What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘love your neighbour’? It comes from a passage in the Bible where Jesus was with a group of people and someone asked him: ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ Jesus replied; ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this “Love your neighbour as yourself” there is no commandment greater than these.’
So why exactly is this so important? Firstly Jesus is talking about what it means to love God which is crucial as we grow in relationship with him but for now I want to focus on the ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ bit.
We talk a lot about loving others and the right way to treat people and that’s absolutely right but the second part of that phrase is key ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. This love for our neighbours (and by neighbours we’re not just talking about the people who live next door, but our friends, family, people in our school etc.) comes from a place where we love ourselves. This sounds like a strange thing to be saying in relation to this passage… we often think of loving ourselves as being a bad thing- that it’s selfish or unkind, or maybe we struggle to find reasons to love ourselves. But actually Jesus is saying here that in order to love other people in the best way possible, we’ve got to love ourselves first. Not in a way that’s big headed and self-centred, but rather in a way that recognises who we are, who were created to be and why we can stand firm in that. I think there are a few bits in the Bible that can really help us with this and the first comes right at the very beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 1.27 it says ‘God created mankind in his own image.’ Humans were made on the sixth day; we were the last thing to be created and God chose to make us in his image. (Which sounds like a bit of a fancy phrase but basically means that we are all unique and valuable, and our value doesn’t depend on our gifts, our abilities, our looks, or anything else.) We bear a genuine resemblance to God – not like in a game of Pictionary where the picture never quite looks like what it’s meant to and no one can really work it out – but a genuine and real resemblance to God.
A bit later on in the Bible, in Psalm 139, King David says ‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made’. He’s acknowledging that he’s been made in this amazing way in the image of God and is thanking God for that. Not in a big headed way that’s saying ‘thank you for making me amazing’, but rather ‘thank you for making me amazingly’. We aren’t perfect, but we’ve been created in an incredible way in the image of our awesome God and that’s definitely something worth remembering.
We need to remember that and let that encourage us however we’re feeling. We can receive the love of God the Father whoever we are and however ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we think we are. Before Jesus performed any miracles, before he healed any people, before he went out and spoke to big crowds, before he raised anyone from the dead, the spirit of God rested on him and encouraged and affirmed him in who he was. In the same way, we should be basing our worth not on what we do or how we compare to others, but because of who we are and who God has made us to be.
If we come back to that original passage now where Jesus emphasises how important it is to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ we see that once we can love ourselves and stand firm in the knowledge that we are loved and cherished simply because of who God created us to be, then we can love our neighbours in a much more real way by reflecting the love of Jesus we have received.