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One of the most famous commands of Jesus is to “love your neighbor as yourself”. But what does the word “love” really mean in this context? In other words, what, exactly, does Jesus really mean by that statement?

From what I have seen, many English-speaking people assume that the word “love” always has a connotation of good feelings for others. In other words, many people assume that love only refers to positive emotions about other people.

However, is that how the word love is used in Scripture? Or could it be that Scripture has some other meaning in mind, when it uses the word love?

Some uses of the word “love”

In order to try to answer this question, let’s take a look at some of the uses of the word “love” in Scripture.

Group 1

Luke 10:25-37 (ESV):

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”29But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’

36Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

In this parable, we can see that the Samaritan initially had compassion on the victim. Of course, compassion is certainly a positive emotion. However, the Samaritan did not just “leave it at that” – he followed it up with good actions. Also, notice Jesus’ exhortation at the end of the parable – he says, “You go and do likewise” – not “You go and feel likewise”.

So, it appears that in this passage, love only begins with positive feelings – love is primarily about actions.

Group 2

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV):

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

James 2:8,14-17 (ESV):

8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

The verses in this group also indicate that in Scripture, love primarily refers to actions, rather than feelings. The passage in 1 John initially tells us that we can know what love is, by the fact that Jesus laid down his life for us. Of course, that fact refers to Jesus’ actions, right? Also, John exhorts us to love with “actions and truth” – rather than with “words or tongue”. In other words, it seems that John is telling us to “walk the walk” – rather than to “talk the talk”…

The passage in James first refers to the fact that we need to love our neighbors as ourselves – as Jesus told us to. Then, a few verses later, James connects that command to actions. In addition, James makes the point that our actions are a reflection of our faith. In other words, if we have true faith in God, then that faith will demonstrate itself in our actions. To put it another way – If a person’s actions are not loving, then that indicates that the person does not have true, saving faith!

Group 3

Leviticus 19:18 (ESV):

18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Exodus 23:4-5 (NIV):

4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.

Luke 6:27-31 (ESV):

27“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

The first verse in this group shows us that the “love your neighbor as yourself” command was initially stated in the Old Testament. From my experience, most Christians are not aware of that fact – i.e., most Christians seem to think that Jesus just “made up” that command…

The passage in Exodus states that if a person’s enemy is in trouble, then he must assist his enemy. Of course, by definition, a person does not have good feelings for his enemy! As a result, this passage is definitely not talking about positive feelings at all! On the contrary – in this passage, God is telling us that we must perform good actions for other people – even if we do not have positive emotions about them!

In the passage in Luke, Jesus reaffirms the command that we must perform good actions for other people – even for our enemies! (Matthew 5:43-48 contains similar information.) Needless to say, this is a prime example of a command which is “easier said than done”. Nevertheless, if we truly acknowledge Jesus as our lord – i.e., as our “master”, or “boss” – then I think it is incumbent upon us to sincerely try to follow his commands.

Final thoughts

There is one final point that I would make in this post – I believe that if we do try to follow Jesus, then he will assist us in that endeavor! Take a look at these verses:

John 14:12-14 (ESV):

12“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Luke 12:11-12 (ESV):

11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

1 John 5:13-15 (ESV):

13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. 14And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

I would be interested to hear any thoughts that any of you have on the issue of “love” in Scripture!

11 Responses to “What does “love your neighbor” really mean?”

  1. on 15 Aug 2010 at 10:31 pmDoubting Thomas

    I agree completely that the love talked about in the bible requires more than just words or feelings. It requires us, as you said, “To walk the walk.”

    Deuteronomy 6:5 states, “You shall ‘LOVE’ the LORD your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your might.”

    Then again in Deuteronomy 10:12 it states, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to ‘LOVE’ him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?”

    I don’t understand why there is a question mark at the end of this last statement, but Moses clearly lays out the ‘ACTIONS’ required to demonstrate that you ‘LOVE’ God. Fear the LORD, walk in all his ways, serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, and keep his commandments and statutes.

    Then in Mathew 22:37-40 Jesus says, “…’You shall ‘LOVE’ the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first 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.’..”

    Since the Law and the Prophets spoke mainly about actions/behavior and all the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments to ‘LOVE’, It seems clear to me that Yeshua/Jesus is also emphasizing actions/behavior in these commandments about ‘LOVE’.

    At least that is how it appears to me…

  2. on 15 Aug 2010 at 11:24 pmrobert

    “I don’t understand why there is a question mark at the end of this last statement”

    Punctuation is added by translators, in this case we find this certain translator wants to put the seed of doubt in this verse because he thinks the commandments are against christianity.
    the whole bible has this type of corruption in all english translations. Comma’s being placed where they dont belong, capitalization and word order in sentences.
    Anytime you see punctuation beware it could change whole meaning of verse

  3. on 16 Aug 2010 at 12:25 amBrian Keating

    Hi DT,

    I think the reason why the question mark exists at the end of that (long) sentence, is because the sentence begins with a question. The sentence begins with, “what does the LORD your God require of you” – and that same sentence then ends with a question mark. (That sentence is so long, though, that it is easy to lose track of the initial question.)

    A similar question exists in Micah – with a much shorter sentence:

    Micah 6:8 (ESV):

    8He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the LORD require of you
    but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?


  4. on 16 Aug 2010 at 7:15 amrobert


    No formatting existed in the Original texts. Even though some modern Ministers insist that their Bible is Inerrant perfectly, regarding every punctuation mark, that is not true. Until at least 900 AD, no punctuation marks were included in the Scriptural texts. There were no Verse or Chapter numbers until centuries after that. Actually, prior to about 900 AD, the texts were written in Scriptua continua, where there were no spaces between words or sentences, no capitalization and no punctuation. It must have been extremely hard to read.

    “I think the reason why the question mark exists at the end of that (long) sentence, is because the sentence begins with a question. ”

    are you saying the question mark belongs where it was put. I think Thomas saw there was a question at the beginning which was answered after that but the translator chose out of unproper english to put the question mark after the answer instead of the question,

  5. on 16 Aug 2010 at 10:26 pmDoubting Thomas

    Thanks for pointing out that the long sentence I quoted began as a question…

    Thanks for explaining the formatting and how it has changed from the original texts. I was confused as to why it often happened that the first part of a sentence is considered one verse, and the second part of the sentence is considered to be a different verse. I also noticed how one chapter sometimes seems to continue on in the following chapter.

    It does make you wonder about the logic that they used in deciding where to put the verse and chapter numbers. I love learning about historical facts like that…

  6. on 17 Aug 2010 at 12:08 amDavid

    I believe this sort of love “love” is a both a verb and an adjective at the same time. That is that the action of “love” is predicated upon the feelings, yet cannot be disembodied from the feelings; ie: heartless actions/song and dance/”old-school” Phariseeism. I believe the same thing about “faith” as well. Love and Faith are both demonstrated or expressed through our actions, and these thoughts and actions arise from our feelings of faith or love. That is; one is faithful to one they love, if we are faithful to God whom we love, we express both faith and love by our obedience of our command to love one another.

    Our bodies are the living temples of God. (1 Cor 6:19/1 Cor 3:16/John 2:21/2 Cor 6:16/Gen 2:7) Thus any living body contains a spark of God, whether that spirit be generate or degenerate; that is weather the person is saved or unsaved, righteous or unrighteous. It only makes sense that to love God is to express this through our love of other people; that these two (loving God and loving people) are intricately interwoven and inseparable.

    This is a foundation upon my “universal/inclusive” beliefs, that it is more important to “keep” the commandments than to personally know Messiah. (Luke 6:46-49, Mat 7:15-19, Mat 21-23). This is because to “know” Messiah is to have his words/commands “in” you. (John 15:10/John 14:23/John 14:20). One who professes to “know” Jesus, yet has no love in him is no disciple (Get away from me for I do not “know” you), yet one who has never physically heard of Jesus but keeps his commandments is one who Jesus “knows”… It can be likened to the old language “to know a Man” to refer to the sexual union (oneness) that consummates a marriage between the groom and his betrothed. As the bride of Christ we should, metaphorically speaking, “know” our husband, that is to have him “in” us. One who Jesus knows is one who knows God and his Messiah Jesus.

    It is also the foundation against what I call “easter-bunny faith” (coined) Those that believe but do not do, who teach action but do not believe themselves. (Luke 6:46-49, Mat 7:15-19, Mat 21-23). This kind of faith or love is not faith or love at all, it’s dead. (James 2:26)


  7. on 17 Aug 2010 at 8:59 pmDoubting Thomas

    You said, “That is that the action of ‘Love’ is predicated upon feelings, yet cannot be disembodied from the feelings….I believe the same thing about ‘faith’ as well. Love and faith are both demonstrated or expressed through our actions, and these thoughts and actions arise from our feelings of faith or love.”

    I agree completely. At first I began to have faith in God, and then, later on, this faith (as it grew) materialized into actions. This drove me to search out God and what his purpose and will was for me in my life. I am still searching to this day. The more I learn, the more I realize that there is much more to learn. It is sort of a paradox in a way…

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  9. on 10 Oct 2011 at 2:41 pmLORRAINE

    DocResults, a good KJV bible will do it has been translated in over 2000 languages so it is clear that YHWH (I will be who I will be) The Creator, of the Heavens and Earth and the Waters made sure that everyone did get his words. Although, as in Micah 7:vs.5 you may have to discern with some things in the bible for it has been tampered with or misworded but the KJV still gives us much of the needed format to find YHWH The Lord and His Laws. Read Genesis through Malachi and you should be found of the Light.

    Yes, YHWH GOD does hate, those who hate Him and the wicked, and those who hates his Laws the Commandments and the Sabbath. He is also a jealous GOD so be careful not to anger him with praising false idols over him this he hates the most and turning away from the law. Dueteronomy, 28:vs.15 and Deuteronomy, 32:vs.16,17.

    The son of man is usually a chosen prophet or servant of YHWH GOD and can be any of the brethren of the son of man which are people who are of flesh and blood. As in Ezekiel the priest, in chapter 3:vs. 1 and 17 YHWH GOD addresses him as the Son of man. Praise YHWH and google YHWH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

  10. on 10 Oct 2011 at 9:20 pmSarah


    I googled “YHWH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” and see that they are a group based out of Chicago. Looks like they have a website, pamphlet, and videos devoted to their teachings. As far as I can tell, these teachings are some derivation of Judaism. Are you only on this blog because you hope to recruit people into your organization? Your posts usually turn the blog into a platform for promoting your group.

  11. on 11 Oct 2011 at 3:23 pmLORRAINE

    Sarah, how is it that you came to the understanding that this the teachings of the OT is Judaism? Judaism is idolatry and many religions today are, so could you explain this please? No, the teachings at YHWH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS are from the Old Testament or the Book of Remembrance see Malachi 3:vs. 16-18, only which are the books of Genesis through Malachi who was the last of YHWH GOD’s prophets to write for this book with the prophecy from YHWH GOD. No Sarah I am not trying to recruit people I am substantiating the truth for in Malachi 3:vs.6 YHWH GOD tells us that He does not change. People must choose for themselves. Therefore when any type of subject comes up in this blog I try to substantiate it with the truth from the scriptures found in the OT. For instance all through Isaiah 42, 43, and 44:vs.1-27 YHWH specifically tells us who the Savior is and who his elect servant will be in Isaiah chapter 52 especially from vs. 13-15 and chapter 53 to bring a righteousness and a covenant of the people for a light of the Gentiles and judgment. And if YHWH GOD does not change so that we will not be consumed by lies and deception I through YHWH GOD will tell His truth to all. Also, this is not a group nor a belief it is just what is said in the OT with a common sense of discernment. Praise YHWH He Who Creates. I Will Be Who I Will Be translated in the Book of Remembrance as I AM THAT I AM.


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