Loving My Neighbor? Seriously?

The foundation of the Christian life is our vital, daily, abiding relationship with the Lord.  Intentionally demonstrating our love for Him through a thousand choices a day to focus on Him and give Him our trust and obedience.

The second priority of the Christian life is to love our neighbor as ourself.

A Dangerous Deception

One misconception is that, before we can love others, we must first learn to love ourselves. This leads to a life focused on self (instead of God and others), and constant introspection.

Scripture assumes that we love ourselves. The problem is not that we don’t love ourselves, but that we love ourselves too much. Hence our Lord’s teaching that if we are to follow Him we must first deny ourself, take up our cross daily, and follow Him.

Who is My Neighbor?

Love is giving. First, to God our trust and obedience. Second, to our neighbor, whatever we have that is in their genuine best interest.

A question that I often ask in marriage counseling is to the husband. “Who would you say is your closest neighbor?” A shocking number of times the husband will look to his wife and ask which of their neighbor’s houses is the closest.

Seriously? Our closest neighbor is our spouse. Many marriage problems can be avoided or solved by understanding that Scripture uses several different words for love.

The Four Types of Love

In order of importance the four words primarily used are:

  • Agape: This is God’s perfect love. His love for us and the love we are to develop for Him.
  • Eros: From which we derive the word erotic. This is the love expressed between a husband and a wife and includes sexual intimacy.
  • Phileo: From which we derive the word Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. This is love expressed mentally, spiritually, and/or emotionally but not physically in the sense of intimacy. This is the love between family members and close friends.
  • Storge: A love for others in general, without it necessarily being a personal relationship. This is the love that one has for missions, kindness to strangers, etc.

In our relationships, God comes first; our spouse is second; our children, other family members and close friends are third; and then others are fourth.

Letting these Biblical priorities guide us in how we give love through our time, talent, treasure and affection will make life so much simpler and avoid untold strife and conflict. Rearranging the order into any other sequence comes at our own peril.

What is the Opposite of Love?

A second interesting question to ask is what is the opposite of love? While there are a different definitions of love, hate is the number one answer for the opposite of love. That may not be true. Hate is a form of anger, while the opposite of anger is self-control.

If love is giving, then the opposite of love is taking. The opposite of love is selfishness. The truth is that we are born in sin as selfish human beings. We must learn to love others daily and put their needs before our own.

In any given situation our sinful sin nature knows exactly what it wants, needs and deserves. It goes back to our Lord’s words in Luke 9:23—if we are to follow Him then we must deny ourselves. It’s not that we don’t love ourselves, but that we love ourselves too much.

It is the Holy Spirit through us that empowers us to love others, and gives us divine wisdom in how and when to express that love to others in ways that bring glory to Him and true good to the recipient, without the  possibility of becoming martyrs, enablers, or manipulators.

This reiterates the absolute necessity of first loving Him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, and then loving our neighbor as ourself.

Keeping It Simple

Our Lord’s words in John 15:5 are so very simple: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He that abides in Me, and I in him will bear much fruit, for without Me you can do nothing.”

Certainly that fruit includes the fruit of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control. Are not these the things that we all want in our relationships?

By loving Him first and foremost, it is then His love through us to others that builds and maintains our relationships with our spouse, children, family, friends and others. And that is the abundant life that He promised!