The Greatest Commandment (Part III)
Your Neighbor As Yourself
“Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
The final installment of our series on what Jesus called the greatest commandment focuses on loving your neighbor as yourself. There are two questions that arise with this simple statement: 1. Who is my neighbor? and 2. How do I love someone like I love myself? We’ll deal with the second question first.
You’ll notice that Jesus justifies his answer by stating that, “The entire law and the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Jesus used this justification before during his Sermon on the Mount when He gave us what we now call the golden rule.
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
These go hand in hand. If you do to others what you would like them to do to you then you are loving your neighbor as you love yourself. To say one is to say the other, which is why the justification/explanation of both sayings is the same: this is the essence of the entire law and all the demands of the prophets.
The question of who is my neighbor is easy to answer because Jesus has answered it before. It was yet another time when an expert in religious law wanted to test Jesus.
One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29)
Did you read anything familiar there? Jesus turns the question immediately back on the religious law expert and the expert answers with what Jesus says is the most important commandment! So Jesus tells him that he’s right! The man has answered his own question, but he’s not done yet. Whether Jesus has peaked this man’s interest or if he is still trying to trap Jesus, we don’t know but he goes on to ask, “Who is my neighbor?”
It’s certainly a fair question. I know I’ve asked it before, probably hoping the answer was something like, “Only people who like the same things you do.” This is not Jesus’ answer. His answer is one of His most famous parables, the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the story, a Jewish man is attacked by robbers, he is stripped and beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and a temple assistant walk by and cross the road, unwilling to help the man, but a despised Samaritan comes along and feels compassion for the man. He bandages his wounds, takes the man to an inn and takes care of the man for the rest of the day. He then pays for any further care the man may need.
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:36-37)
So in answer to the question of “who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells a story which casts a Samaritan in a positive light as the neighbor. The Samaritans and Jews were enemies in Jesus’ time, and here is Jesus saying you should love them as you love yourself!
It’s one thing to have the right answer, it’s another to actually live it. Love your enemies—those who are outsiders, those who are different from you, those who live in a different culture with a different religion, those who attack you—as you love yourself. Jesus’ entire ministry was about love, especially teaching us who and how to love.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.” (Matthew 5:43-46)
Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. It is a tall order any way you slice it, and Jesus called it the greatest, the sum of all the laws and prophets. How we love people will show that we are disciples/followers of Jesus. How we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind is internal and beneficial for our growth in Christ. How we love our neighbors will point others to Christ if we love them in obedience to this greatest of commandments, to love them as we love ourselves.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.