What does it really mean to love your neighbour? By Tim Michael

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”  “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ [The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28 – 31

When you take a moment to consider all of the world’s issues today – in fact all those that have ever been – we know the answer to this question is needed more now than ever before. But before we jump right in, I think it’s worth noting that, in this passage of scripture, Jesus isn’t just suggesting a new way to love. He is giving us a (wait for it – it’s a strong word) commandment. (John 13:34-35) If it is something this important, I think it is worth taking the time to understand what it really means.

This idea changes everything, because it shatters some of our nice and neat perceptions of Jesus and how he wants us to love others. Love doesn’t have the same warm fuzzy feelings when you’re commanded to do it and especially when we’re commanded to love those who we don’t feel are worthy of our love… and yet that is exactly what Christianity can be boiled down to. In fact, in Mark 12:33 Jesus declares that loving your neighbour is even more important than our sacrifices of worship.

It’s a big topic to discuss. It’s complex, but like anything else in The Bible, it doesn’t have to be complicated. So, let’s simplify the question by asking ourselves another question – Who is our neighbour? Once we understand who our neighbour is then we can learn how to love them.

In Luke’s account, Jesus defines our neighbour by telling us the story of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10) In short, our neighbour could be anyone– vague, I know – but, by telling us this story, Jesus points out those neighbours that aren’t so obvious to all of us. The neighbour that is usually sitting right under our nose. In fact, if we were honest, we already know who our neighbour is: it’s the person we really don’t want to talk to because of our pride or our prejudices against them. We wonder what people would think if we were somehow associated with those people or to that person? And so, we ‘love’ from a distance or we ‘love’ when it is convenient but deep down we know that if we were on the receiving end of that kind of “love” we’d want it to look very different.

So, how do you really love your neighbour? It’s simple but isn’t always easy. We first need  to understand who our neighbour is and then ask the question:

“If you were in their situation how would you want to be treated?”

If you needed help, how would you want help and care to look and feel? If you walked into a crowded room where you don’t know anyone, don’t have the same social status or don’t even speak the same language, how would you want to be treated? It’s simple because we all know how we would want to be treated, but of course it isn’t always easy to love others with that same measure of love.

So what does it mean to really love your neighbour? Jesus actually leaves it up to us to use our measure of love – after all, it’s impossible to fully grasp God’s unconditional and immeasurable love for humanity. So in His kindness, He simply asks us today, how would you want to be loved? Once you’ve determined that, then go and do the same for others – especially those that we personally find difficult to love. When we do this, Jesus says, we are not far from the Kingdom and heart of God. (Mark 12:34)

Tim Michael

Hillsong College & Pastoral Care Oversight (VIC/TAS)