You’ve heard it in sermons, read it in the Bible, but what does “loving your neighbor” mean to you? Putting it in context, the phrase originated with the Mosaic Laws to the Israelites after they left Egypt and were in the wilderness. But before they could ever be in the Promised Land, they were required to learn discipline and faith, because they just weren’t ready. So, one of the commands was to love their neighbors – which from a security standpoint, would have been one way of trying to keep the people in line. There were several thousand people, and in a group that large, there were bound to be individuals who would have been more bothered about themselves – sometimes at any cost. Crimes were certain to run rampant, and Moses confirmed this with his rules about dealing with acts of violence, murder, cheating, and stealing. You would have thought that since they were God’s chosen people, they would have acted like it! But alas, they were no different than people of any age or religion, with the same sinful thoughts and desires all humans possess. In a sense, they were right when they felt that Moses’ taking them from the comforts of Egypt was like a suicide mission, a futile attempt. Many did die, and ultimately generations later would have recognized that keeping the Laws always led to death. Only Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection would cancel out the work of the Laws so that people would no longer have to do them.
What it Meant to the Early Israelites
Loving their neighbors meant showing consideration for their property as they would have for their own, knowing that in order to live next door to others, they had to earn their trust and vice-versa. Otherwise, they would be faced with feuds, suspicion, and unrest. I’m sure Moses already had his hands full with all their bickering and tattling as it was!
The other part of the command to love their neighbors as themselves was to hate their enemies. Who were their enemies? Fellow Israelites? Sometimes. It might have been between the tribes, but it also most likely referred to all other people outside of the Israelite nation, because they were not in keeping with God’s Laws. God eventually forbade them from intermarrying with pagan people, or even socializing with them, because He knew what would result from being in close contact with them – their views would rub off on God’s people, and their faith would become tainted or even forgotten as they were enticed to live like the pagans.
Loving Your Neighbors in New Testament Times
By the time Jesus started His ministry, the Israelites were predictably corrupt. They claimed to have kept all the Mosaic Laws to a “T”, and were quick to point out the flaws of those who were “sinners”. Among the Pharisees and Saducees, there was much disagreement as to how people were to believe. You can imagine how much of a shock it would have been to them all when Jesus was so openly accepting of every class, every nationality of people, not just elite Israelites – but also the outcasts, the “half-breeds”, the criminals, and even Romans (as with the centurion who needed healing for his servant). They were all considered “unclean!” So Jesus must have had to roll his eyes at how these people of God were missing the point, especially since prophecy foretold that a Savior would come into the world to reconcile all people to Him – not just Jews. But they didn’t get this, and figured the Messiah would be a military leader who would crush Roman rule and allow the Israelites to reclaim their land. They failed to consider that in their rigid views of their own people, they were unable to love any neighbors, much less other nations, and were slowly self-destructing. God never meant that His love wouldn’t save other nations who were wanting to become believers! It makes you wonder what Israelites thought of the story of Jonah, where God wanted the Ninevites to hear Jonah’s message so that they could have the chance to repent.
What Jesus Said
When Jesus quoted the Mosaic command to “Love your neighbor”, He wanted them to go the extra mile. He wanted them to be courteous to everyone they met, regardless of who they were. He cautioned them against only socializing with people they knew or liked, because as He put it “even the pagans do that.” They were to be witnesses to God’s love, not condemnation. It was the time for change, a new era where religion was starting to become available to the Gentiles, which required Israelites to become more comfortable around them. If they could not, then it would have gone against everything Christ came to do.
Jesus was so sure of the command to love neighbors as a must-do for all that He commanded it along with loving the Lord God with all their minds, soul, and strength as being the most important commandments to keep. What He knew (and that they did not) was all the commands hung on those two principles of loving others and God above all else, so that their motives would be selfless and pure.
Our Neighbors Today
In the modern world, we are a melting pot of races, religions, and mindsets. This is true within countries, cities, neighborhoods, and even families. Not every “group” holds the same main views; some break-away and have differing views with what makes sense for them. Yet, it would seem as if loving our neighbors should be easier for this reason. Unfortunately, because of the sheer number of people in the world, it has become the opposite – there are more people to avoid, more people to distrust, and more people to fear. It is Christ’s urgent plea that even now, we look beyond our selfish ways and look to the needs of others, regardless of their skin, country or origin, or practices.
These are scary times, and yet we have so much more going for us. We understand the Scriptures more fully than the Old and New Testament Israelites ever did, and know that the Gospel must be preached to all nations before Judgment day comes. It may mean loss of property or life to do so, but following the Lord is more important than anything we could ever have here on earth. If we are not careful, we run the risk of repeating the mistakes of the ancient believers who missed the mark – which will be to our ruin if we let our own selves get in the way of our individual missions. Being critical and cautious are human responses – borne out of past experience or hearsay – never on first-instinct. The only exception to this is when God places within you the ability to know when someone is not being truthful, or may harm you (which is a phenomenon known as having gut-feelings, and does not happen to everyone).
Ever wonder why children are so open and eager to talk to people, regardless of who they are? It is because they have yet to be influenced by human preconceptions, stigmas, and fears. Can you say “xenophobia?” I thoughtcha could! And unless we are all like little children, (and loving our neighbors as ourselves) Jesus promises that we cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.
- “The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” (worryisuseless.wordpress.com)
- A Word from Our Sponsor… (theadventuresofbipolargirl.wordpress.com)
- Lose The Battle but Win The War (setwatchman.com)
- Advent Series Day 5: our cries have been heard (everydayawe.com)
- Remember Moses – Part: 1 By: Janaya Richards (livesharp.org)