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Learning to Love Our Neighbors

An Axis Course On Advent and Your Family

Fred Rogers once said that his signature question, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” was “an invitation to help somebody know that they’re loved, and capable of loving.” He said, “Love is at the root of everything—love or the lack of it.” In other words, our own experience of having been loved first (or not) determines our ability and capacity to love others. Indeed, being loved gives us a frame of reference to know what loving someone should even look like. The Apostle John puts it like this: “We love because he first loved us.

But who are we supposed to love, and how much, and when? In Luke 10, an expert in the law asks Jesus questions like these. In response, Jesus first asks the law expert how he understands the requirements of the law, and lets him land on the first and second greatest commandments as an answer to his own question. Then Jesus says, “Do this and you will live.” In his book Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey argues that when Jesus says this, he was basically saying, “Fine, go ahead and try to live up to your own advice.” But instead of admitting that no one will ever be able to love perfectly, the law expert then attempts to reduce the command down to something more manageable. Verse 29 says, “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

In other words, he was basically saying, “I obviously can’t be loving to everyone. So how can I make sure that I’m loving the people who actually count?” And although he might have thought the question represented his own moral rigor, what it actually reveals is the diabolical impulse to divide humanity into those who deserve love and those who do not.

The implication is that there are some people who don’t count, who we shouldn’t spend our time trying to love. The justification for that kind of thinking might be that the energy we’d spend on them wouldn’t be repaid. But Jesus refuses to entertain the Pharisee’s question, and instead emphasizes what a gift it is to be on the receiving end of love when we really need it.

Those of us who are in Christ have already been on the receiving end of that love. When we were dead in our sins, God made us alive with Christ. In this way, learning to love our neighbors starts with gratitude for the love God has given us. We love because He first loved us, even though our selfishness and sin has marred the image of God within us. God sees through all of that—and loves us. As the Apostle Paul boldly writes in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Action Steps

Sometime today, or as soon as you’re able, ask you family one of these questions:

  • How does gratitude for God’s love help us love others?
  • When have you experienced profound love from someone?
  • What’s one thing our family could do to show love to someone? (Prioritize this one—we’ll say more about it tomorrow.)