As Christians, we are commanded by God to love all people. In fact, to “…love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39, ESV) is second only to “…love the Lord your God…” (Matthew 22:37, ESV). But who is our neighbor? And, what does it mean to love our neighbor, especially as we love ourselves?
The first question of who is our neighbor, Jesus answers in the parable of the Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), in which a man, presumably a Jewish man, as that was Jesus’ audience, was traveling on a road to Jerusalem, but along the way was attacked, robbed and left for dead. The man who appeared to be dead was then passed by two highly religious men, both of whom crossed to the other side of the road as to not come into contact with a possibly dead body, as that would make them unclean and unholy for a period of time, and would require sacrifices to atone for their sin of touching a dead body. So, both walked by, not checking on the man to see if he was truly dead, or in need of help. A third man, a man of the Samaritans, who are to this day an outcast off-shoot of the Jewish tribes of Israel, then came by the man. When this Samaritan, who was hated and an outcast by Jewish people, came to the man, he checked on him, saw that he was still alive and dressed the injured man’s wounds. The Samaritan then took the man into an inn and paid the innkeeper to attend to the man–to see to all the injured man’s needs–and promised to pay whatever additional costs were incurred by the innkeeper in doing so. After telling this parable, Jesus then told those to whom he had told the parable that anyone to whom we show mercy is our neighbor and to go do so. So, our neighbors are clearly everyone.
The latter of the two questions, as to what is love, is more difficult because loving another person falls into two categories: meeting needs and calling to repentance. We read throughout the gospels of Jesus’ miracles–healing the sick (Matthew 9:20-22), making the blind see (Matthew 9:27-31), resurrecting the dead (Matthew 9:18, 23-25). We also read of Him feeding thousands (John 6:10-11) and halting a lawful, but unmerciful stoning (John 8:3-9). So, by His examples, we are shown that healing, feeding and showing mercy are love.
But to say that love is only meeting needs is to tell a half-truth, because to fully love a person is not only to meet their needs today, but to meet their needs for all eternity. What good does it do to feed a man today, only to send him to everlasting torment in hell? In actuality, it is better to see a man go hungry today and yet eat of the bread of everlasting life than to go to hell on a full stomach. So, it is also love to call our neighbors to repentance. Jesus shows us this in the continuation of His encounter with the adulterous woman whose stoning He halted. After He sends away her would-be accusers, He says to her “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11, ESV). So we see that while we are to call brothers and sisters of the faith to repentance, out of love for them.
Liberals often only emphasize the meeting needs aspect of love missing the need to call to repentance, while conservatives stress the call to repentance at the same time ignoring the needs of their brothers. To miss either is to not love at all. Only through seeing and hearing these two parts together can our neighbors fully receive the gospel of Jesus’ ministry.
Love thy Neighbor