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Love of Neighbor

After the love of God, the great­est com­mand­ment is the love of one’s neigh­bor.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the first and great com­mand­ment. And a sec­ond is like it: You shall love your neigh­bor as your­self. On these two com­mand­ments depend all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:37–40, Mark 12:30–31, Luke 10:27, Leviti­cus 19:18)

There is no com­mand­ment greater than these. (Mark 12:31)

Love of neigh­bor nec­es­sar­i­ly fol­lows from the love of God, and there can be no true love of God with­out it.

He who says he is in the light and hates his broth­er is in dark­ness still. He who loves his broth­er abides in the light and in him there is no cause of stum­bling. He who hates his broth­er is in dark­ness and walks in dark­ness, and does not know where he is going for the dark­ness has blind­ed his eyes.

If any one says “I love God,” and hates his broth­er, he is a liar; for he who does not love his broth­er whom he has seen, can­not love God whom he has not seen. And this com­mand­ment we have from Him, that he who loves God, should love his broth­er also. (I John 2:9–11, 4:20–21)

The love of the neigh­bor and the broth­er does not mean the love of only those who love us and are good to us. The neigh­bor and the broth­er mean any­one near at hand, every­one made by God, all “for whom Christ has died.” (Romans 14:15) The neigh­bor and the broth­er include also the ene­mies. This is the point of Christ’s para­ble of the Good Samar­i­tan. (Luke 10:29–37) It is also the Lord’s spe­cif­ic teach­ing in the Ser­mon on the Mount.

Love your ene­mies and pray for those who per­se­cute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heav­en; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-col­lec­tors do the same? And if you greet only your brethren, what more are you doing than oth­ers? Do not even the hea­then do the same? You, there­fore, must be per­fect, as your heav­en­ly Father is per­fect. (Matthew 5:44–48)

But I say to you that hear, love your ene­mies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…If you love those who love you, what cred­it is that to you? For even sin­ners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what cred­it is that to you? For even sin­ners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what cred­it is that to you? Even sin­ners lend to sin­ners, to receive as much again. But love your ene­mies, and do good, and lend, expect­ing noth­ing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrate­ful and self­ish. (Luke 6:27–35)

This teach­ing of Jesus is con­veyed also in the writ­ings of the apos­tles.

Let love be gen­uine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one anoth­er with broth­er­ly affection…Bless those who per­se­cute you, bless and do not curse them…No, if your ene­my is hun­gry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink…Owe one anoth­er noth­ing, but to love one anoth­er; for he who loves his neigh­bor has ful­filled the law. The com­mand­ments, “You shall not com­mit adul­tery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not cov­et,” and any oth­er com­mand­ment are summed up in this sen­tence, “You shall love your neigh­bor as your­self.” Love does no wrong to a neigh­bor, there­fore love is the ful­fill­ing of the law. (Romans 12:9–10, 14–20; 13:8–10; cf. Matthew 25:31–46)

Gen­uine love is expressed in deeds, and not in words alone. It is expressed through what one actu­al­ly does in one’s life. It is man­i­fest­ed in con­cern for oth­ers through kind­ly speech and gen­eros­i­ty with one’s earth­ly pos­ses­sions giv­en by God. It is revealed in one’s works of faith in keep­ing all of God’s com­mand­ments.

Any one who hates his broth­er is a mur­der­er, and you know that no mur­der­er has eter­nal life abid­ing in him. By this we know love, that Christ laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his broth­er in need, yet clos­es his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Lit­tle chil­dren, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth. (I John 3:14–18; cf James 2:8–17)

The love of neigh­bor “as one­self” is some­times mis­un­der­stood. One should, of course, love one­self in the sense that one is faith­ful to God and grate­ful for his life. And cer­tain­ly one should love one­self in the sense that he sees him­self as unique­ly impor­tant in the eyes of God and the object of God’s own unfail­ing love and mer­cy. One should not hate one­self in the sense that he despis­es the life giv­en to him by God, reject­ing his own tal­ents and gifts because he is envi­ous of oth­ers. Nei­ther should

one hate one­self for being a sin­ner, since, as the mas­ters teach, such a self-hate is only the sub­tle form of a more grandiose price which vaunts a per­son to stature of judg­ment greater than that ‘of God Him- self who is mer­ci­ful, lov­ing and for­giv­ing, (cf. Father Alexan­der Elchani­noff, 20th c. Diary of a Russ­ian Priest; Father John of Kro­n­stadt, 20th c. My Life in Christ)

One should cer­tain­ly “hate him­self,” how­ev­er, in the sense that he despis­es and cru­ci­fies his “old self” cor­rupt­ed by sin in order to “put off the old nature with its evil prac­tices” and to “put on the new nature which is being renewed in knowl­edge accord­ing to the image of its Cre­ator.” (Romans 6:6, Colos­sians 3:10)

I have been cru­ci­fied with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Him­self for me. (Gala­tians 2:20; cf also 5:24, 6:14)

This is also what Christ undoubt­ed­ly meant when He spoke those most vio­lent and ter­ri­fy­ing words in the Gospel.

If any­one comes to me and does not hate his own father and moth­er and wife and chil­dren and broth­ers and sis­ters, yes, and even his own life, he can­not be my dis­ci­ple. (Luke 14:26)

This is the extreme and ter­ri­fy­ing warn­ing against all pas­sion­ate attach­ments stronger and more pow­er­ful than one’s pas­sion­ate attach­ment to Christ alone. And the great­est pas­sion of all which keeps one from the love of God and the love of one’s neigh­bor is the sin­ful pas­sion for one­self. Sin­ful self-love, says Saint Max­imus the Con­fes­sor, is the “moth­er of all evils,” and the “orig­i­nal sin” of man’s heart.

One must “hate one­self” in this sense, even as he must hate his fam­i­ly and friends. He must hate them as objects of his sin­ful self-love, that he might love them, and him­self most tru­ly in Christ.