Who Is My Neighbor?


In our teachings we are taught about the importance of loving God and loving each other. Jesus referred to these as the greatest commandments (Mark 12:28-34, Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18). The idea of loving others is more familiar to us as “love your neighbor as yourself”. So, you ask “Who is my neighbor?” Well, I will try to explain.

The command to love your neighbor as yourself comes originally from Leviticus 19:18, which says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” In Jesus’ day, the Jews would probably have understood their “neighbor” to be their fellow Israelites. But God’s definition is much broader. Loving your neighbor is more than loving those who are like us or those who can love us in return. Luke 10 records an incident in which a scribe tested Jesus about what he must do to inherit eternal life. (In Jesus’ time scribes were interpreters of Jewish law and often at odds with Jesus’ teachings.) Jesus turned the question back to the scribe (Luke 10:25-37). The scribe answered with the command to love God with all of one’s heart and soul and to love my neighbor as myself. Jesus agreed with the scribe’s response, but the scribe, wanting to justify himself, asked, “Who is my neighbor? Jesus replied with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. 

So, in the parable, a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is attacked and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest walking by sees the man but passes on the other side of the road. The same happens when a Levite travels through. Two Jews, both of whom knew and followed God’s law, failed to show any love or concern for their fellow Israelite. Then, along came a Samaritan, a person generally scorned by the Jews because of social and religious differences. And it was the Samaritan who stopped to help the injured man. He cared for the man’s wounds and paid for him to stay at an inn. A person whom the Jews would have considered “unclean” and outside of God’s covenant demonstrated compassion for one who would have considered him an enemy. Jesus asked the scribe, of the three passersby who was a neighbor to the injured man? “The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (Luke10:37)

Which brings us back to the question of who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is anyone close by with whom we can share God’s love. We are called not only to love those who are similar to us or with whom we are comfortable, but all whom God places in our path. In fact, Jesus said, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:44-48). God shows love to all people (John 3:16-18; Romans 1:19-20; 2Peter 3:9). As His children (John 1:12), we are called to do the same.

It is important to understand what true love is. We love people by sincerely seeking what is best for them. Loving others does not mean always agreeing with what they say or do, nor does it mean acting in ways to gain their approval. Loving our neighbors means attending to their needs—both physical and spiritual. We love our neighbors when we have compassion for them and help them meet the needs that we are capable of. We love our neighbors best when we share God’s truth with them. Jesus alone can save (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), and He alone can meet their every need.
We love our neighbors, including our neighbors who seem like enemies, when we act toward them with a heart that first loves God. We love our neighbors out of an overflow of God’s love for us and as a way of demonstrating our love toward God (1 John 4:7-12; Colossians 4:5-6;1 Peter 3:15-16).


Prayer: Dear Lord, may we remember what you taught us, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Help us to be aware of how our actions as well as our lack of actions affect all of your children. May we always keep close to our hearts what Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Help us to see that what we have was made possible because of You. In that way we can see that what we have belongs to You, and sharing what You have provided with others is sharing Your love. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Matthew 25:35) May the Peace of Christ be with you all! 


Jim Kerner