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Who counts as my neighbor, biblically speaking?

Around here, we like to say the whole message of the Bible boils down to two things: love God and love people. It's based on what Jesus declared were the two greatest commandments: "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" and "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:28-34). Jesus was recalling the original commandments given to the Israelites generations before (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18).

Back in those days, God's people would have understood the idea of "neighbor" as one of their fellow Israelite brothers or sisters. Truly, the way God put it was, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself..." (Leviticus 19:18). The Jews in Jesus' time would have believed the same was true for them—that their "neighbor" was a fellow Jew. Yet God had a much wider definition of who is considered our "neighbor," and Jesus made that clarification quite apparent when asked.

Luke 10 tells of a time when an expert in Jewish law tested Jesus, asking how Jesus interpreted the laws regarding the inheritance of eternal life. Jesus basically came back with, "Love God and love your neighbor." But the law expert pressed on, trying make sure he understood Jesus' exact definition, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:25-29).

Jesus, in His usual style, whips out a parable—a story that can be used to illustrate God's truth in the clearest possible terms. We call this particular story "The Parable of the Good Samaritan" (Luke 10:25-37).

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells of a man who was traveling by foot between cities. He is attacked, robbed, beaten half to death, then left for dead on the road. Sometime later, a priest came down the same road, but he merely crossed to the other side, avoiding the suffering man. Time passed, and a Levite trekked through, yet he too ignored the injured man.

Finally, a traveling Samaritan spots this lonely man and compassion overcomes his heart. Not only does the Samaritan dress his wounds properly, he also lifted him onto his pack animal, carried him to an inn, and took care of him for the night. The next day, the Samaritan had to move on, so paid the innkeeper, asking him to look after the man, promising that he would return and repay whatever additional costs were incurred.

Who proved to be a neighbor?

When Jesus finished His parable, He asked, "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" And the lawyer responded, "The one who showed him mercy." So Jesus replied, "You go, and do likewise" (Luke 10:36-37).

Let’s take a minute to note a few important things about the key players here. The priest and the Levite would have been considered kinsmen to the Jews and should have known to follow God's law. Yet they failed to show love to someone in need. Due to cultural and religious differences, Samaritans were considered a lower class, spiritually inferior, and even an enemy to Jews at the time. Now, what's interesting is that Jesus never indicates where the injured man falls into these categories; He doesn't identify him as a Jew or Israelite or Gentile or anything. He is simply "a man." Why?

The definition of "neighbor" has very little to do with the others but everything to do with who WE prove to be when we're with those others.

We're not called to just love those whom we call friends but rather anyone we come in contact with (Matthew 5:44-48). Anyone you have an opportunity to interact with is your "neighbor" and, as Jesus commanded, should be loved just as we would love ourselves. God freely gives His love to all people (John 3:16-18; Romans 1:19-20; 2 Peter 3:9), and since we're His children (John 1:12), we ought to do the same!

What does loving my neighbor look like?

We're not talking about a romantic love or a best-friend kind of love here. We are talking about a godly love—a love that genuinely seeks the best for all people you encounter. It doesn't mean you agree with everything they say or do. It doesn't mean that you bend over backward to get them to like you or approve of you. Being neighborly isn't about THEM; it's about YOU.

Loving others in a godly way means having compassion and mercy and taking care of others' physical and spiritual needs to the best of your ability. God is the only one who can truly provide for people's every need (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), yes, but WE are a part of how He carries out His mission of love on earth (1 John 4:7-12; 1 Peter 3:15-16). The more our hearts first love God, the easier demonstrating love for others will be.

"Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." — Colossians 4:5-6

TL;DR

Jesus said to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Anyone you have an opportunity to interact with in life is your "neighbor" and, as Jesus commanded, should be loved just as we would love ourselves. God freely gives His love to all people and so should we. Loving others in a godly way means having compassion and mercy on others and taking care of their physical and spiritual needs to the best of your ability. God is the only one who can truly provide for people's every need, but WE are a part of how He carries out His mission of love on earth.

By: Catiana Nak Kheiyn

Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.


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