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Who Is Your Neighbor?

Updated on October 25, 2015
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The Most Important Commandments

The most important commandments, according to Mark 12, is to love the Lord, our God, with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths and to love our neighbor as ourselves.[1] These commandments are self-explanatory, but what isn't self explanatory is in the details? Who is your neighbor; the person who lives next door or people across the world? The answer is both and neither, depending.

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What Is Love?

First, we need to define love. Society tells us that love is a warm, fuzzy feeling you get for another person, but it is more complex. In fact, the ancient Greeks had four words for love: eros, storge, philia, and agape.

Eros, the root word for erotic, is the more commonly know type of love; it is interpreted as a sensual type of love. Eros is what you feel for someone you just met; it is also called puppy love.

Storge is a familial kind of love, the love you have for your children, siblings, and parents and philia is a brotherly love, and is how most Christians love each other; Philia is the root word for the city Philadelphia – the city of brotherly love.

Agape is a ‘selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love’, it is the kind of love that Yahweh has for his people.[2] When Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and the Lord, he used the word ‘agape’. In other words, we are commanded to love our God and our neighbor with the same type of love. For the purpose of this article, we will be specifically addressing the love we are to have for our neighbors.

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Who Is Your Neighbor?

The Greek word for neighbor is defined as ‘any other man irrespective of nation or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet’.[3] An example of a good neighbor is in the parable of the Good Samaritan, in Luke 10. Your neighbor is anybody, irrespective of nation or religion, with whom you live; your husband, your child, and your roommate are your neighbor. In addition, your neighbor is anyone, irrespective of nation or religion, whom you chance to meet : fellow Christians, people on the street and at the grocery store, and even the jerk who just cut you off and nearly caused an accident.

On the other side, people you have never met are not your neighbor, relieving you of worry about over-extending yourself. The Lord will never put any more needy people in your life than you can handle, with his help. In addition, the great commission says for us to make disciples of all the nations[4], we are not relieved of all responsibility toward our fellow man.

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Now What?

Now we know who our neighbor is - what are we going to do with this information? I remind you, that the bible very specifically used the word ‘agape’ in the command to love your neighbors. While we already know the definition of agape, it is also important to understand that agape is a verb, not a noun; it is something you do, not something you feel. Agape love is something that comes from God, Himself. In 1 John 4:8 it says, “God is love”, the form of love here is also agape. Who does God love? ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son.’[5] God loves us, even though we have not done anything to deserve his love. More importantly, God’s shows his love for us in tangible ways: ‘but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’

In other words, it is not enough to say you love your neighbor; you need to show your love. How we do this depends on the neighbor who needs love. It could be something as aiding an elderly friend, or continuing to be there for someone you do not like; you can love someone you do not like, just as you can like someone you do not love.

A word of caution - when you love someone you want what is best for them; this sometimes means saying no. If you know that your ‘neighbor’ spent all their money on drugs or alcohol, and that is why they cannot afford their rent, it is not loving them to pay for their rent; it is enabling them to remain addicted. Love often involves saying no.

What agape love is not is selfish and conditional. If your love for someone is conditional, then it is not agape love; thank the Lord that His love for us is not conditional. Agape love is not selfish or self-centered; it is not about bringing glory to ourselves in any way. In fact, because agape love comes directly from Yahweh, it would be very safe to say that when you love someone, in the agape way, any glory should go to He who gave us agape love.

[1] Mark 12:29-30

[2] About.com. (2012.) What is Agape? Retrieved 7 March 2012 from http://christianity.about.com/od/glossary/a/Agape.htm

[3] GreekBible.com. (2012.) πλησίον. Retrieved 7 March 2012 from http://www.greekbible.com/l.php?plhsi/on_d---------_p

[4] Matthew 28:18-20

[5] John 3:16 – the word agape is also used here, too.

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      summerberrie 5 years ago

      Melindas, thank you for reminding me the way God loves us is the way we should love others. Not an easy task, but you are so right it is what we are told to do.

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      Melinda 5 years ago from Oregon

      No, it's not easy, but it is worthwhile. Love is something that is normally returned ten-fold.

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