Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
by Kelly Givens
“And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, “'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. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " ->Matthew 22:35-39
I live in an apartment complex, and new tenants have recently moved into the rental directly below me. I haven’t met them yet, but I do know one thing about them: they have an incredibly close relationship with their bass speakers. If you’ve ever had neighbors with a big sound system, you’ll know why I’m frustrated. While other sound waves bounce off or are absorbed by the objects around them, bass sound travels right through. So while I can’t hear the words of the song my neighbors are blasting, I can feel the floor vibrating to the irregular heart-beat like bumps of the bass. It’s the kind of sound that even earplugs can’t always drown out--which is especially annoying at 1 o’clock in the morning.
Situations like these tempt me to toss aside every sermon I’ve heard on patience, gentleness and self-control and start banging on the floor with a broom handle. But this is completely antithetical to what Christ demands. Jesus’ message to “love your neighbor as yourself” is a verse that often gets thrown out there without a lot of thought. However, I’m starting to realize there are major implications of truly loving someone the way I love myself.
How do I love myself? Well, for starters, I’m always thinking about myself. I think about what I’m going to eat for breakfast, what I need to do at work, what I need to pick up from the store on the way home. I also love myself by making my needs top-priority. How I schedule my day revolves around the things I want or need to accomplish. Basically, my thoughts and my day are centered on me.
So when Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, that’s a tall order. He’s saying we need to think about others as much as we think about ourselves. He means we should remember the needs of others like we remember our own. He means seeking the happiness, goodness, peace, security of others as much as we seek those things in our own lives.
How can we do this- especially to those who annoy us, hurt us, or perhaps even persecute us? When I think about loving my neighbors as sacrificially, as a priority number one, it seems impossible. I can’t even say I do this fully for the people I love most. But then I remember the first part of Jesus’ command- ‘Love God with all your heart, soul and mind.” There’s my answer. When I focus all my love toward God, he takes my selfish heart and transforms it into a heart capable of loving others. I no longer need others to validate me, be kind or loving toward me in order to love them back. Christ’s love is enough. He fills me up so I can pour out selfless love to others, even others with loud bass speakers.
This selfless love isn’t something I’m good at- it’s not even something I can say I regularly attempt. I’m more selfish than I realize. But God has been using my noisy neighbors to convict my selfish heart, to show me how much better I can be at putting the happiness and peace of others above my own. I know it’s not going to be easy to start loving people as much as I love myself, but I know the first step: loving God above everything else.
Intersecting Faith and Life: Are you loving others as you love yourself? Without loving God first and fully, this is impossible to do. If there is someone in your life you’re struggling to love, ask God to help you persevere in loving them - and in loving Him better, too.