When we decide to love others as ourselves, we must first consider carefully what ‘loving others’ means and determine how we can best develop a lifestyle on this basis. For many of us religious rules are the only guidelines we know, so we don’t automatically understand how to love others as ourselves.
We cannot turn to legalistic believers to answer the question, as their idea of living ethically focuses on rules instead of love. We cannot look to culture or popular consensus because they are often self-centered and interested only in loving those of their own group, and this leads to pain and suffering for others.
The best source for answering ‘What does it mean to love others as ourselves?’ is Jesus himself.
What Jesus Says about Loving Others
Jesus’ best-known statement about loving others is found in Luke 10:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Significantly, just before saying this, Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart and mind. But we can’t love God if we think he is angry and vindictive toward us.
Jesus demonstrates, however, that the Father is not angry and vindictive but loves us and desires the best for us, so our loving the Father is responsive to his love. And once we understand that he loves us unconditionally, we can begin to truly love ourselves, and only then are we in the position to love others as ourselves. We do so in the light of the Father’s love for all of us.
We might ask the reasonable question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ And the answer, based on Jesus’ teaching and example, is everyone. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan answers this question very well. Jesus also goes so far as to tell us to love our enemies; how inclusive is that!
Notice How Jesus Treats Others
If we read the four accounts of Jesus’ words and actions, we find that he models loving others. He treats others with care and compassion. He does not judge them but welcomes them to follow him in a new community of mutual love and reconciliation. He never rails at anyone for their shortcomings, but rather invites them to a new way of life.
He always has their best interest in mind—both inward and outward. He never ‘loves the sinner but hates the sin’; he accepts them as they are and brings them into a new life. He shows them love instead of chiding them for their flaws.
There was only one group for whom Jesus had stern words—legalists who tried to burden the common people with religious rules. But Jesus loved even the legalists; he had their best interest in mind too, and many of them followed him into the new community. He still loves legalists today and invites them into a new way of life in loving others.
Growing in Love by Staying Connected with Jesus
When we begin following Jesus we are not perfect in loving others, but he accepts us just as we are without preconditions. And then something happens: we begin to change! The more we learn about Jesus, the more we change for the better. He helps us change, so we are not on our own.
A good way to think about this is found in Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and branches reported in John 15. He says,
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
Remaining in Jesus means cooperating with the changes in our thoughts and actions that come with following him. Otherwise, we are like dry branches that take no nourishment from the vine; we wither away. This metaphor is not a threat but simply describes what happens to branches that don’t participate in the life of the vine.
If we do not cooperate with the changes, we can maintain our old condition for as long as we want and not be punished. But we will produce bad consequences by hurting ourselves and others, and we will miss out on benefits of following Jesus. In our stunted state we continue feeling alienated because of the guilt we feel from our behavior, and we will not have the peace, joy, and happiness that should go with life in Jesus.
Instead we will be dry, withered, and fruitless.
Loving Others Means having Their Best Interest in Mind
The way for followers of Jesus to begin loving people as themselves is to love them as Jesus loves them—by having their best interest in mind. Achieving this, however, requires a proactive approach. We will talk about this next time.
The purpose of this blog is to support those re-evaluating traditional religious beliefs.