Love your neighbor as yourself is widely recognized as one of Jesus's most important commandments.
Many Christians have heard this verse so many times that its original meaning has been altered.
People often try to justify why it’s impossible to love their neighbor as themselves. This mindset may result from anger toward others, such as not being able to love someone that we deem despicable.
However, another reason may be that we believe others deserve compassion and patience.
In such a divided world, it’s crucial to understand Jesus's true meaning behind "love your neighbor as yourself."
The original commandment of “love thy neighbor as thyself” comes from the book of Mark 12 in the New Testament in Scripture.
When Jesus was asked by a scribe which great commandment was the most important, He responded by saying, “The most important is, ‘Hear O Israel: The Lord, our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).
The scribe answered Jesus very wisely by saying, “You're right, Teacher. You have truly said that He's one, and there's no other besides Him. And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12: 32-33).
And when Jesus heard the scribe’s answer, he replied, “You aren't far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).
We gain insight into what God truly wants from us when we study Mark 12. In response to a question about the greatest commandment, Jesus said the first commandment is, "Love God with all your heart and soul."
The Lord goes on to say that the second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. It's amazing to think that the second commandment, aside from loving your Heavenly Father, is to love your neighbor. Apart from loving God, this verse proves that God's most important need for us is to love each other.
Apart from verses in the book of Mark in the Bible, there’s another story that gives us more insight into Christ’s view on loving our neighbors.
After being asked what the greatest commandment was, a Pharisee tried to test Jesus once again. "Who's my neighbor?" Asked the Pharisee. Instead of responding directly, Jesus Christ told the parable of the Good Samaritan to turn the question around on the Pharisee.
The story talks of a man who was robbed and left for dead by the road. After two people walked over him — a priest and a Levite — a Samaritan was the only one who stopped to help the poor man.
After telling the story, Jesus asked the Pharisee who he thought among the three was a neighbor to the man who was robbed. The Pharisee replied, “the man who showed mercy.” Jesus then told the Pharisee to go and do likewise.
Jesus taught us that picking who our neighbor is wasn't the goal of His commandment. The issue is more about being a good neighbor who's ready to love others. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it’s very clear that we may even have neighbors who are complete strangers.
But being a neighbor to everyone means following the commandment of Christ. Taking the first step toward fulfilling it is the most important aspect of that commandment.
To begin loving your neighbor as yourself, you need to understand two things: first, that you're loved, and second, that love is an action.
You might find it helpful to track your own internal narrative from a psychological and spiritual perspective. The first question you should ask yourself when you discover your own behaviors is, “if I were speaking to a friend, would I be speaking in the same manner as I am right now?”
Even more pointedly, “would Christ say these things to me if I were conversing with Him right now?”
If you answered in the negative to either question, imagine what Christ might say to you or what you might say to your closest friend. Our ability to accomplish this effectively will allow us to mature psychologically as well as spiritually. Jesus gave us the ultimate love through eternal life, and we can live by His example.
It’s always easier to love others once we know how to love ourselves. Our love of God helps us in loving others. With time and practice, we can learn to embrace the concept of loving ourselves — not selfishly or indulgently, but in the way that Christ does. As soon as that's done, we can be kind neighbors to our fellow man.
God's word says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).
Often, when we think about loving our neighbors, we forget how to love ourselves.
Jesus’ command is to love your neighbor as yourself. Therefore, to be able to love our neighbors, we must first learn to love ourselves. The journey toward self-love is hard, and it's a continuous one. Although with practice and self-reflection, we can succeed.
In modern societies, it seems as if such a simple task has become complex. However, we must return to Jesus' words, especially during this unprecedented and unpredictable time.
Even without considering Biblical origins, loving your neighbor is an essential aspect of fostering strong communities. It's one of the most important of God’s commandments, after all.