“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the golden rule. It is the summary of the entire law (Galatians 5:14). And it is the second greatest commandment within the entire Bible (Matthew 22:37-40).
But how do we love our neighbors as ourselves? To answer that, let’s look at Like 10:25-42.
1.To Love Your Neighbor as Yourself, You Must Read Your Bible Correctly
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
Whenever Jesus was tested, he always went to “what is written.” When Satan tempted and tested Jesus, he fought back with “it is written” (Matthew 4:1-11). Likewise, whenever we ask God a “how to” question like “how to love our neighbors as ourselves,” he more often than not answers us through illuminating the Holy Scriptures to us.
When the lawyer asked Jesus a question, the Lord directed the man back to the Bible. Not only did he ask him, “What is written in the Law?” but also “How do you read it?”
There is always a right and a wrong way to read the Bible. Whenever we come to the Scriptures, we are not dealing with opinions and human ideas. We are dealing with absolute truths that existed eternally. Therefore, when we ask, “How can we love our neighbors” we should take Jesus’s question to the lawyer and apply it to our own hearts, “What is written in the Bible? How do I read it?”
The tendency now days is to cry foul in the church whenever we spend time debating doctrine or thinking deeply about truth. Some will try to shame you for seeking to know the truth before you rush out and try to love your neighbor in action.
In John Piper’s book on Andrew Fuller, it reminds us of how the theological errors of Fuller’s day (hyper-Calvinism) were hindering gospel efforts. Before the church could go out in full force with maximum effort, they had to build on the right foundation of truth. Piper writes:
What should we learn from this [the theological battles Fuller engaged]? We should learn the vital link between the doctrinal faithfulness of the church and the cause of world missions. The main impulse of our day is in the other direction. Everywhere you turn there is pressure to believe that missions depend on not disputing about doctrine. As soon as you engage another professing Christian in controversy over some biblical issue, the cry will go up, “Stop wasting your time and be about missions.” What we learn from Fuller is that those cries are, at best, historically naïve and, at worst, a smoke screen for the uninhibited spread of error.”
Before Jesus answered his question, he first directed the man back to the Bible, to the foundation of all truth. All our deepest questions must lead us here. For the Bible reveals God to us. And when we know God truly, it will be expressed in our love for our neighbors.
2. To Answer “How Can I Love My Neighbor” You Must Answer “Why Should You Love Your Neighbor as Yourself?”
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-42)
To love your neighbor as yourself, we must first remember why we should love our neighbor as ourselves. The “why” is crucial to the “how.”
This conversation Jesus is having with the lawyer about loving your neighbor began with a question about how to inherit eternal life. So we are backing our way into this text by asking, “How can you love your neighbor as yourself?” since this was really not the original question posed.
Nonetheless, this Bible passage does answer our question even though this text was spawned from a different question. To love well, we must remember why love is so important. And as we see from the flow in Jesus’s conversation, loving others is directly connected to our eternal life. Loving your neighbor is so important because it is the second most important sign of your saving faith in God. We are saved through faith alone and by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). But when we are saved, our faith will be shown through our love put in action (Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 5:6).
So how can we love our neighbors? We must have true faith in God. We must be genuinely converted. The Holy Spirit must really be in us. If we don’t really know Jesus, it will be impossible to really love our neighbor. And if we don’t really know Jesus, and we are not able to truly love our neighbor, the Bible says we are not truly saved.
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” (1 John 3:14-15)
3. To Love Your Neighbor as Yourself, You Must Be Ready To Give Rather than Rob
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. (Luke 10:29-30)
We often quickly jump to the actions of the priest, the Levite, and then the Samaritan. But the robbers are vital characters in this story as well. And sadly, all of us are robbers in our relationships when we sin rather than love our neighbors as ourselves.
Love to is lay your life down for another (John 15:13). Sin is the opposite of love. Sin is to lay down another person’s life for your own benefit. The more we sacrifice our own rights for the undeserved benefit of others, the more love we give. The more we force our own rights on someone who does not deserve this mistreatment, the more sin we commit.
Therefore, Jesus loves the most because he gave the greatest gift to the least deserving. People sin the most because we sin against the God who is the most deserving. The robbers in this story are sadly a representation of sin in all our relationships. We force our own desires on others. We take what we want rather than give what we have.
The robbers give us a picture of how to not love your neighbor as yourself. They stripped the man, put themselves before this man, and left him half dead once they were done with him. Rather than lay their lives down for their neighbor, the forcefully made the man lay down his own life for them.
Relationships are not our opportunity to rob others of their time, talents, and treasures that we want from them. Relationships are not slaughter houses where we go to destroy another for our own consumption. Yes we will receive much good through relationships, but we can’t take by force. We can’t demand our own way.
If want to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must be careful we do not force our own demands and ruthlessly take from them that which is not ours. If want to love our neighbor as Christ loves us, we must see every relationship as an opportunity to give rather than rob. Rather than leave people emotionally, physically, financially, or psychologically half dead after a visit with us, we must seek to care for them and give to them rather than only take.
4. To Love Your Neighbor as Yourself, You Must Not Love Because of Your Role or Out of Responsibility
31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:31)
While the robbers were unloving by force, the priest was unloving by neglect. I can’t help but wonder if the priest was simply leaving the temple after a long day’s work. Maybe he had just gotten done preaching a long message. Maybe he had just spent hours ministering to the members of his synagogue. Perhaps he had already helped enough half dead men this week. His shift was over. He was no longer on duty. And so perhaps his debt of love went unpaid because he was living out of his role rather than his identity as a child of God.
The problem with loving your neighbor out of duty is that we all must rest from our work. When I come home from work, I am no longer fulfilling the role I fulfill in the workplace. When a pastor is not around his sheep, his obligation to pastor people is fulfilled and he need not discipline the Christian down the street who attends that other church. That member of that church is really not his concern.
But the duty of love is always present. If we associate “loving people” with a role, we will not love when we are not in that role; and we will completely miss the heart of true love even when we are serving in that role.
If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must love not from a sense of duty but from a sense of identity. God loves not because it’s his job but because love is his very nature and character.
5. To Love Your Neighbor as Yourself, You Must Not Love Out of Your Racial or National Identity
32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. (Luke 10:32-33)
While we must learn to love from our identity, we must know what that true identity really is first.
The Levite more than likely had a racial connection with the man. The text doesn’t say explicitly if the half dead man was a Jew, but it seems likely since he was leaving Jerusalem. It also seems likely since it fits well in the story to prove Jesus’ point. The Levite probably had an ethnic, cultural, and racial connection with the man. Thus it would seem the right thing to do for the Levite to love out of his nationality and racial identity.
But blood lines are not a strong enough bond to pull out sacrificial love from a loveless heart. If your love and good deeds flows from your national and earthly identity, then your love will quickly fail when the opportunity to love is too inconvenient or too great.
The fact that Jesus picked a Samaritan to be the hero of the story even though his audience was Jewish proves Jesus was trying to make clear that your nationality and biology do not give you a right standing with God. The Samaritan did not have the right identity according to the Jews. Jesus’s point was that he had the right interior identity to love well.
6. To Love Your Neighbor as Yourself, You Must Love Like God: Unconditionally
34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Everything the Samaritan did was completely selfless and tied to no conditions. He had no self-serving motivation to help this man. He did not get a tax right off. He did not ask the man to pay him back. He used his own money to help him.
The Samaritan was the antithesis of the robbers. They took, he gave. They abused, he healed. They forced their own way, he advocated for the man in need. The robbers represent the selfish side of human relationships. We naturally go to others to take when we live in the flesh, for we are always hungry and ask others to fill our needs. The Samaritan represents the sanctified and holy version of human relationships. We can give when we are already full of Christ. For loving is giving, not taking. And to give love you must first have a love to give away.
Likewise, God loves people out of his own resources. He does not love because of our fitness, faith, or family ties. God loves because God is love. He’s the only endless well. We must provide others the love they need through the well of love God provides. If we give our love without Christ filling us, we will run dry and begin to take rather than give – hate rather than love.
To love our neighbor as ourselves, we must act out of the of love of Christ within us, not out of anything within our neighbor. Our identity, not our neighbors identity, is what really matters in loving our neighbors as ourselves. If Christ is our identity, we have an identity connected to the endless well of love. We can give and serve even when it’s not convenient, like the Samaritan, only when we have it within us to give. If you are empty, you can’t love well because love is giving, not taking.
It’s interesting to me that according to Jesus, we are the ones who actually choose who we are a neighbor too. Our actions will determine if we are a neighbor, not our proximity. Jesus said, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? (Luke 10:36). By loving others we become their neighbors.
7. To Love Your Neighbor as Yourself, You Must Love God More
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
It feels like this passage of Scripture balances the parable about the good Samaritan. The parable was all about loving in action, “You go, and do likewise.” But here we have Martha complaining that she is the one “doing” all the work while Mary did nothing but sit at the feet of Jesus.
After reading about the parable of the good Samaritan, you’d almost expect Jesus to agree with Martha, the doer. But Jesus reinforces the whole point of all this, that love for God is the reason we have love for people. God is always the main thing, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be take away from her.”
So the most important answer to the questions, “How can you love your neighbor as yourself?” is God. God’s love for us and our love for God are the foundation of our ability to love others as ourselves.