“Love your neighbor as yourself.” You’ve probably heard this phrase before or some rendition of it. This isn’t just a nice saying to have on a sign hanging in your entryway. It is a command. One of the most important ones Jesus gives. But what does it really mean? And, more importantly, how does it work? Learn how to love your neighbor, even when you don’t feel like it, with actionable steps you can take today!
What Does it Mean to Love Your Neighbor?
The command to love your neighbor comes from Matthew 22:36-39, which says this: “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” There are many ways to interpret the command to love your neighbor as yourself. First, most believe that your “neighbor” doesn’t just mean the person who lives in the house next to you or apartment above you. Your “neighbor” is virtually anyone in your community.
It also doesn’t just say to “love your neighbor.” It says to love them as yourself. So, let’s dive into what all this means, including tangible ways to love who God has called you to love.
How Do You Love Yourself?
To understand how to love your neighbor best, you need first to know how to love yourself. Self-love is very important, and if you haven’t embarked on a self-love journey, now is the time to start. In order to live out the second greatest commandment God has given, you must love yourself well.
Do you give yourself grace and forgiveness when you make a mistake or a wrong decision? Are you patient and understanding with yourself? Do you try to live in a way that brings peace and joy to your life? Are you constantly pointing yourself back to Jesus when things get hard? Do you fill your mind with good things and kind words? These are all ways to love yourself well, and once you do, you can learn how to love your neighbor in the same way.
How to Love Your Neighbor All the Time
The truth is, there may be times when you simply don’t feel like loving your neighbor. Maybe you’ve had a bad day and aren’t in a good mood, so when the elderly man behind you in the checkout line starts chatting, you shut him down with a cold look. Regardless of how you’re feeling at the moment, there are practical ways you can love your neighbor.
1. When You Don’t Have Much to Give, Give a Smile
It’s ok if you don’t feel like chatting while in the checkout line. But a simple smile can go a long way. Facial expressions and body language speak volumes, so make sure yours are expressing love.
2. Be Generous with More than Just Money
Being generous with money is definitely a great way to show love to people in your community, whether you give a homeless man the cash you have, “pay-it-forward” in the Starbucks line, or bless someone with a much larger sum of money. However, generosity extends further than cash.
In Luke 6:38, Jesus says, “‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’” What else can you give your neighbors to show them love other than money? Lots of things! Did someone in your church recently have a baby? Give the gift of ready-made dinners! Is a friend struggling? Give the gift of time! Know someone who is moving? Give the gift of a helping hand! Is a family member sick? Give the gift of prayer. There are so many ways to be generous, and generosity is one of the best ways for how to love your neighbor.
3. Show Compassion to Those Around You
Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Empathy is a very powerful thing. It means the ability to understand and share in the feelings of others. It goes beyond surface-level talk and truly puts yourself in someone else’s shoes in order to fully grasp their situation. It’s easy to judge people or hold grudges only knowing surface-level information about a person or a circumstance. Things change when you show kindness, compassion, and empathy and try to understand what’s actually going on underneath the surface. Once you do, you can show love by forgiving others and helping them through whatever they are experiencing.
4. Speak Words of Life
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Your words hold power. Hurtful, harmful, degrading words can crush someone’s spirit. But Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” You can show your neighbors love by the words you speak and how you say them.
Keep this in mind when you think about how you love yourself too. Often, people are their own harshest critics. Harmful words aren’t just damaging to others. They are damaging to yourself as well.
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