Do We Love Our Neighbors Like We Love Ourselves?
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
At the end of Matthew's gospel, Christians are presented with what is often referred to as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). In this commission, Jesus tells his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. A few chapters before, though, Jesus gives his disciples—and all Christians—a picture of what it means to be a disciple in the first place. If the Great Commission is a missional charge, then what we find in Matthew 22:36-40 is that mission taking shape in our world and culture. This manifestation revolves around one very important word: love.
When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment of the Law is, he first turns to Deuteronomy 6 to give His answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” It’s nearly word for word what Moses spoke to Israel in Deuteronomy 6:5. He then turns to Leviticus 19:18 and again quotes the Old Testament text nearly word for word: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
What’s so striking is that Jesus doesn’t say, “First, you must love God and then love your neighbor.” He says his second answer is like the first. In other words, you can’t love God if you don’t also love your neighbor. And what does that look like? If you read ahead a few verses in that same chapter in Leviticus, you read, “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Scholar Leon Morris puts it like this: “Wholehearted love for God means coming in some measure to see other people as God sees them, and all people as the objects of God's love. Therefore, anyone who truly loves God with all his being must and will love others.”
This isn’t easy, and our own country doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to loving our neighbors. When we look back on the horrific history of slavery in this country, of people looking at the foreigner as less than human; when we truly consider the hatred that filled those who thought it best to lynch their black brothers and sisters; when we come face to face with the fact that the United States forcibly placed more than 100,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II; when we take an honest and objective look at the state of mass incarceration in this country; when we look back on our history, we have to ask ourselves, “Are we loving our neighbors like we love ourselves?”
These are broad historical atrocities, and they only begin to scratch the surface. But I can just as quickly look to my own life and ask, "Am I loving my neighbors like I love myself?"
Am I doing everything I can to help those who are living on the streets—nearly 62,000 people in New York City—find warm shelter through organizations like The Bowery Mission and St. Paul’s House? Am I confronting the reality that nearly 1.4 million New Yorkers don’t know where their next meal will come from, and am I seeking to love them like I love myself? Am I acting Christ-like toward those who are dealing with unplanned—and often unsupported—pregnancies and helping them find help and comfort from organizations like Expect Hope and Avail?
Am I using my own privilege—a privilege that is based on nothing I've done to receive it, based on no merit of my own (Romans 3:20-24; 1 Corinthians 15:10)—am I using this to benefit myself, or have I used it to benefit my neighbor as much as myself?
As we strive to love the Lord, are we endeavoring to love our neighbors and advantage the disadvantaged, or do we separate our love of God from our love of neighbor? May we turn our hearts toward Christ for the ultimate example of what this looks like, because Christ didn’t love His neighbors as much as He loved himself, He loved His neighbors—you and me—more than He loved Himself.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:12-13 (NIV)
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Chuck Armstrong is the Director of Community Life for Redeemer Lincoln Square.