What Does it Mean to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself?
Loving your neighbor as yourself is found eight times in the Bible. Not once. Not twice. Eight times. Loving your neighbor as yourself is so important to God that He not only repeats Himself, He makes it a command. And not just one in a list of many commands. Jesus coupled the command to love your neighbor as yourself with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
James calls it the royal law. It sounds beautiful, and it is when we obey it.
But loving your neighbor as yourself isn’t always easy. That’s why God made it a command. He knew we’d struggle. Making it a command is actually to our benefit. How is that? We have to do it on purpose, be intentional about it. Sometimes even out of our need.
This is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself:
1. Loving your neighbor means receiving God's love.
Too begin to love your neighbor as yourself, you need to know two things: you need to know what love is and that you are loved.
The Bible tells us “this is love. Not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son as a propitiation…” (1 John 4:10). You are the object of this love. God loves you. Knowing this is imperative. And not just loved in a general kind of way, but deeply loved and unconditionally loved. We tap into this when we understand that God loved us first. He’s the source of our love. God loved us even before Jesus gave Himself for us. God the Father is the source of all love. Before we can give this love we need to receive it for ourselves. You can’t give what you don’t have.
2. Loving your neighbor means loving ourselves as well.
To love your neighbor as yourself as commanded, you need to measure correctly. The measurement within this command is—as yourself. To love your neighbor as yourself you need to love yourself. This is something that gets misunderstood in the body of Christ often. It gets mixed up with dying to self and denying self as if we need to destroy our self. This is not true.
Jesus died for each and every one of us. If Jesus valued us enough to go through what He went through, we owe it to Him to value what He values. We need to love what He loves – us. The Bible even tells us that the Father loves us as much as He loves Jesus (John 17:23). How dare we not love what the Father loves. Learning to love ourselves prepares and helps us to love our neighbor.
3. Loving your neighbor means showing grace.
Knowing God is love and that this love is for you is not enough. It needs to be developed. Imagine if you had a field of good soil and a bag of top notch seeds. Would they produce a crop all by themselves? No. The seeds must be planted and cared for. Grace takes the seed of His love and the soil of our heart and creates fruit for the kingdom of God.
The Bible says, “it’s God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2.13). Loving Him and our neighbor pleases Him. Grace helps us do this. Grace teaches us proper love and respect for ourselves and for our neighbor. Freely receiving His grace empowers us to freely give it.
4. Loving your neighbor means acting with compassion.
When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He responded with a story: the Good Samaritan. Even those who have no love for God see the value of the story. What is the bottom line of this story? Who did Jesus say was being a neighbor? The one who had compassion.
Compassion is not simply a warm fuzzy feeling in our hearts. Compassion does something. A heart that’s moved by compassion cannot sit idly by while someone suffers a need. Loving your neighbor as yourself is being moved to help to the full extent of your ability.
5. Loving your neighbor means looking out for their wellbeing.
The NIV translation of 1 Corinthians 13says, “love protects.” In Philippians 2:4 it says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Loving your neighbor as yourself is to look out for other people’s wellbeing.
To look out for them is to pay attention. You notice if they need something and then you help. For example, their clothing tag is sticking out or they have food on their face so you let them know. Or something more serious like when my neighbor’s toddler got out and crossed the street. Concerned for his safety, I headed over there. I was almost there when the grandma came out to intercept him and thanked me.
6. Loving your neighbor means serving them.
Serving from the heart is kindness in action. Kindness is one of the attributes of love listed in 1 Corinthians 13. The funny thing about kindness, though, is you can do acts of kindness without kindness residing in your heart. If the kind thing is done out of duty then it isn’t love.
Jesus said he came to serve (Matthew 20:28). God, who is love, came to serve. Love serves. For you to love your neighbor as yourself, you’ll have a heart to serve them. Let them know you’re there for them. If they need a ride somewhere, you drive them. If they need their dog or cat checked on while they’re out of town, you do that for them. Other examples are getting their mail for them or taking them a meal if they’re not well. Examples in a public setting are to let people in front of you in line at the store or in traffic
7. Loving your neighbor means speaking kindly.
The childhood rhyme about stick and stones versus words is not true. Words build up or tear down. God created the world using words. The Bible says Jesus IS the Word (John 1:1).
To love your neighbor as yourself is to use words to build them up. Speaking words of encouragement to someone who’s down is the most obvious example but there are others. We can be more intentional with our words by looking for and magnifying the good. We can always find something good if we’ll take the time to look for it. Examples of this are giving someone a compliment and telling someone you appreciate them.
8. Loving your neighbor means making allowances for other people's humanity.
We live in a day and age when offense is as common as breathing. Criticism is running rampant. Love is not easily offended or critical. Everyone does dumb things; no one is always right or knows everything. We’re all a work in progress.
I remember sitting through a green light. I wasn’t trying to inconvenience anyone. I got stuck in grieving daze because a family member died. I remember that when I encounter people driving too slow, sitting at lights, or even cutting me off. Maybe they have a reason. Maybe they’re just being human. We’re imperfect beings that do dumb things often.
Giving people the benefit of the doubt is loving your neighbor. For example, I had a lady flailing her arms and cursing because I didn’t go through an almost red light. She was behind me so got stuck at the red light with me. I don’t know why she was so angry but she may have had other circumstances surrounding her that day. I prayed for her.
9. Loving your neighbor means sharing in their joys and sorrows.
The Bible says we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
Celebrating can be difficult for us at times, especially if our neighbor is getting something we have longed for. For example, a new job, a raise, or a pregnancy. Celebrating with them in spite of our own pain is a strong show of love.
Likewise. mourning with our neighbor can be hard if we don’t know what to say, or have recently lost something or someone ourselves. Loving your neighbor as yourself is showing up and being there with your heart open, allowing them to be what they are and support them.
10. Loving your neighbor means forgiving.
Forgiveness is a big deal to God. The Bible says He planned it for us from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Jesus frequently spoke forgiveness over others that resulted in the healing of their bodies.
Forgiveness is freely given to us and to love your neighbor as yourself you’ll pass the forgiveness on. Jesus highlighted this in His story in Matthew 18 when Peter asks how many times is he to forgive. He tells the story of a king who forgave an enormous debt to one of his servants. This servant failed to pass the forgiveness on. He demanded payment of a small debt from his neighbor. When the king heard of it, he had his servant remanded for his debt, revoking the debt cancellation. Jesus’ story tells us that love always forgives.
We all need forgiveness, so loving your neighbor is to forgive them as you have been.
Danielle Bernock writes about overcoming the effects of childhood and emotional trauma through the power of the love of God. Her first book Emerging With Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, And The LOVE that Heals has ushered many to emotional and spiritual freedom. Other books include A Bird Named Payn, and Love’s Manifesto. For more information or to connect with Danielle go here: https://www.daniellebernock.com/