“Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbour”

Introducing the Second Great Commandment in the Law

4 min

We live in a day of rampant selfishness. Politicians are suspected of advancing their own interests for political power. Union labor strikes demonstrate distrust between employers and employees. Wars, crime, and acts of terrorism are daily reminders that we are living in a world where men and women do not love their neighbors. In contrast to the selfish culture in which we live, as God’s children we are commanded to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Jesus was asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36). He answered, quoting two verses from the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39).

Jesus then summed up the issue in His response: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

Last month we considered the first of these great summaries of the Law. This month, we turn to regard the second great commandment that teaches our duty toward our neighbor:

“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18).

In these modern days of limited Bible understanding, the Old Testament Law is often demeaned as though it addressed external rules, outdated ceremonies, and harsh regulations of outward conduct. Such superficial discussions emphasize the New Testament as the covenant of grace and the words of Jesus as addressing the inward matters of the heart as opposed to outward regulations in the Law of Moses. But an honest appreciation for the Old Testament reveals that the Law of God does deal extensively with the inward thoughts of the heart.

As we examine this teaching closely, we will see how the prophets applied this commandment to the social ills of their day. We will observe how our Lord Jesus used a story to answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” We will regard how the Apostle John tied the first great commandment to the second one, and how he pointed out that our love for our neighbor is an indicator of our love for God: “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (I John 4:20).

In this introductory article, let’s consider the context of this second great commandment. Leviticus Chapter 19 enlightens us to several practical ways that we can apply this commandment to our daily lives today.

  1. We love our neighbor by having a spirit of generosity toward the poor.
    “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:9–10). Ruth benefited from the obedience of Boaz to this commandment. This practice of leaving a “gleaning” for the poor has application in our modern day. Certain restaurants and bakeries practice a policy of donating leftover food and bread to community food pantries and homeless shelters. Some local churches offer food pantries and clothing closets to show love to their neighbors in a very practical and Biblical way.
  2. We love our neighbor by paying just wages to our employees.
    “Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning” (Leviticus 19:13). A Christian business owner should never be accused of a greedy spirit that denies a faithful employee his just wage paid in a timely manner.
  3. We love our neighbor by showing kindness to the blind and deaf.
    “Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:14). Churches should try to accommodate the deaf in various ways, such as having members who are trained in sign language interpret the sermons, choir specials, and services. Also, another way to show love to those with impaired or complete vision loss is to offer audio or large print Bibles as well as good reading materials in Braille. Christian businesses can show love for neighbors with vision or hearing loss by incorporating suitable accommodations such as special large print materials, unobstructed pathways and aisles, and other helpful considerations.
  4. We love our neighbor by ensuring a just legal system.
    “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour” (Leviticus 19:15). Christian police officers, civil magistrates, lawyers, and judges should take these words to heart and apply them in daily life. Those of us who are not civil servants should carefully examine candidates and vote for those who will take God’s Word seriously and apply it in their political offices.
  5. We love our neighbor by respecting old age.
    “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:32). We live in a day when old age is despised. Some people are even advocating euthanasia for the elderly! As Christians, we are to love, honor, and appreciate those who have lived a long life. Even employers who care for their workers might be proactive in providing retirement benefits to faithful employees. Young people can honor their elders by asking them questions and from them glean wisdom and life lessons learned. Families who understand loving “their neighbor” Biblically will seek to welcome and serve the aged at church and at family gatherings and events.
  6. We love our neighbor by welcoming strangers.
    “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33–34). It is abundantly clear that our government has failed in addressing the immigration crisis at America’s southern border. But could it also be that the church has failed to take the initiative in helping, evangelizing, and equipping foreign immigrants to legally come and enjoy the blessings of liberty? As believers, we have a duty to share Christ’s love to these “sojourners” in our land.

Perhaps by now you have noticed that this very practical chapter in Scripture constantly repeats the phrase “I am the LORD.” In fact, the phrase is used fifteen times in this chapter alone! How we treat our neighbor is a reflection of how we regard our God. This reflection will be abundantly evident as we continue to examine this second great commandment in the coming weeks.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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