In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus states expressly that we ought to love our neighbors as ourselves, as one of the two greatest commandments. This commandment is so strong and important that it was paired with the commandment to love God with all our mind, strength, and soul.
But the real question is, what does it mean to love my neighbor as myself? There are different views and misconceptions as to the true meaning of “loving your neighbor” and how we ought to love our neighbors. The Bible is a guide for us to follow if we want to love our neighbor in the right way.
Here are some pointers and some practical ways to love your neighbor as Jesus would want you to.
- Love Everyone
Some people find it very easy to express love to some types of people while neglecting their real neighbors, to whom they are supposed to show love. The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as told by Jesus Christ explains who your neighbor is.
Your neighbor is every single person you come across every day, whether black or white, Catholic or not, believer or not, right or wrong, etc. And as Jesus Christ teaches, we ought to show love to them all, even to our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).
However, this is not an easy task, and as such, many people find it difficult to accomplish. Nevertheless, we are encouraged as Christians and Catholics to strive for perfection (Matthew 5:48) and to love as Jesus has loved us (John 15:12), not as we want to. For this, we should simply as for help in prayer since nothing is impossible for God.
2. Receive God’s love
The ability to love comes from God. He is the source of true Love, and without Him, we cannot love our neighbor. The only reason we love is because God first loved us 1 John 4:19. We will struggle to love our neighbor if God’s love is not already dwelling in us.
Receiving God’s love means coming to terms with the fact that God loves you (1 John 4:10) and allowing the love of God to flow through you to your neighbor. More than being a conduit or instrument of God’s love, we too participate in God’s love by making sure we are united to it. To be united to God’s love is to have the same will as He does. In other words, it is to choose to obey him – to do what he would have done, if he were in our shoes. It is to keep his commandments, John 14:15.
We cannot give what we don’t have. None of us have perfectly good sacrificial love. However, we can get it from God who has it all, and pass it on to our neighbor. Spending time with God every day in prayer, meditating on Scriptures including God’s written word, and his teaching through His Church, are some ways to find and know God’s love.
God is love, and as you spend time in His presence through prayer and quiet time, you become more and more like Him every day (2 Corinthians 3:18). You can also receive God’s love by receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist at Mass regularly. The more you receive Him worthily, the more you are transformed to be like Him: empowered to truly love your neighbor as we are called to do.
3. Love Yourself
The command says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31). So, you ought to love yourself if you want to love your neighbor correctly. This shows the importance of empathy in loving others. When we love ourselves, we are empowered to see other’s suffering or joys from our own perspective. This exercise gives us a hint as to how our neighbour feels in one instance or the other and motivates us to react properly, in and through love.
Oftentimes, loving ourselves is confused with being selfish and self-centered. But this is not true, as even Jesus Christ Himself commanded us to love ourselves by leaving us examples to follow, (Matthew 5:13, Matthew 6:25-34, Mark 6:31-32, Matthew 15:32, Mark 1:35) . Christ’s example of his ultimate self-sacrifice of death on the cross for us, shows us that His love for us is great. If he loved us, we ought to love ourselves. We should see ourselves from his perspective – the perspective of a parent who loves his child totally.
Loving yourself includes self-care , renewing your body, mind, and spirit so that you can love your neighbor better. An unhealthy mind, body, or spirit cannot love a neighbor as God commands.
4. Love is A Choice – Not Simply A Feeling
Christian love is not merely romantic love. It is a decision to do something good for another person for the sake of the good of that person – and even when the decision takes something from us. This is why sacrifice is central to love. A wise man once said, sacrifice without love is intolerable; and love without sacrifice is meaningless.
It is quite difficult to love that person who has not been nice to you, your boss or colleague at work, who constantly lashes out at you or is working to get you fired. But that is why God made it a commandment, so we can be deliberate about it. Every instance of pain is an opportunity to bear witness to the gospel, Luke 21:13. Afterall, the gospel is a school of love and at every school, there is a time of testing.
Therefore, love of neighbor means going out of your way or overlooking many barriers to love of neighbor. It involves making up your mind to love your neighbor despite the challenges, regardless of the person concerned, the cost, and the situation. An exception would be where you face the risk of injury – physical, emotional and psychological or other grave injuries. In such instances, take action by extracting yourself from the situation, reporting through the proper channels, seeking advice from a spiritual director such as a Priest or other exemplary Christian. Otherwise, face the situation by building your own resilience and choosing to love.
If love is ultimately a choice and since we are called to love everyone we encounter, it is clear that if we haven’t been intentional about loving, we haven’t truly loved our neighbor.
5. Be Charitable
One of the core indicators of love is charity. The word “charity” is used interchangeably with “love” in 1 Corinthians 13 (KJV). Being charitable also means coming to the aid of those in need, showing your care for them and, by extension, for Christ (Matthew 25:34-36, 40). You cannot claim to love your neighbor when you’re not willing to come to His aid or to share your possessions with him. In Acts 4:32, we see the early apostle living in communion and sharing their possessions.
In James 2:14-17, we see that faith is dead without works. Also, 1 John 4:20 tells us that we cannot love God whom we cannot see when we do not love our neighbors, whom we can see. When we add the Christian calling to be charitable not only in words but also in deeds 1 John 3:17-18, we see that love of neighbor is synonymous with being charitable. All of this shows that charity is a significant sign of love of neighbour.
That said, we are not supposed to give without thinking. We should be wise and careful, seeking God’s will and guidance when doing certain acts of charity, to make sure that resources are used in the right way. In addition, charity must not be in the form of money but could be in whatever form of resources we have at our disposal, whether it’s time, words of advice, encouragement, or even prayers (Acts 3:6).
Being charitable is facilitated by having the understanding that all we have is from God and that we give in response to his love (1 John 4:19); Psalm 24:1. God gives to us, not only to bless us but so that we too can be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2). Luke 6:38 says that everything we give to charity will be given back to us.
Finally, the church teaches that we should practice the corporal works of mercy (which are charitable acts) as well as an indication of our love of neighbor as Christ wants us to (Matthew 25:34-36, 40 ). Ultimately, f you are not moved to assist a neighbor in need, it means that you do not truly love that neighbour.
6. Be Compassionate & Caring
The story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 centers on compassion. The Samaritan was moved by compassion to help the injured traveler he met by the roadside. Jesus approved of the Samaritan as being a neighbor to the traveler. No doubt that the Samaritan could love because he first loved himself. He was able to put himself in the shoes of the injured man that he ultimately supported.
When you love someone, you care about what happens to them, how they’re faring, their feelings, and so on. Philippians 2:4 tells us that we should not be concerned only about our own well-being but also that of our neighbors. When you care about someone, you don’t wait to be asked before coming to their aid in times of need. You quickly respond to their needs, as long as you can do so.
Caring for your neighbor also means caring about their safety and wanting to protect them from anything that will cause them harm. It also means caring about the salvation of their soul and helping them find Christ and draw closer to Him (Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:15). Caring for your neighbor could also include speaking to them kindly, making allowances for their limitations, and praying for them. Sometimes, a mere, “how are you doing?” or saying one Hail Mary for a neighbour can help them immensely. Remember that there is no need to announce to your friend that you are praying for them unless they asked, or when it is clear that telling them is likely to be a source of comfort for them.
7. Forgive Your Neighbour
Forgiveness is regarded as being of utmost importance by God because it is a major sign that you wish goodness for your neighbour. The Bible teaches in Ephesians 1:4 that God always had forgiveness in mind from the very beginning and that He had a plan on how to forgive our sins. Also, Jesus often spoke words of forgiveness over people, which led to their physical healing: Mark 2: 1-12 and Luke 7: 36-50.Jesus gave us the sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession as a sign of His willingness to forgive us our sins. We are offered forgiveness with no strings attached.
If you truly love your neighbor as much as you love yourself, you will also forgive them. Jesus emphasized this point when Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive Matthew 18: 23-35. Jesus responds to Peter with the story of a king who cleared a massive debt owed by one of his servants. This servant was supposed to pass along the forgiveness but failed to do so. Rather he demanded payment from his neighbor for a relatively minor debt that they shared. When the king found out about it, he ordered that his servant be remanded for his debt, effectively reversing the debt cancellation that had been previously granted. Jesus’ story tells us that love always forgives.
In a world where we constantly encounter different kinds of people, we are bound to be challenged in how we love our neighour. Love of neighbor as Christ has loved us is a beautiful vocation but one that is difficult to achieve. However, we have to keep striving, using the above steps as the situation demands it, to ultimately rise again when we fail to keep this paramount commandment which Christ has demonstrated perfectly for us.