Summary: A second great command is issued by Jesus Christ in the gospels: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself?
John 13:34 (ESV) says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Christianity in it's essence is all about relationship between God and man. This relationship is cultivated through love exchanged between God and man. God is love. Man is not. Man therefore is urged in the first great command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart.” However, the command does not end with love exchange between God and man. A second great command is issued by Jesus Christ in the gospels: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself?
John 15:13 (ESV) says “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Love is service and sacrifice. Love is action (John 3:16). Implicit in a relationship with God is love, and implicit in relationship with other humans is love and sacrifice for friends. But it doesn't stop there.
The expert in the law in Luke 10 asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered by telling the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37 ESV). The expert in the law remarked that the good Samaritan showed mercy to the traveler (Luke 10:37). Jesus told him to go and do like-wise (Luke 10:37). Love is service, sacrifice, and showing mercy. But it doesn't stop there.
Matthew 5:44 (ESV) says “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The second great command is all about loving other human beings. Does that include enemies? According the scriptures, enemies must be loved and prayed for.
The second great command is present in all four gospels: John 13:34, Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, and Luke 10:27. Love is vital to God. The gospels are the love story of God. God's love letters describe his love. God is love. God calls his children to love him and be reconciled to him. Yet God also calls his children to love one another. Neighbor love is vital to the Christian life.
Jesus himself taught and practiced the perfect form of love for neighbor. Jesus loved and showed mercy to the woman at the well when he offered her living water (John 4). Jesus showed love for the Roman official and his son by healing the child of his fever (John 4). Jesus loved his people by feeding them, when he fed the 5,000 (John 6). Jesus loved the woman who was caught committing adultery by forgiving her sin and setting her free from the temple authorities (John 8). Jesus showed his great love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at the events described in John 11. Jesus certainly felt great love for his people. But he also showed his love in actions. He showed his love by caring for the lost. He showed his love by feeding people. He showed love by healing the sick. He showed his love by giving mercy, and giving life.
1 John 4:8 says “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” The second great command is all about loving through action and feeling. God is love in that he sent his one and only son, who is himself God, to die for the sins of his people (John 3:16). From the Old Testament to the New Testament the vital instruction for daily living was simple: love God and love others. But are those principles inexorably linked? How is love practiced? How does one go about loving thy neighbor as thyself? Many of the greatest theologians of history have weighed in on the topic of the two great commands. Specifically love for neighbor was a hotly contested issue and many differing theological views emerged. The great theologian Augustine believed that self love and love for God were co-extensive (Post, 1990, p. 183). Augustine also believed that loving thy neighbor meant elevating neighbor to communion with God (Post, 1990, p. 183). Another theologian, Scheler believed that love for neighbor was an extension of love for God (Post, 1990, p. 187). Scheler believed that loving ones neighbor was a spiritual form of loving God (Post, 1990, p. 187). On the other hand Karl Barth believed that love for God and love for others were distinct and separate (Post, 1990, p. 182). John Passmore believed that love for neighbor was best lived out as a missional love intent on bringing neighbors into fellowship with God (Post, 1990, p. 182). T.S. Eliot, informed by the Anglican church, believed love for neighbor to be a descending to the non-religious in order to help them ascend to God (Post, 1990, p. 184). Similar to Eliot, Scheler believed there was a balance between accepting the sinner as is, and helping the sinner to become who they ought to be, all wrapped up within the idea of loving thy neighbor to help them come to God (Post, 1990, p. 186). As Rivera (2013) indicated in The Half Gospel and Reforming Mercy Ministry, the practice of loving thy neighbor through mercy ministries seems some what lacking in the church. While theologians focus in on sharing the gospel as the means of loving neighbor, it is also important to meet the physical needs of neighbors, as Jesus did. Jesus spent much of his ministry healing the sick and lame, and feeding the poor. Such ministries are vital to fulfilling the instruction to love thy neighbor as thyself.