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Loving your neighbor as yourself is found eight times in the Bible. Not once. Not twice. Eight times. Loving your neighbor as yourself is so important to God that He not only repeats Himself, He makes it a command. And not just one in a list of many commands. Jesus coupled the command to love your neighbor as yourself with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
James calls it the royal law. It sounds beautiful, and it is when we obey it.
But loving your neighbor as yourself isn’t always easy. That’s why God made it a command. He knew we’d struggle. Making it a command is actually to our benefit. How is that? We have to do it on purpose, be intentional about it. Sometimes even out of our need.
This is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself:
1. Loving your neighbor means receiving God’s love.
Too begin to love your neighbor as yourself, you need to know two things: you need to know what love is and that you are loved.
The Bible tells us “this is love. Not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son as a propitiation…” ( 1 John 4:10 ). You are the object of this love. God loves you. Knowing this is imperative. And not just loved in a general kind of way, but deeply loved and unconditionally loved. We tap into this when we understand that God loved us first. He’s the source of our love. God loved us even before Jesus gave Himself for us. God the Father is the source of all love. Before we can give this love we need to receive it for ourselves. You can’t give what you don’t have.
2. Loving your neighbor means loving ourselves as well.
To love your neighbor as yourself as commanded, you need to measure correctly. The measurement within this command is—as yourself. To love your neighbor as yourself you need to love yourself. This is something that gets misunderstood in the body of Christ often. It gets mixed up with dying to self and denying self as if we need to destroy our self. This is not true.
Jesus died for each and every one of us. If Jesus valued us enough to go through what He went through, we owe it to Him to value what He values. We need to love what He loves – us. The Bible even tells us that the Father loves us as much as He loves Jesus ( John 17:23 ). How dare we not love what the Father loves. Learning to love ourselves prepares and helps us to love our neighbor.
3. Loving your neighbor means showing grace.
Knowing God is love and that this love is for you is not enough. It needs to be developed. Imagine if you had a field of good soil and a bag of top notch seeds. Would they produce a crop all by themselves? No. The seeds must be planted and cared for. Grace takes the seed of His love and the soil of our heart and creates fruit for the kingdom of God.
The Bible says, “it’s God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure” ( Philippians 2 .13). Loving Him and our neighbor pleases Him. Grace helps us do this. Grace teaches us proper love and respect for ourselves and for our neighbor. Freely receiving His grace empowers us to freely give it.
4. Loving your neighbor means acting with compassion.
When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He responded with a story: the Good Samaritan. Even those who have no love for God see the value of the story. What is the bottom line of this story? Who did Jesus say was being a neighbor? The one who had compassion.
Compassion is not simply a warm fuzzy feeling in our hearts. Compassion does something. A heart that’s moved by compassion cannot sit idly by while someone suffers a need. Loving your neighbor as yourself is being moved to help to the full extent of your ability.
5. Loving your neighbor means looking out for their wellbeing.
The NIV translation of 1 Corinthians 13 says, “love protects.” In Philippians 2:4 it says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”Loving your neighbor as yourself is to look out for other people’s wellbeing.
To look out for them is to pay attention. You notice if they need something and then you help. For example, their clothing tag is sticking out or they have food on their face so you let them know. Or something more serious like when my neighbor’s toddler got out and crossed the street. Concerned for his safety, I headed over there. I was almost there when the grandma came out to intercept him and thanked me.