How Can We Love our Neighbor as Our Self, as Jesus Commanded?
Loving other people as oneself is a difficult goal. But Jesus clearly made it fundamental to Christian living. On one occasion, an expert in the Jewish law challenged Jesus with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Luke 10:27 NKJV).
Although the goal of loving one’s neighbor as oneself is difficult, it isn’t impossible. In Luke 6:36-38, Jesus gives some basic principles that help us understand what it involves:
Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you (NKJV).
This passage contains two principles. One principle is that our expectations of our neighbors are directly related to the expectations that will be placed on us. As Jesus said, “With the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” The expectations we have of others will be required by them (and God) of us. But even subjectively, we already love—or hate—our neighbors as ourselves. We subconsciously project our own attitudes and values upon other people, expecting them to perceive us as we perceive them. If we are impatient and judgmental towards others, we assume others will be impatient and judgmental towards us. If we are compassionate and patient towards others, we won’t have to deal with the pressures that come from assuming that others view us with hostility and impatience. Love or hatred directed outwards is always matched by love or hatred directed inwards.
The second principle is that love for one’s neighbor should never be confused with indulgence. A father who gives his children anything they want spoils them. If we love our neighbor as our self, we must be as careful in setting standards and goals for him as we do for ourselves. If God were a genie in a lamp who gave us anything we wanted, would we ever be satisfied? Of course not! Love for our neighbor involves the same principle. While love always seeks to promote the other person’s well-being, at times it is manifested in acts of charity and at other times in firm confrontation.
Our neighbor is just like us. At times he needs mercy, at times he needs correction, but he always needs our love.