You’ve probably heard the statement often. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you’ve grown up in church and Bible study, it’s a very familiar sentence that you can easily recite from memory. But are we any good at actually doing it? Whether you’ve known the command forever or the idea is brand new to you, let’s explore together what it really means to love your neighbor.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
First, let’s take a look at a passage of Scripture where this statement is found. In response to the Pharisees’ seemingly tricky question regarding the greatest commandment, Jesus issues this profound declaration:
Jesus states that the most important things people can do is love God and love their neighbor. In this passage, the word for “love” comes from the Greek word “agape,” specifying an everlasting, unconditional and sacrificial love. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul gives an extensive description of this type of love:
Certainly, that’s a high expectation for love! So now that we know what “love” means, let’s think for a moment about “neighbor.” If you’ve heard the instruction to “love your neighbor” your entire life, you probably understand it to mean everyone in the world. And yes, that’s correct. But have we become so broad in our thinking that we’ve forgotten our actual neighbors? You know, the people who live just a few yards from your own front door?
In a world where many have become so busy outside the cul-de-sac or so engrossed in binging Netflix indoors all weekend long, how often do we show love to our neighbors? Years ago, neighborhood gatherings were frequent occasions. But now, they’re a rarity. Connecting with the people God has placed you closest to has never been more unfamiliar… or more needed.
What do you do if you love yourself? It’s the kind of things we all do for ourselves. We feed our bodies. We clothe ourselves. We use the resources God has given us to not only stay alive, but to enjoy life. If loving ourselves mean we care for ourselves including basic necessities and some occasional treats, then shouldn’t loving our neighbor mean doing the same for them?
Jesus sums it up quite simply in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Would you like for your neighbor to help you out in a jam? Then do it for them. Would you like for your neighbor to be friendly and show interest in you? Then do it for them. You get the idea…
3 WAYS TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR
So now that we know we are to love our actual next-door neighbors, what are some ways we can show them love? Let ask ourselves some important questions.
Get to know those close to you
First, how many of your neighbors’ names do you know? If that number is fewer than you can count on a single hand, it might be time to introduce yourself. Bring over a plate of cookies or invite them over for dinner. Your neighbor is loved by God enough for Jesus to die for, so surely they’re important enough for you to show some love as well.
Look for opportunities to love your neighbor
Second, what do we notice about our neighbor? For example, does your neighbor have a dog? Then offer to walk it sometimes. Does your neighbor’s yard need cutting? Run your mower over it. Notice their car has a flat tire? Help them change it. Keep your eyes open for ways to connect with your neighbor and show them the love and kindness that Jesus has shown you.
Pray for the not-so-lovable neighbor
Finally, what if your neighbor isn’t an ideal one? Maybe you’ve had some less-than-pleasant encounters with your neighbors already. Consequently, loving that neighbor isn’t even something you can imagine right now. If so, you can start loving them by praying for them. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus said to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. If your neighbor is your enemy, pray for them, their heart, and their needs. Then pray for those opportunities to show them love.