“Love thy neighbor” is a term that’s become a almost cliche’ over the years. But where did it originate, and what does it really mean? In a time when neighbors, at least in America, are people we rarely see (thanks to garage door openers and busy lives), how can we possibly love our neighbors?
“Love thy neighbor” was, in part, Jesus’ answer when the religious leader, asked Him about the greatest commandment in the Law (See Matthew 22:36-40). These guys had made it an art form of classifying all the various laws and giving them relative degrees of importance, so in asking Jesus this question, their aim was to test Him. His answer stunned them: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. “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. The question then is, who is our neighbor, and how do we love him or her? They asked Jesus that and He told them the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).
But He would say even more: You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43) Is our neighbor more than the guy next door? Could he or she be someone in our community or almost anyone we meet? Could our enemies also be our neighbors? Jesus says, “Absolutely.” But how can we love someone who hates us?
“Love thy neighbor” is not as hard as it looks on the surface. We don’t have to like them. It simply means respecting them, showing kindness and compassion to them, having integrity with them, and regarding their needs and desires as highly as we regard our own. In that light, keeping this commandment is likely to require the supernatural assistance only God, through Christ, can provide.
The way we love our neighbor is through getting to know Christ, the living Word of God? It’s human nature to emulate those we admire most, so in getting to know Christ, we’ll discover a God worthy of our wholehearted love, then our neighbor will see His love through us.