What Does Loving My Neighbor Actually Mean?
When a lawyer asked Jesus of the Law's greatest commandment, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22.37-40). How extraordinary! The dozens of laws, both negative and positive in form, outlined in the Torah can be, in Jesus’ words, summed up into two simple commands: love God with one’s whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments, He says, the entire Law and the Prophets (a phrase referring to the Hebrew Scriptures as a whole) “depend,” literally meaning “to hinge.” What does this mean that God’s will “hinges” upon loving God and loving one’s neighbor?
To begin with, it means that one’s duty to God and humans are inextricably linked and consonant with one another. To keep the highest, the greatest, the most fundamental commandment of the Law, God’s moral will, demands we love God without qualification, with all of one’s heart, soul, and mind, i.e., with unqualified devotion. And no wonder. Our God is the supreme being, source and end of all things, giver of life and blessing to all creation. Loving God is the most appropriate thing that any person or people could do. He deserves our highest and supreme praise, our most zealous and extreme devotion, for He alone is God and He alone deserves all honor and glory and love.
Jesus says that a parallel duty is closely bound to this primary duty of loving God with one’s whole heart and soul, i.e., the command to “love one’s neighbor as oneself.” You cannot claim to love God and not love people. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4.7-8 ESV). When a lawyer asks Jesus specifically on this matter, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan who cares for a victim of robbery ignored on the road by both a priest and Levite. He said it was the Samaritan that proved to be a “neighbor” to the victim of a robbery, not because of some familial, cultural, or personal connection.
We “prove to be a neighbor” (Luke 10.36) when we encounter the need in another and care for that need, regardless of our external connection or relationship to them. In this way, we can prove to be a neighbor to anyone vulnerable or in need of shelter or care. Indeed, “proving to be a neighbor” to the broken and battered reveals the quality of our actual relationship to God: the one who loves another, who proves to be a neighbor,” shows a genuine relationship with God.
Jesus coupled these commands together to fulfill God’s great command, and we ought not to separate them, either. God’s highest moral will is summed up in two commands, one revealed through the other. If we love God, we will “prove to be a neighbor” to those in need. The whole Law hinges on these two alone.