LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF
Some time ago I asked the following question of the people that were attending our home fellowship: What does the statement “love thy neighbor as thyself” mean to you? I had mentioned that this statement was repeated seven times in the Bible, once in the Old Testament and six times in the New Testament. It was quite clear to me that our capacity to have this kind of love must be foremost in the mind of God. How much time do we spend or how focused are we about something that the Eternal went as far as repeating seven times. There is absolutely no question that this simple instruction can be considered of primary importance in the mind of God. Particularly in view that, in the New Testament, we are instructed three times to “love the Lord thy God”.
I had asked those in the fellowship to write down their understanding of what it meant to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Here are some of their responses
Look and act out for the interests and benefit of all, according to Gods plan and will.
To be patient and kind. He was talking about do not envy. Do not boast about yourself. If someone asks you to stop doing something that’s annoying them – then STOP.
The challenge to our human nature is in great part the development of a caring for those about us, in our home, neighborhood and even especially in the church body of Christ. May God’s love for us and our love for him give us the nurturing we need.
You must love others more than yourself. You should be willing to lay down your life for another.
We must love our neighbor (or others) as we love God. If you obey God and His commands you love God. Until you love God you can’t love your neighbor as you love yourself. Now that may not be true . 1 John 4:20 says: “ If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” We will look at this more closely later.
Our concern for others should be equal to our concern for ourselves. It is necessary to love oneself also, but equal to the love we would have for any other person. The value of each human life is equal. But we must love God more
If I can get into another’s mind, way of seeing or feeling and treat them the way they want as far as I am able I have loved them as I love myself.
These comments are truly inspiring and they reflect a Spirit led nature. But, there is one element in their responses that wasn’t included. I believe that that element is of fundamental importance. It is the reason that makes the statement to “love your neighbor as yourself” the most important and complete instruction on the subject of love that we could be given. .
That element is the fact, the truth, that we make every possible attempt to love ourselves perfectly! When I have discussed this truth with people many have objected and sighted examples of people having feelings of low esteem and actually having deep rooted feelings of dislike or hate for themselves. How then could they possibly love themselves, much more, strive to love themselves perfectly?
The answer for that lies in the actual meaning of the word “agape love”. The word, agape, is used in the six verses instructing us to love our neighbors as our self in the New Testament. This word, in its self, has been the subject many valuable studies.
Very simply put, agape love requires action of one kind or another that fulfills a God given need. We may have negative thoughts about ourselves but the action we take is “always” attempting to satisfy our own need, as subjective as it may be. A good example is that the person that commits suicide has decided that the best way to end the hurt and misery in his life is to end his life. His subjective need was satisfied. It resulted in his final effort to satisfy his own need. We continuously strive to love ourselves perfectly --- it is a God given law of human nature.
But look at what God has done. He has taken the completeness of self service, which is actually the way of Satan, and used it to lay a foundation to build upon that would result in us sharing the mind of God. Notice that the command “to love your neighbor as yourself” does not direct us away from loving ourselves --- that’s impossible. But we are directed to use the effect of that love as an ever-present example to show us the way to treat everybody else. A living, ever present example if we have eyes to see it. And that is a big if. We can’t really begin to live a life that is fulfilling Gods desire, until we fully recognize that, to love your neighbor as yourself, is the commission and responsibility that is given to his firstfruits.
SPIRITUAL ATTITUDES THAT BRING FULFILLMENT
We have all used fruitless ways to secure our own sense of well-being. Even in our desire to bring well-being to others, our efforts may have been fruitless. Our ways, so often, may have been used at the expense of the value and good of others. --- Because of this, we can be prompted to look at what the result of using the “fruit of the Spirit” would be. The passages relating to the “lust of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit” are prefaced by the comprehensive statement in Gal 5:14, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word (utterance), even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. Gods Word is saying that we simply can’t do better than that. So then lets look at the list of the fruit --- love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self control. It can be taken that this list is referring to attitudes. In other words, the result of Gods Spirit in us are these spiritual attitudes. The result of these attitudes, continually guiding us moment by moment, is what will make it possible to actually love our neighbor as our self. We have to be in remembrance of the level of our self service and that the God given needs of others are as important as our own. When we do that we can stop and consider how the fruit of the spirit can be used for the good of others. There is no doubt that as we strive to do this our efforts will be appreciated and valued. In other words, our fruit will be well accepted. It is interesting to notice that “the works of the flesh”, of Gal 5:19-21, are compared to “fruit of the Spirit”. There is no fulfillment associated to the way of the flesh, just work. There is fulfillment if we “live in the Spirit” and “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:25) as signified by being “fruit of the Spirit”
How serious is God in expecting the fruit of the Spirit, that reflects our love, to be the guide in each of our lives? I think that the following verses will answer this question.
Phil 3:12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after (speaking of perfection), if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
But we do have, in truth, a perfect example of one loving his neighbor as himself. Some one who did lay hold of that perfection!
Mat 25: 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was hungry, and you gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in:
36 Naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry, and fed you? or thirsty, and gave you drink?
38 When saw we you a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you?
39 Or when saw we you sick, or in prison, and came unto you?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
It is difficult to comprehend the completeness of Christ’s involvement with each of us, but he does give us the example of how complete our responsiveness should be to the lives of others. --- From what was stated in Galatians 5:14, (remember it said, all the law is fulfilled in one utterance), can’t we say that the instruction to obey God in keeping the Sabbath and Annual Holy Days and all of the other commandments and everything that was said on the sermon on the mount (all this instruction) is given for only ONE purpose? That purpose is, through the obedience in these things we may continually grow in the understanding and the ability and commitment and the desire --- to love your neighbor as yourself. I believe eternity will be filled with this endeavor as we live dedicated to this pinnacle of God’s perfection. But, there are those who will be the “first” who are devoted to this way of life.
I remember a sermon given by prominent minister about 25 years ago. Even then I recognized that the get principle was motivating the message. A focus was on these wonderful and eloquent mansions that were to be our abode. This was to be a part of the prize of our high calling. --- Our “prize” of Philippians 3:14, is the fact that we are going to be the wife of our Savior, with minds that will be able to serve the needs of the world with our personal capacity. We will serve in such a way that many, if not most will be led to salvation. We should be literally growing into the mind of God (“let this mind be in you”) to be able to accomplish these things. Evidently, there are going to be relatively few, at this time, that will grow in that way, --- that will understand what it actually means to love others as you love yourself (“many are called few are chosen”). And, they will be able to observe the progress brought to their lives through the indwelling of the spirit of love. Paul knew he was on the right track.
If we are able to be used of God in the future, our values have to be in the process of being formed right now. The United States and Great Briton, with it’s overwhelming world wide influence this past century, failed in its opportunity and responsibility to bring peace and a level of prosperity to this world. It’s ridiculous to think that the self serving, profit driven mentality of our peoples ever had the slightest clue that as the leading nations of the world, we did have that responsibility in the eyes of God. But if, from the beginning our relationship with our foreign neighbors, we were able to help bring to them a true sense of well being, we would not be disliked as we are on such a universal scale. Our government, long ago, started supporting corrupt foreign powers for the sake of our own benefit. And, you can be very sure, any time we support a corrupt leadership we are doing it at the expense of the native peoples of that land. How close do we come to love those miss-used people as we love ourselves? Is it any wonder that God says our citizenship is in heaven? Our nation has been given a motivation to repent of its ways that promote self-service but we have seen a wholesale rejection to any change. I believe we can now, in earnest, begin to sigh and cry for the people of our nation and the entire world
I would think that any time that we are a cause of discomfort to another and know we are doing it or might possibly be doing it, we are not fully dedicated to actually loving our neighbor as our self. And I’m not referring to the discomfort resulting from a wise and understanding action. But, if we do live day-by-day with a focus and prayerful request for this kind of love we would surly have a growth that would fulfill this commandment that God has for us. There is no doubt that if we approached or dealt with everybody with this spirit we would be generating good will. If we were to cause ill will it would be infrequent and sincerely regretted. That kind of love, most assuredly, requires Gods gift of understanding and wisdom to be poured out on us, for our good use.
Now we can ask, why was this command repeated seven times? --- In the process of fulfilling God’s desire that we should love others as ourselves, we will be using the very best possible way to develop the mind of God. --- If we have the mind of God we will have the greatest capacity possible to appreciate and honor and worship the author of this love, this perfect love. God has given life to us all for a purpose. There will be a people that will be the “first” to fulfill that purpose. They will hear the words “well done good and faithful servant”. This company of saints will be given a major responsibility for leading multitudes and multitudes of others to this perfect love. If we can believe that goodness comes through the satisfaction of “need”, we can then see that unending need will foster all the goodness that will be experienced throughout eternity. Loving others as we love ourselves will be the means by which we will be fulfilled in our endless life of interwoven relationships. The eternity that we will inhabit will be built upon this foundation of love.