What is meant by, “Love thy neighbour as thyself?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

Thank you for this question. We will get right to answering it. The phrase appears seven times in the “New Testament” Scriptures (Matthew 5:43; Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). However, this was first instructed in the Law of Moses many centuries prior to the New Testament.

Leviticus 19:18 told Israel: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.” That verse uses the negative to define “love thy neighbour as thyself.” Getting even with people when they do us wrong, holding grudges (bitterness) against people who have done us wrong, these are the opposite of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” Now, think the opposite of doing people wrong or getting even. To “love thy neighbour as thyself” simply means to seek the wellbeing of any and every person around you (whether a literal, next-door person, or some stranger you just happen to come across in your daily activities many miles from your home). Rather than seeking their harm (as in avenging or holding grudges), you are seeking their good. Just as we look out for ourselves (to make sure we are safe from bodily injury, to make sure we are not being swindled, et cetera), we should look out for others’ safety and benefit. If you remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:27-37, Jesus gave a good illustration of what “love thy neighbour as thyself” really meant. The Samaritan took care of an injured man, a complete stranger, after that man was beaten and left for dead. The key word here is “compassion” (Luke 10:33)—we will come back to that later.

More specifically, “love thy neighbour as thyself” means that we should be willing to serve others because Jesus Christ selflessly served us at Calvary’s cross (Romans 15:1-3). This is grace living, or Christian living, in action. Note, for example, Galatians 5:13-14: “[13] For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. [14] For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” See, again, this is not selfish living (“How can I get even?,” “What can I get out of it?,” et cetera). This is “by love serving one another.” Love is seeking another person’s highest good. It is not so much an emotional feeling as much as a mental attitude or disposition. God values that person, so much so that He sent His only begotten Son to die for his or her sins. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). See, this is love. Jesus Christ did not seek to serve Himself. He sought to serve His Heavenly Father, and His Heavenly Father loved sinful mankind enough to seek their best interest. He wanted them to be in heaven with Him instead of them going to hell forever apart from Him. Likewise, we serve our Heavenly Father by faith. We seek others’ highest good as the Lord Jesus did for us nearly 2,000 years ago.

Galatians 5:13-14, which we quoted above, is how Jesus Christ lived His life on Earth. This is the life He wants to live in and through us if we let Him. Unfortunately, the Christians in Galatia were not living like this. Verse 15 says, “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” They were bickering, fussing, fighting, mistreating each other, insulting one another, and so on (sounds like “Christianity” today, huh?). They were not “loving their neighbors as themselves.” Paul reminded them that we are to “by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). For specific examples of how we can serve each other (in marriage, in local assembly with other Christians, in family life with children, on the job, with lost people, and so on), you can see Romans chapter 12, Ephesians chapter 4, and Colossians chapter 3. We are to let God’s love toward us (at Calvary), work in us so that we in turn love others in a similar manner. It is really God’s love toward them that will work in us so that we treat others respectfully.

One more thing. God demanded the Israelites to love their neighbors as themselves, or they would be cursed of Him. They had to perform to get His blessings (see Deuteronomy chapter 28, for example). He did this to show them they were sinners, and were unable to please Him. Now, in this the Dispensation of Grace, God has blessed us in Jesus Christ. If we have trusted in the crosswork of Jesus Christ as sufficient payment for our sins, we have accepted God’s love toward us. Now, that love is to work in and through us, not for us to please God and receive His blessings, but because we already please God in Christ and we have already received His blessings (Romans 8:32; Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 2:10). Rather than being bitter against people who have done us wrong (especially Christians), rather than being rough and mean with others (especially Christians), we need to have “compassion.” Remember, as in the case of the Good Samaritan, as God sent Christ to save us because He had “compassion” on us when we were dead in our sins, we have similar “compassion” on others.

Note Ephesians 4:31-32, one of those passages I recommended for you to read earlier: “[31] Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: [32] And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” This summarizes the phrase “love thy neighbour as thyself.” Do good unto others because God did good unto you at Calvary. Rather than God punishing you for your sins, He punished Jesus Christ in your place. Likewise, He has now given you the capacity to do to others what He did for you. Forgive others for the wrongs they did to you, because God already forgave you of the (greater) wrongs you did against Him! Just as God loves them, you love them. As God was kind to you, His indwelling Holy Spirit can work in you (via the verses you read and believe) to cause you to be kind to others, especially Christians. You will “love your neighbor as yourself” when you simply take these grace doctrines in Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, and read and believe them. Those verses describe our identity in Jesus Christ and we simply walk in the position God already gave us in Jesus Christ.

Also see:
» We are saved by faith, but are we blessed by works?
» What is God’s will for my Christian life?
» Should Christians support wars or should they be pacifists?