"Love thy Neighbor as thyself" (KJV) is the Second Commandment - Questions and Answers

The second greatest commandment in the Bible is to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mt 22:39; Mk 12:31 / KJV). Jesus said the Old Testament command to love your neighbor as you love yourself was second only to loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Some might ask, ‘what does it mean to love others?’, ‘who is my neighbor?’, and ‘how should I love people?’ This post will answer those questions and provide a survey of bible verses about loving others.

Two Great Commandments - Mark 12:30-31 KJV - Love God and Your Neighbor

The command to “love your neighbor” was given by Moses in Leviticus 19:18. Jesus identified this as one of the two great commandments, which are to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. We explained the greatest commandment to ‘love God with all your heart’ in a previous post. This article will focus on the second great commandment, examining “love thy neighbor” verses and explaining what it means to love others as you love yourself.

What does ‘Love Others’ mean?

Two different Greek words are translated as “love” in the New Testament so we will begin by explaining the definition of “love” in the command to “love your neighbor.”

One of the Greek words translated as “love,” is the verb, phileo, and the noun philadelphia. These words are the root of the English word, “philanthropy” and the name of the city, “Philadelphia.” These words refer to brotherly or sisterly love, as in the love of family. This love is largely emotional, based on feeling, relationship and reciprocation. In English we often use “affection” or “liking” to convey this meaning. This is NOT the word or meaning in the command to ‘love your neighbor.’

The word translated as “love” in the great commandments is the verb, ‘agapao.’ The meaning of this verb (and the noun ‘agape’) is like that of ‘phileo,’ but is stronger. ‘agapao’ is more sacrificial and is based on choice rather than feeling. This form of love is NOT based on reciprocation or the worthiness of the object of one’s love.

agapao’ is used to describe God’s unconditional love. “God so loved (‘agapao’) the people of the world that He gave His only Son, that they might have eternal life” (John 3:16). And “God demonstrated His love (‘agape’) for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

The apostle Paul described agape love as the most excellent spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

  • Love is patient and kind.
  • Love is content, and happy for others; it does not envy or covet what others have.
  • Love is humble; not proud, arrogant, boastful, or rude.
  • Love is generous, not selfish or self-seeking.
  • Love is not irritable or easily provoked. 
  • Love rejoices with the truth; not injustice, wickedness or wrong. 
  • Love is strong; it bears all, believes all, hopes all, endures all. 

In the two great commandments, we are commanded to love (‘agapao’) God and people. The second great commandment commands us to love other people unconditionally, as God loves us. We must choose to love others by graciously helping them when they are in need, whether they deserve our love or not, whether we have a relationship with them or not, whether they reciprocate or not, even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-38).

Who is My Neighbor? Luke 10:25-37

Luke 10:25 tells of a lawyer testing Jesus by asking Christ what he (the lawyer) must “do to inherit eternal life.” Instead of answering directly, Jesus turned the test around, asking the lawyer how he interpreted what is written in the Law (Luke 10:26).

In response, the lawyer answered correctly by quoting Deuteronomy 5:6 and Leviticus 19:18, saying:

‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” (Luke 10:27 / KJV)

Jesus told the lawyer that he had answered correctly, and said, “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). In Greek, “DO this” is stated as a present active imperative, a command to keep on always doing what he should be doing (i.e.: loving God with all his heart and loving his neighbor as himself).

It appears that the lawyer was not confident that he was always loving his neighbor as himself. Because, to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).

In response to the lawyer’s question, Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan to explain who your neighbor is (Luke 10:30-37). Important elements of this story, include:

  • A man, most likely a Jew, was assaulted, robbed, and left seriously injured as he left Jerusalem to go to Jericho.
  • A priest, a religious leader, saw him as He “came down” that way, but passed the injured man on the other side of the road. Jerusalem is on a mountain. The fact that the priest was going down, indicates that he was not on his way to perform religious duties in the temple. Most likely he was on his way home.
  • Levites were also religious leaders. A Levite saw him, but also passed by on the other side. Neither of these Jewish spiritual leaders helped their injured countryman.
  • It would take over a day to walk from Samaria to Jerusalem, so this incident did not occur in the Samaritan’s physical neighborhood.
  • The Jews considered Samaritans to be unclean Gentiles and had no dealings with them (John 4:9).
  • Even though he was far from home and the injured man was a complete stranger, the Samaritan took pity on him. The Samaritan sacrificed his time, money, and plans to save the man’s life and take care of him.
  • The Samaritan treated the injured man with love and compassion the way he would want to be treated.

In Christ’s example, the Samaritan was the loving “neighbor” who sacrificially helped a Jew who had been wounded and left half dead by robbers. Jesus commanded the lawyer, saying he should go and keep on doing likewise (Luke 10:36-37).

“My neighbor” is anyone (even an enemy) who needs my help. By this example, Jesus made it clear that the command to “love your neighbor” applies to loving all people, no matter who they are.

How to Love Others

The story of the good Samaritan provides a good example of how to love other people as you love yourself. This section will examine three more Scriptures that provide practical guidance on loving others.

You shall Love your Neighbor as Yourself - Leviticus 19:18

The second great commandment was first given in Leviticus 19:18. The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is not one of the Ten Commandments, but it summarizes six of them.

If you love your neighbor as yourself, then:

  • You will honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12)
  • You will not murder anyone (Exodus 20:13)
  • You will not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14)
  • You will not steal (Exodus 20:15)
  • You will not lie (Exodus 20:16)
  • You will not covet (strongly desire) anything that belongs to someone else (Exodus 20:17)

This is why Paul said, “For all the law is fulfilled . . . in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Galatians 5:14).

Leviticus 19:9-17 records specific instructions Moses gave the children of Israel before the command to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (KJV) in Lev. 19:18. These instructions provide us with guidance on how to love others.

  • Lev. 19:9-10 – When you reap your harvest, leave some gleanings behind for the poor to gather.
  • Lev. 19:11-12 – Do not deal falsely. Do not lie to, deceive, cheat, or steal from others.
  • Lev. 19:13 – Do not oppress others or rob others by withholding what you owe them. Immediately pay what you owe others.
  • Lev. 19:14 – Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind. Do not be mean to others or take advantage of their weaknesses.
  • Lev. 19:15 – Render righteous judgments in court, showing no partiality or discrimination.
  • Lev. 19:16 – Do not slander others or seek their harm.
  • Lev. 19:17-18a – Do not hate others in your heart. If you have something against them, then go reason with them (compare Matthew 18:15-17). Do not hold a grudge or take vengeance against them. In other words, we must never return evil for evil, but be forgiving instead.
  • Leviticus 19:18b sums it all up saying, “but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (KJV).
Leviticus 19:34 NKJV - Love the Stranger as you love yourself

While the above commands were given in reference to “the children of thy people” (Lev. 19:18 / KJV), Leviticus 19:33-34 extends it to strangers / foreigners as well. “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” (Lev. 19:34 / KJV). 

Matthew 5:43-45

Matthew 5:43 KJV - Love your Enemies

During His ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matt. 5-7), Jesus ‘raised the bar’ of righteous, saying that unless their righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (the most religious people of that time), ‘you will not enter heaven’ (Matthew 5:20). In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus ‘raised the bar’ for the second great commandment, saying:

Matthew 5:43-46 (NKJV)

 

In Matthew 5:43, Jesus quoted the common understanding of the day. Apparently, while the Jews acknowledged that they must obey Leviticus 19:18 by loving their neighbor, they thought it was acceptable, perhaps even good to ‘hate their enemies.’ But Jesus clearly taught that the command to ‘love your neighbor’ applies even to enemies who curse and hate you, and spitefully use and persecute you (Matt. 5:44).

This passage also provides some specific ways we are to love even our enemies. We are to bless them, do good to them, and pray for them (Matt. 5:44). And if we are to love our enemies by doing these things, then we should certainly do them for all other people as well. So, loving others as ourselves means praying for them, blessing them, and doing good things for them even if they don’t deserve it or reciprocate.

Luke 6:31 NKJV - The Golden Rule

Christ’s command to “love your enemies” is also recorded in Luke’s gospel (Luke 6:27-36). This passage records Jesus giving “the Golden Rule” to treat others the way you would like them to treat you.

Luke 6:27-36

Christ’s words in this passage repeat and expand upon those in Matthew 5:43-48. Here, Christ’s instructions on how to love your neighbor as you love yourself include:

  • Do good to other people, even those who hate you (Luke 6:27).
  • Bless other people, even those who curse you (Luke 6:28).
  • Pray for others, even if they are mean to you (Luke 6:28).
  • Do not retaliate. “Turn the other cheek” instead (Luke 6:29).
  • Give to anyone who asks of you (Luke 6:30).
  • Follow “the Golden Rule” by doing to/for others what you would have them do to/for you (Luke 6:31).
  • Be merciful like your Heavenly Father, Who is kind even to ungrateful and wicked people (Luke 6:35-36).

Bible verses about Loving Others

The commands to love God and love other people summarize the whole law, providing simple guidance on how to please God by doing His Will. The dos and don’ts in scripture flow naturally out of obeying loving God and loving your neighbor as you love yourself. This section will examine several other “love thy neighbor” quotes in the Bible.

Matthew 19:16-26 tells of a rich, young man who came to Jesus and asked Him, “what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Mt 19:16 / KJV). In response to his question as to what singular good he could do to earn heaven, Jesus told him to “obey the commandments” (Mt 19:17 / KJV).

Apparently still wanting to narrow down what he needed to do to earn eternal life, the young man asked Jesus which commands he needed to obey. In response, Jesus quoted the 5th – 9th of the Ten Commandments and Leviticus 19:18, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mt 19:19 / KJV).

The young man claimed to have obeyed all these things and asked what else he needed to do (Mt 19:20). Jesus responded by telling him to love his neighbor by selling his possessions and giving to the poor. This highlighted the young man’s covetousness, greed, and failure to love others as himself. “He went away sorrowful” (Mt 19:22) because he was not willing to sacrifice his wealth to help others in need.

James 2:8 KJV -The Royal Law of Scripture: "Love thy neighbor as thyself"

James 2:13 commands Christians to be impartial toward other people as we live out our faith. That means we will not treat people better or worse based on their wealth or poverty, how they dress, or social status. James 2:8 refers to the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” as “the Royal law.”

Those who truly keep “the Royal law of Scripture” by loving others as themselves are doing what is commendable and right. But in contrast, those who show “respect of persons” by being prejudiced or showing partiality are sinning and are guilty of violating the whole law (James 2:9-10).

Romans 13:8-9 ESV The one who loves another has fulfilled the Law

In Romans 12:1-2, the apostle Paul exhorts Christians to give their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, not conforming to the evil ways of the world, but being transformed by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. Paul provides practical guidance on how to do so in the following chapters (Romans 12-15).

In Romans 13:8-10, Paul instructs us to stay out of debt, both financially and in terms of obligations, with one exception. Loving others is a perpetual obligation that cannot be paid off. We must continually love other people as we love ourselves always. The basis of this obligation is the second great commandment to “love thy neighbor.”

“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” (ESV) “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (NKJV)

Romans 13:8-10

The Old Testament law is summed up in the command to “love thy neighbor as thyself” because love does no harm, wrong or evil toward other people. Therefore, keeping the second great commandment fulfills the law.

Galatians 5:14 KJV - All the Law is Fulfilled in this, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"

Paul wrote the book of Galatians to a church being troubled by Judaizers, who were telling them that they had to be become Jews and keep the Old Testament law to be saved. Paul wrote exhorting the church to remain faithful to the gospel of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. In Galatians 5:1, Paul said:

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (KJV) 

While Christians have been freed from the law, that does not give us an excuse to gratify the lusts of our flesh. We are to be led by the Spirit and please God rather than indulge our carnal nature. Those led by the Spirit are not under the law (Gal. 5:16-18). In Galatians 5:13-14, Paul said:

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Galatians 5:13-14 / ESV

We are to use our spiritual freedom to serve others in love. Here, as in Romans 13:8-10, Paul says that the entire law is fulfilled by keeping the second greatest command to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’

Loving Others Summary

Luke 6:31 NIV - Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Moses commanded the children of Israel to “love your neighbor as yourself” in Leviticus 19:18 & 34. Jesus said the command to “love thy neighbor” was the second greatest commandment (Mt 19:19; 22:39-40; Mk 12:31; Lk 10:27). Loving others is second in importance only to loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength.

The love we are commanded to give is “agape” love, which is an unconditional, God-like love bestowed as a choice, not based on feeling, relationship, or reciprocation. This is the love that motivated God to give His only Son to provide eternal life to those who believe in Him (John 3:16), while we were still His enemies living in sin (Romans 5:8).

‘Our neighbor’ is anyone who needs our love or help, even if they don’t deserve it and don’t love us in return. We are to be merciful like our Heavenly Father, Who is kind even to ungrateful and wicked people (Luke 6:35-36).

Bible guidance on how to love “your neighbor” as you love yourself includes:

  • Be good to all other people, even those who hate you, curse you, or are mean to you (Luke 6:27-29).
  • Be generous; help anyone in need who asks you, if you can (Luke 6:30; Prov. 3:27).
  • Humbly be patient, kind, consecrate, compassionate, and nice to all others (1 Cor 13:4-5).
  • The most practical guidance on how to love others is to follow the golden rule, by treating everyone the way you would want them to treat you (Luke 6:31).

This article has explained the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. “Our neighbor” is anyone who needs our help. We can do this by always following “the golden rule,” treating everyone the way we would want them to treat us, even if they have treated us badly. We must sacrificially choose to love all others the way God loved the world by giving His Son to pay for our sin.


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