GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 620 • March 9, 2021
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF
This is not a New Testament principle/command, nor is it limited by time or opportunity. Read now the texts from Deuteronomy 6:1-7 and Leviticus 19:18. We also suggest other texts to read before continuing with this essay: Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-29.
What does it mean to love anybody – even to love God? Is it OK to love yourself? What does it mean to love yourself? The command to love yourself is not a hint or suggestion but is an imperative, a requirement which must be obeyed. When you understand the command you must obey it. As Moses said, when you know these things be sure to practice them and then teach them to your children and to all others who want to love God and serve Him properly.
In scripture we can find definitions and descriptions of love, what it is and is not, what to do and not do, to whom love should be given, and when. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us a lot about the question of how and why to love. Can the teaching there be applied to love of self or just to others (and to God)? John tells us much about how to love God and, especially, how to love others – he focuses on loving your brothers and sisters in Christ, not so much about loving all others (1 John 3, 4, and 5). But we have to search and infer much to know about loving our own selves. What does God mean when He tells us to “…love your neighbor as yourself”?
THE MEANING OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY COMMANDED LOVE.
It is not emotional. Emotions are not always responsive to the will of the person, do not always come and go at your command. At least four Greek words are translated “love.” Not all are emotional, based on feelings.
- EROS is pleasing, gratifying, definitely a feeling. It is not commanded.
- PHILIA – PHILEŌ is friendship, kinship, mutuality. It is not commanded.
- STORGĒ – love of family members, parents for their children, children for their parents, brothers and sisters for each other – natural affections. Its presence can be noted, but not commanded.
- AGAPĒ is assigning or assessing value, helping, giving to, showing mercy, grace, good will. This can be commanded. – in both negative and positive terms, as 1 Corinthians, chapter 13.
Which is the most important kind of love? The one that can be and is commanded. The one mentioned. most often AGAPĒ is mentioned and commanded 264 times in the New Testament, mentioned 233 times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
The word used in every command to love anyone or any thing is AGAPĒ. Notice that you must have – you are commanded to have – AGAPĒ for yourself.
HOW CAN YOU AND HOW SHOULD YOU LOVE YOURSELF?
By proper stewardship of what God has given and entrusted to us: body, soul, and spirit. We humans were a special creation of God and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27) – true of you and your neighbors. We are precious to Him. You and I and all others are a sacred gift from Him. God commanded us to be good stewards over all that He has made, and that includes ourselves! There’s a healthy and beautiful balance when we care for everything God made including ourselves.
“Take care of yourself” – self-care is part of loving yourself: diet, exercise, discretion in what you allow into your body. What goes into the body can damage and defile it. This is not a refutation of Jesus’ words in Mark 7:14-15, Matthew 15:11, 20. He speaks of person, of soul/spirit defilement, not body. Many things – foods, drugs and alcohol and chemicals can damage and destroy the body. Give prompt attention to medical condition and physical problems. Exercise is good (1 Timothy 4:8). Lack of exercise leads to atrophy and damages the body.
Be careful with your mind (heart). What does into the mind and comes out of it can defile the person – the soul and spirit, mind and conscience (Titus 1:15-16). So guard and keep your heart with true diligence; out of it came the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23
Above all focus on spirituality: godliness, holiness, rightness. Remember: your spirit and soul (yourself) is all you have which is eternal (Ecclesiastes 12:7). If you were provided with a comprehensive list of thou shalts and thou shalt nots it would be a book of many thousands of pages. Aren’t you glad such an intensive inclusive code is not forced on you?
Emphasis: be careful with your mind. Self-caring love for yourself means you will search for the truth, accept the truth, apply the truth to yourself, and obey the truth, tell the truth – even when it is difficult. A growing attitude today is like that in Isaiah 30:10 where people told the prophet not to teach straight and strict words of God but to preach smooth things, easy things – stop presenting to us the words of the Lord; we don’t want to hear what the “Holy One of Israel” says. That’s the Old Testament version and example of “tickle our ears or just shut up” ( 1 Timothy 1-4, 2 Timothy 1:4). The first question you should ask of any teacher or teaching: “Is it true?” If it is not true it cannot make you free (John 8:31-32). You cannot teach the truth by telling lies. No lie is of the truth. 1 John 2:21
Be careful in social matters (1 Corinthians 15:33) – discretion in whom you allow to be associates, friends, companions. They will affect your mind, thoughts, attitudes and relationships.
We can summarize this point by saying AGAPĒ love avoids everything detrimental to body, soul, and spirit and diligently does everything good for body, soul, and spirit. If you are good for yourself you love yourself and will be good to others. If you do what is bad for you it is sign that you do not love yourself – maybe it is safe to say you hate yourself and others (an attitude that is unnatural, contrary to nature).
GENERIC RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SHOWING AGAPĒ LOVE.
Does Matthew 7:12, the “golden rule” of doing to others what you would want done to yourself apply here? All cultures have this principle, at least in the negative: Do not do anything to others you would not want done to you – do not treat others in ways you do not want for yourself. Christ makes it positive: do for any and all others what you would want for yourself. Do for all what you would do for yourself, and be sure it is right, good, and helpful. AGAPĒ means do only and all that is right, good, and helpful, for yourself and neighbors. Hate (avoid, refuse, reject) everything and every way that is false (Psalm 119:104). Perhaps we need to have a study on righteous love and righteous hate – when it is proper not to love, or proper to hate anyone or anything, including yourself or your neighbor, or the devil. Repeat: do nothing that is not right, good, and helpful for yourself and neighbors.
Who is my neighbor? The lawyer in Luke 10:25-29, seeking relief from what he knew and had himself cited as the great commandment, asked, “But who is my neighbor?” He wanted to know whom he would not be required to love as he loved himself. His question precipitated Jesus’ parable about the one we call “the good Samaritan” – Jesus did not give that appellation. It should be called the parable of “the good neighbor.” How would you answer the question? Who are you required to love? Who is your neighbor – who are your neighbors? The correct answer may surprise you. Neighbors are not those who live close to your house or in your community. Your neighbor is not merely any person you are able to help. Your neighbor is anybody and everybody who is not yourself. Instead of waiting for a good neighbor to come by, take the initiative and be a good neighbor (10:36-37).
Self-love is a reality and a necessity. It should never become selfishness or focus upon self, or isolation of self from others. Selfishness, self-absorption, self-centeredness – the me first, me only, and I don;’t care about any others – is toxic, poison. We do not want it or advocate it. God does not tolerate it. If you do not know how to love yourself you cannot know how to love others. If you do not love yourself your claims to love others will not be valid. If you love God as you should and love yourself as you should, you will certainly love your neighbor (everybody else in the world) as you should.