Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) record an interaction between an unnamed Pharisee and Jesus in which they are discussing the question “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (In Luke’s Gospel the question is presented as “What must I do to obtain eternal life”). The three Gospel writers present somewhat different accounts of this interaction, but in all three Gospels, the answer to the question is the same:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself” — Matthew 22: 37–39 (CEB)

Most people don’t realize that the concept of loving your neighbor as yourself originated in the Old Testament in Leviticus, specifically Leviticus 19: 17–18.

You must not hate your fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your fellow Israelite strongly, so you don’t become responsible for his sin. You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. (CEB)

This is the context in which Jesus, and everyone listening to the conversation with the Pharisee, would have understood the meaning of “love your neighbor as yourself”. Loving your neighbor as yourself involves not taking revenge and not holding a grudge, but it also involves rebuking your neighbor for their sin. This is not the kind of rebuke where we give our neighbor a slap on the wrist, a wink, and move on with our lives knowing they are going to continue in their sin. We are to rebuke our neighbors “strongly”, because if we don’t, we become as culpable for their sin as they are.

Our modern conception of loving our neighbor as ourselves has lost the idea that rebuking someone for their sin is actually an act of love. In today’s super-charged, politically correct environment, to say anything that is perceived as negative about anyone is to risk being called “fearful”, a “hater”, or the dreaded “judgmental”. Don’t get me wrong, there are right ways and wrong ways to rebuke your neighbor and done wrongly a rebuke can be hateful and judgmental(I’m looking at you, Westboro Baptist Church). But done appropriately, with the right amount of prayer, empathy, and thoughtfulness, a rebuke can be a life changing act of love.

Jesus actually modeled this behavior in his interactions with the religious rulers of his day. Jesus strongly rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (Matt 23: 13–29), greed, and wickedness (Luke 11:39). No one can argue that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because he hated them. Jesus rebuked them out of His great love for them. As Christians it is our duty to do the same for those we love.