What Does ‘Love your neighbour’ Really Mean?

Written by:  Robert D Brinsmead

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”  “The one who loves his neighbour as himself has fulfilled the whole of the law.” (On this Paul is correct).  Maybe this does not apply to some “neighbours” – ??

Just a minute….Jesus said this love of neighbour must include the bad ones – like those who persecute you, say all manner of evil against you and in other ways despitefully treat you.  Should you still love them?  Well, Jesus said that you should still bless them and pray for them and not retaliate against them.  That sounds like love to me.  But it’s still conditional you may say!  This moral obligation does not always apply, you suggest.  This means love sometimes has to be suspended, like answering the question of Simon Peter, “How many times can my human brother sin against me, and I have to keep forgiving him from my heart?”   How far did Jesus let his enemies mistreat him before he said, “no more love for you guys!  enough is enough.  Father, never forgive them for what they are doing to me right now!”

Some say you have to stop loving evil and dangerous people, and start restraining them (jailing them) or even killing them.  So they are suggesting, we may have to stop loving our neighbour/enemy and start some non-loving actions (as they suggest God does or will do at times) with evil people .  Against this, I will affirm there is no such time when the great commandment to be human (love your neighbour as yourself) does not apply.  I am not saying there is not a time when you might support restraining, even killing certain people.  It is not the deed itself that determines its morality, but its purpose and motive.  Love (agape) is not a feeling, either romantic or erotic.  It is an absolute principle, meaning that it applies at all times and under every conceivable circumstance.  This universal law (like the law of gravity) does not require us to like a bad neighbour.  That is a feeling, a sentiment.  We are still obligated to love whom we do not like.

Love is not science either.  It can’t be explained as if it is a chemical reaction.  We all sense there are other realities beyond what can be explained by a materialistic science.  And we are not anti-science because we believe in the reality of love, goodness, kindness, courage, beauty and moral excellence. Faith is no less a reality because it is beyond the ken of science and materialism.  Yet faith has to be based on reasonable grounds otherwise it is just credulity and superstition.  If it were based on scientific, materialistic evidence it would not be faith.  If anything can be proved beyond the possibility of any questions, then it is not a matter of faith.  That God exists is a matter of faith.  Faith is not something that is unreasonable.  We think that in view of the evidence all around us, it would be more unreasonable not to believe that God is.

Love does not necessarily demand pacifism.  It does not mean there could never be such a thing as the restraining of evil people bent on destroying others.  But even those extreme cases do not make love conditional, that is, grant us permission to act with hated, revenge, retaliation and driven by any other principle that is contrary to love.

“God is love” cannot mean only that God has love, but it means love is God’s essence, love is what God is.  God will not be and act contrary to what God is.  Asking us to believe that God acts without love in any way or in any circumstance is like asking us to believe that God can cease to be God and start acting in an ungodly way.  In the same way, to be human means to be created in the image of God, and therefore there never is a point where we are justified in being inhuman – i.e., being unloving or ungodly.

So as far as God is concerned and the human obligation to love our neighbour as ourselves is concerned, “conditional” love is an impossible oxymoron – it is a silly as talking about a level slope or a healthy illness.