Leviticus 19:18. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Tucked away in the middle of the Torah among a list of seemingly random laws is one of the top two most profound statements in all the Old Testament – you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Top two? Yes. When Jesus was asked what the most important law was in the Old Testament, he said that these two laws were equal: Love God and love your neighbor.
Matthew 22:37-39. 37 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. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
According to Jesus, these two laws make up the meaning of life. Why does God command love? Because he wants us to be fully alive. And to be fully alive is to truly love God and neighbor.
But these two commands shouldn’t surprise us too much. Every image bearer of a loving God has an insatiable desire for love. Love motivates everything we do in life. We do everything for love. But the unconditional love that we all want and need is also so elusive. That’s why we settle for finding love through our accomplishments and through competition instead. Do good in school, be loved more. Get the promotion, be loved more. Modify behavior, be loved more.
But the radical message of Leviticus (and Jesus) is that everyone is worthy of love simply because they are. This is why “neighbor” is such a brilliant word choice by God (obviously). The law doesn’t say “love your family as yourself.” Or, “love your lover as yourself.” It says “love your NEIGHBOR.” Why? Because everyone is a neighbor. Not everyone has a family and not everyone has a lover, but everyone has a neighbor. Everyone is a neighbor, i.e., we’re all human.
“Love your neighbor” therefore destroys all human boundaries. No more “in-groups,” and “out-groups.” No more racism, classicism, ableism, sexism. No more rivalries or proving ourselves. Simply put, everyone deserves to be loved.
The Jews wanted to limit the word neighbor to only other Jews. But Jesus destroyed their limiting definition with a little story called “the Good Samaritan.” According to Jesus, neighbor love IS enemy love. Neighbor love is unconditional love. Neighbor love is love of all mankind. Neighbor love is God’s love. Neighbor love is life.
And neighbor love is what we all need. Why? Because unconditional love is what we all need. For God’s command to love our neighbor to work there must be unconditional love. And unconditional love is the love that will save us. It’s the only love that will truly reveal our failings and unworthiness while at the same time offering us the freedom to confront those failings and unworthiness.
But this unconditional neighbor love is impossible to achieve on our own. Which of us reading this is loving our neighbors perfectly? Can you even name your literal neighbors? Or which of us reading this is being loved by our neighbors perfectly? Me neither. Our own attempts at neighbor love will never free us, they will only condemn us.
It is only when we receive the unconditional neighbor love of God in Christ that we can be set free to love as he loves. Jesus is the greatest neighbor lover of all time. He eternally loved his family (the Father) and his neighbor (the Spirit). And then he brought his love for neighbor to earth. Not only to show us how to love our neighbors, but to love all the neighbors in all the neighborhoods in all of time and space FOR us. He fulfilled the Leviticus commandment in our place.
But there’s more! Jesus loved his neighbors so much that he made them his family – his sons and daughters. His bride. And in transforming all of his neighbors into his body, himself being the head, we can now see how Jesus literally loves his neighbors “as himself.”
“To live is Christ” has made the impossible unconditional love of neighbor possible. When we remember each day that Jesus loves us, his neighbor, as much as he loves himself, it is then that we can find the freedom to move past our unworthiness and the default of earning love, and move into the freedom of a love given to us simply because we are God’s neighbor.
Can you see the ways that you have tried to earn love or make others earn your love?
You in Christ
How does knowing that in Christ you are perfectly and unconditionally loved by God free your heart to love your neighbors today?
Christ in you
How can you love your literal neighbors today as Christ?
Playlist: Neighbor Love
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