love for your neighbor

©2021 michael martin | ask@lifefellowship.org

love for your neighbor

Perhaps one of the most famously quoted phrases in all of Scripture is to "love your neighbor." And while most everyone has heard of this principle, we live in a world where love for our neighbors seems to be sorely lacking. This study will examine the concept of loving our neighbors, with the goal of gaining a better understanding of what this command means, and gaining a greater desire in our hearts to obey it.

the command to love

When asked by a teacher of the Law a question about which of God’s commandments was the greatest, Jesus gave this famous answer:

mark 12:30-31

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these."

matthew 22:37-40

Jesus replied: " ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Jesus’ answer to the question of which commandment is the greatest is both straightforward and stunning. First, He lays out, in the simplest terms, that loving God and loving our neighbors are the two greatest commandments. But then, amazingly, Jesus says this:

matthew 22:40

"All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

It is said that there are 613 commandments in the Law and the Prophets (or the Old Testament). Imagine trying to remember and practice 613 commands, dealing with every issue from murder to mildew. To this day, many people try to measure their righteousness by this barometer.

Amazingly, Jesus said that all of those commands–every single one of them–hang upon the simple practice of true love for God and for our neighbors. In other words, we can be counted as being in obedience to some 613 commands by obeying just two commands!

For additional reference, consider these passages:

romans 15:2

Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

matthew 19:19b

Love your neighbor as yourself.

my notes:

making it even simpler...

Knowing that humans aren’t the sharpest pencils in the box, Jesus pared 613 commands down to two. But it gets even simpler! Take a look:

john 14:15

"If you love me, you will obey what I command."

john 14:23-24

Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

1 john 5:3

This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome...

Consider this: God has said that love for God is to obey His commands. That same God has commanded us to love our neighbors. Therefore, if practiced Biblically,

loving our neighbors = loving God.

Truly, that doesn’t sound so burdensome, does it?

my notes:

loving our neighbors = loving God

Of course, we are to love God directly, and with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. But loving God in this way cannot be done without obeying His command to love our neighbors. This concept is affirmed by Jesus Himself:

matthew 25:31-40

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 "Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 "The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

Jesus reckons our love and service toward others as having been done directly for Him. Similarly, our failure to love and serve others is counted as a failure to love Him:

matthew 25:45

"He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Clearly, loving our neighbors is vitally important. But who are our neighbors?

who’s my neighbor?

This may seem like a fair and reasonable question. The truth, however, is that this very question reveals a great deal about our hearts. To clarify, let’s examine a famous parable of Jesus:

luke 10:25-37

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

27 He answered: " ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"

28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

a closer look...

In this parable, we see an expert in the Law asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, to which Jesus replies, "What is written in the Law?" The expert in the Law answers:

luke 10:27

He answered: " ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Here, the man showed that he knew and understood the Greatest Commandments. Jesus responded by telling him, "do this and you will live." But then came the question...

luke 10:29

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

who is my neighbor?

As we’ve said, this seems like a valid question. But why was this question asked? Going further, why do we ask this question: Isn’t it already obvious who our neighbors are?

neighbor (definition)

1: one living or located near another

2: FELLOW MAN

(Love your neighbor as yourself.) — Matthew 19:19

That seems fairly clear, doesn’t it? Our neighbors are our fellow humans who are nearby us (or really, anyone anywhere with whom we have the opportunity to interact). So, why ask the question?

Because, as with the Law expert in Luke 10:29, he wanted to justify himself. It was never about not knowing who his neighbors were. It was about looking for an excuse not to love his neighbors.

Don’t we do the same thing? I know I do. We look for a reason to say, "That’s not my neighbor" so we won’t have show love to them.

Jesus, of course, knew this, which is why He answered the Law expert with the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. Let’s take a closer look at this parable:

luke 10:30-32

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

the most "neighborly" neighbors?

In Jesus’ parable, two men, each in turn, encounter the injured man. First comes a priest; a fellow Jew and a minister of God. Surely, this priest would be a neighbor? But instead, he passes by on the opposite side of the road.

Next came a Levite who responded the same way. The concern of these two men was not for the welfare of the injured man, but for their own purposes. One explanation for this is that both the priest and the Levite probably didn’t want to make themselves unclean by touching what they believed was a dead body. Here’s the background for that:

numbers 19:11-13

"Whoever touches the dead body of anyone will be unclean for seven days. 12 He must purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third and seventh days, he will not be clean. 13 Whoever touches the dead body of anyone and fails to purify himself defiles the LORD’S tabernacle. That person must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean; his uncleanness remains on him.

What a hassle! Had the priest or the Levite in Jesus’s parable have touched the injured man and discovered him to be dead, they would incur significant inconvenience.

And so, even though the priest and the Levite were both brothers to the man who needed help, they chose to avoid possible "defilement" and inconvenience, not even checking to see if the victimized man was even alive.

They ignored his life-and-death need for convenience and self-righteousness.

But then, Jesus’ parable takes an interesting turn...

luke 10:33

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

an enemy was a neighbor?

This story is powerful enough with its example of one man helping another. But the thing that makes this story even more powerful is that the helper of the man in our story was a Samaritan; an enemy of our main character.

This enmity between Jews and Samaritans dates back to the division of the kingdom of Israel during the time of kings Reheboam (the son of Solomon) and Jeroboam (son of Nebat). Most of the tribes of Israel broke away from Reheboam, leaving behind only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. These two tribes made up the kingdom of Judah, which contained Jerusalem.

The remaining tribes established the kingdom of Israel to the north, but they had a problem. Their designated place of worship was supposed to be Jerusalem, which was in the southern kingdom of Judah. Their solution was to establish a new capital city in Samaria and to offer their own idolatrous worship there.

Going further, after the fall of Israel to Assyria, most of the Israelites were carried off into captivity, and Samaria was partly resettled by people from Babylon and other pagan places [2 Kings 17:24-41].

The remaining Israelites in Samaria intermarried with these "replacement residents." This led to the Jews considering the Samaritans to be half-breeds. Suffice it to say that they were not friends.

Getting back to our parable, we see that it was a Samaritan, an enemy of our injured man, who finally came to his aid:

luke 10:34

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.

finally, some help!

Jesus then explains how the Samaritan cared for the distressed man (we’ll examine that more closely in a moment), and then wraps it up with a question:

luke 10:36-37

36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Jesus’ question here warrants some careful consideration. He didn’t ask whether the injured man was their neighbor. His question was, "who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The injured man was visible and clearly needed attention. He was nearby. The passerby were in positions to help. Of course he was their neighbor! That’s not the question that Jesus was addressing.

Jesus’ question was, "who was the neighbor to the man?"

That’s the question we should really be asking. Not, "who is my neighbor?" We already know the answer to that question. Our asking is likely an attempt to dodge our responsibility to love. And what does God’s Word tell us about such things?

james 4:17

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

So, who’s my neighbor? Who are we kidding? We already know who our neighbors are, and we already know we should love them.

The real question we should ask is, "will I be a neighbor?"

my notes:

will I be a neighbor?

We’ve already seen that our neighbors are simply the people in front of us, or those with whom we have the opportunity to interact. They’re not only our next-door neighbors, but also the clerks who serve us at the stores, the wait staff at our restaurants, the people we’re in line with, the faces on the screen during a teleconference, and anyone in proximity to us for any reason.

Whomever is in front of you at a given moment is, at that moment, your neighbor; the person you’re supposed to love!

But Jesus added a new facet to the meaning of "neighbor." He didn’t simply explain that neighbors were close-by people. He instead challenged us to be neighborly.

neighborly (definition)

characteristic of a good neighbor, especially helpful, friendly, or kind.

being neighborly...

Taking cues from the definition above, being a neighbor requires kindness. More than niceness, kindness involves genuine care and concern rather than shallow pleasantries. It’s fine to be pleasant, but we’re called to more than that.

We’re called to love our neighbor; not just be nice, but agape.

agape (definition)

Agape is a Greek work for the kind of love that is pure and sacrificial, seeking the highest welfare of another.

loving neighbors will cost us something

Always.

Sometimes, it will be a financial cost. Other times it will be an investment of time. Sometimes, it will involve putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations. But it will always cost us something. That’s important, because our willingness (and even desire) to make those sacrifices is where the love becomes evident.

Where does that sacrificial agape love begin?

see.

Remember the good Samaritan? He was on a journey. He had places to go and things to do. But then, he saw the injured man.

luke 10:33

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

How did our Samaritan come to take pity on the distressed man? Before anything else, he had to see. He had to take notice. He had to look beyond himself and his own little world, and notice, in a loving way, another human being.

How often in our lives do we fail to see our neighbors? Too often, our neighbors are, for us, simply a means to an end for our own agendas and interests. Perhaps, they’re even obstacles to our agendas and interests. But in truth, they’re so much more!

Our neighbors are human begins, each lovingly created by the same God who made us, and each with their own loves, struggles, and heartaches. Every single one of them is precious, and just like us, needs God, beginning with the love and mercy of Christ.

We need to see our neighbors.

what did the Good Samaritan see?

Let’s go back to Jesus’ parable to see this concept in practice.

luke 10:30

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

a man who was unable to help himself...

In this example, Jesus presents a scenario where a man is robbed, beaten, left for dead, and is unable to help himself. This is not to say that our neighbors are only those who can’t help themselves. The point here is that the form our neighborly love takes will often be defined by their circumstances and needs.

For example, you could give a snow shovel to a man who lives in Phoenix, Arizona and imagine you’ve loved him. You could give a nut-allergic woman a piece of almond bark and imagine you’ve loved her. You might think you’ve shown love, but in truth, you didn’t love the person enough to think for a moment about what would truly bless them.

Taking a moment to observe the man in this parable, the way to show love is clear. He needs immediate medical help!

As with the Samaritan, we need to see our neighbors. This simple effort to see will often show us something about how we can love them.

But once we see our neighbors, as with the Good Samaritan, it will lead to the next action...

stop.

luke 10:33

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

In order for the Samaritan to take pity, he first had to do something else. He had to stop.

He had to put his own plans and interests on hold. He hit the "pause" button.

At that moment his agenda changed. For a moment, his concern was not on his schedule, his convenience, his profit, or his comfort. In that moment of pause, his interests and agenda were surrendered, exchanged for a new agenda that had been set before him by God.

This was not the quickest or most convenient course of action. He could have instead called for someone else to help, or he could have tossed a couple of silver coins toward the injured man and gone on his way.

But instead, he did what was most beneficial to the injured man. He loved enough to stop.

Life is busy. We all have things we need (or want) to do, and we like to do those things at the times and places that are most comfortable for ourselves.

But if we’re going to love our neighbors, we have to stop. We have to put our agendas on hold and invest time into those priceless souls that God places before us.

As with the Samaritan, now with his heart willing to follow a new script, the next step comes...

go!

luke 10:34

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.

Recognizing the need before him, the Samaritan went to the distressed man. He crossed the road. He eliminated the distance that separated them.

What did this show? It showed that the distressed man was valuable to him. Valuable enough to get closer. No matter that he was an enemy. No matter that he may have put himself at some risk. The Samaritan knew that, in order to love this man, he needed to get closer. Neither the priest nor the Levite had been willing to do this.

Very often, we don’t do it either.

After all, to "go" is to risk. "Going" might result in our getting pulled into something we’d rather not be part of. Maybe we’d prefer not to spend ten minutes talking with our next-door neighbor about how his rash has been acting up. Perhaps we’d rather not hear our neighbor telling us that our dog barks a bit too much. And we definitely don’t want to know that our neighbor needs help moving out of his house. Ugh!

If we don’t "go," we’re safe from all of that, aren’t we?

But that "safety" makes it very hard to love our neighbors, which is, you know, kind of a big deal to God..

The Samaritan saw. He stopped. He went. And that led to what came next...

invest and sacrifice...

luke 10:34-35

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

There’s a lot to unpack here. These verses show all the ways in which the good Samaritan lovingly invested, at cost to himself, in his neighbor. This is worth examining, because it provides clear examples of how we can love our neighbors. Let’s break it down...

bandages, oil, wine...

First, we see that the Samaritan treated the wounds. This cost him something, as he likely had to tear fabric from his own garments or possessions to make bandages. He poured wine on the wounds, likely to sanitize them, and oil to soothe them. All of this cost him something.

In other words, he saw to the clear, immediate physical needs of his neighbor.

on his own donkey...

Next, the Samaritan understood that he could not leave his neighbor, who could not walk, on the road. He loaded him up on his donkey, meaning that he not only did not have the option of riding his donkey, but also that he may have had to carry a load that his donkey had been previously carrying.

stayed and took care of him...

Going further, the Samaritan took his neighbor to an inn, stayed with him, and took care of him until the next day. He made a significant time investment to lovingly see to the needs of his neighbor.

two silver coins...

Next, understanding that caring for the man would carry a financial cost (health care has always been expensive!) He wanted to ensure that he, rather than the innkeeper, would shoulder the cost of ensuring good care for his neighbor.

when I return...

This guy just won’t give up! After all that he had done, he even planned to return to the inn to see how things had turned out and to further reimburse the innkeeper for any additional expenses.

He followed up, and he followed through. His love was ongoing.

where does it lead?

We can only imagine what happened after the events of Jesus’ parable. Did the two men become friends? Could such things have changed the way Samaritans thought of Jews and Jews thought of Samaritans? Only God knows.

But we do know this. Without such love–Christ’s love–we can certainly not build the bridges and relationships that can lead lost souls to Christ.

how to love my neighbor

So, how do we love our neighbors? It depends upon whom they are, where they are, what they’re doing, and what they need. Our love for our neighbors will depend upon what we know about them.

For the store clerk whom we’ve just met, a simple smile and a word of encouragement. For the guy next door who recently broke his leg, it’s mowing his lawn. For the shut-in who lives across the street, it’s an offer to clean her house, or simply to visit and talk with her.

If you only see someone once, then encourage them in that moment. If you see someone repeatedly, make an effort to learn more about them each time. The more you learn, the better you’ll be able to love them according to their needs.

questions to ponder

Q. Do I truly see my neighbors (everywhere they are)?

Q. Do I know (or try to learn) their names? Their occupations? Their interests?

Q. Do I rush into my house to avoid neighbors?

Q. Do I smile, greet, or encourage people as I encounter them?

Q. Do I stop what I’m doing to notice, engage with, or serve my neighbors?

Q. Do I make efforts to go to my neighbors where they are?

Q. Do I serve or invest in my neighbors?

Q. Do I really love my neighbors?

be a neighbor!

See them. Stop what you’re doing. Go to them. Invest in them. Sacrifice for them.

Whatever form it takes, be a neighbor. Greet them. Pray for them. Serve them. Have a genuine interest in them.

Love them.

After all, they’re important. They’re the reason we’re here.

philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The Good Samaritan knew something about setting aside his own good for the good of others, whether neighbor or enemy!

But there’s Someone Else who knows this even better.

philippians 2:5-8

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!

Yes, loving our neighbors will cost us. but it’s worth it. Not only will our Christlike love benefit and encourage our neighbors here in this life, but it will have eternal benefits for our neighbors who are led to Christ, in part, through our simple love for them.

Be a neighbor.

Spend whatever it takes, and be spent in the process. As Paul wrote:

2 corinthians 12:15 esv

I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.

Let this be our attitude.

Because our neighbors are worth it.