“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
— Matthew 22:39 niv
I grew up in a relatively small rural town in North Carolina where everyone knew everyone. My best friend lived across the street from me and it seemed like our entire world was within our immediate neighborhood. Everyone knew each other, cared for one another, and made sure that everyone was okay. If there was a problem with any of the neighborhood kid’s behavior it was certain that the on-site parent would correct and direct us immediately. There was an uncommon love between the folk of our neighborhood. Now, over 50 years later I can still travel back to that street of my childhood and have fond memories of that sense of community.
Neighborhoods have changed over the years and not necessarily for the better. Some have eroded into danger zones, while others have become so secure to feel like encampments. In either case, too often we have lost touch with those around us.
This week’s scripture verse reminds us that Jesus summed up the great commands of God in two simple statements. Last week we learned that we are to “Love the Lord” completely. “After stating the first and greatest commandment, Jesus did the Pharisees one better and added the second as well: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Not surprisingly the second greatest commandment involves the same virtue as the first, namely, love. The command for genuine love of God, Jesus declared, is next followed in importance by the command for a love of your neighbor that is of the same order as the love you already have for yourself.”
Someone will ask, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is not cloaked in mystery. The word used here implies someone who is “near, near to, close by, a fellow, another person of the same country, or any other member of the human family.” In plan form it means that person, right there. There is no case to be made for believing that only fellow believers are our neighbors. Whomever is around us has by definition become our neighbor.
The love that Jesus requires is far more than a mere sentimental or emotional feeling. This love is an intentional, personal, and active involvement in the lives of those around us. If we truly love God, we cannot but help love those around us. The Apostle John said this even more plainly:
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God,
and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love”
(1 John 4:7-8)
Our great love for our neighbors is in knowing that they too are someone for whom Christ died. Our love for them is in wanting them to know and experience the love of God in Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10)
“Love your neighbor as yourself!”