Winter 2011

Philosophy and Ideas

The Bible on Relationships: Love Your Neighbor

David Hulme

Taken as a whole, the Bible establishes relationships as the most important aspect of human existence and boils all of its instruction down to two responsibilities: love of God and love of neighbor. 

“Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” one of the Pharisees asked Jesus (Matthew 22:34–40, New Revised Standard Version). The answer thwarted the Pharisees’ attempt to trap Him into elevating one law over another, but it thwarted it precisely because they claimed the same Hebrew Scriptures as their foundation. “He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’” (from Deuteronomy 6:5). “This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (from Leviticus 19:18). 

Other familiar New Testament directives include concepts such as these: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12, English Standard Version). “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. . . . Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8–10, ESV). “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:4–5, ESV). “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2, ESV). “Speak evil of no one, . . . avoid quarreling, . . . be gentle, . . . show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:1–2, ESV). 

These were not new concepts to the people of the first century and had been expressed before the writings now known as the New Testament came into being. They, too, are based on the Hebrew Scriptures, which frequently address the responsibility of one person to another. For example: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. . . . Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17–18, New International Version). “When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33–34, Today’s New International Version). Of the example set for humanity by their Creator, Moses wrote: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18, TNIV). 

Clearly these passages express the ideal to which all must aspire in their dealings with one another. Without it, the outcome of a perfect kingdom of God on earth cannot be realized.