the enemies of God is the very same thing as “loving” them.  Loving your neighbor, like loving God means much more than merely having an emotional attachment to them.  It means to be “beneficial and helpful” to them.  Now you can kind of rewrite the passage in your mind from the vague “Love your neighbor as yourself” to the much more concrete:  “You should be beneficial or helpful to your neighbor as you would be to yourself.” [2]  That sure sounds a lot different than what we’re used to but it certainly reflects more of the original meaning.  And beyond that it puts feet on the passage in a very visible way.

So loving your neighbor means that just as the general tilt of your life is to do things for yourself which are beneficial to yourself; you also are to do only that which is beneficial to your neighbor. 

What that looks like in regular practice is outlined a bit in vereses 11-19 of Leviticus 19.
(Read Leviticus 19:11-19)

Being beneficial to your neighbor means not oppressing them when it’s in your power.  It means that when it’s time to judge them that you do so with equity.  If they’re guilty than you tell them so without malice and hatred.  If they’re innocent you acquit them of all charges.  But even in judgement the goal is not punishment for the sake of punishment but rather for the sake of righteousness.

From loving your neighbor to Jesus’ command in John 13:34-35 the same concept helps us to understand what Jesus meant.  In John 13:34-35 Jesus says:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (NASB)

So here we sit on a Sunday morning and what on earth are we supposed to do in order to put this teaching into practice?  Loving one another doesn’t mean that we get quivery legs just thinking about each other.  And it doesn’t mean that we never disagree.  For you to love each other means that the general tilt is to do what is best for each other at all times.

Let me give you an example from the scriptures.

Loving your neighbor as yourself is exactly how God treats every one of us.  I was listening this week to Dr. David Jeremiah on the radio and he was talking about Joseph in the book of Genesis. 

Joseph himself probably would not have chosen the hatred of his brothers.  He would not have chosen to be sold into slavery.  He would not have chosen to suffer for doing the right thing concerning Potiphar’s wife.  He would not have chosen prison, nor the betrayal he felt when the cup bearer to pharaoh promptly forgot him.  No amount of the suffering he endured would have been Joseph’s first choice.  But at the end of the book, Joseph is able to look back upon all of this and tell his brothers with assurance “you meant it for evil but God meant it for good for the saving of many lives.” 

If Joseph knew and understood from the start that the only way he would be able to save the world from starvation and certain death were to endure these things, he would have steeled his eyes, squared his shoulders and walked into the midst of the slave traders himself.  In other words, God did exactly for Joseph what Joseph would have done if he had known what God knew.

God’s love for Joseph meant that he did the very best things for Joseph even if it meant that Joseph didn’t enjoy it.

Loving your neighbor means that you do the right thing – the best thing for your neighbor even if it’s not what your neighbor would necessarily desire.  Because when it all comes down to it you would do the best thing for yourself.

So let us assume for a moment that you get a particular break at your job, say a 10% discount on purchases for you and your family.  If company policy and therefore the definition of righteousness, is that the 10% discount is meant only for you and your family – than it is not only illegal for you to buy something at the discount price for your neighbor it is also unloving.

And you say, “how is it unloving to cost my neighbor an extra 10%?”    The answer is found in Leviticus 19:15 – don’t pervert justice for your neighbor. 

Enough with my contrived illustrations now, how do you go about loving your neighbor as yourself?  If it’s more than emotion; than it is a command from God to do for your neighbor whatever is best for them.  In other words, if you were the other person’s situation but could do something about it, what would you do for yourself?  That is what you should do for your neighbor. 

The good Samaritan again serves as a great example.  The beaten man would have sought medical treatment and care if he could have – since he couldn’t the Samaritan did. 

Perhaps the best application I can give you is in Jesus’ closing words of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  “Go and do the same.”

[1]    Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers (Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979).

[2]    Malamat, Abraham “Love your neighbor as yourself what it really means” Hershel Shanks Editor, BAR 16:04 (July/Aug 1990) (Biblical Archaeology Society, 2004; 2004).