When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he was not saying that before you can love others, you must first love yourself.
Rather, Jesus was saying, “You already love yourself; therefore, love your neighbor.” He went on to say if we do this, in addition to loving the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind, then all the commandments of God will be fulfilled.
So how do we love our neighbors, especially in a time like this? Here are five ways:
1. Truly care for your neighbor
Putting the needs of others before our own does not come naturally to most of us. But as Christians, we need to realize we are part of the body of Christ and, as such, we should consider what other people are experiencing. We should practice empathy.
If we desire to be used by God to reach people, then we have to care. If we are unwilling to go into the trenches with broken people — and we are all broken — then we are never going to reach them.
I have seen some believers unload both barrels, so to speak, on non-Christians. They are experts in apologetics. They have memorized tons of verses. They blow people out of the water and walk away proud of themselves. I experienced this myself before I came to faith in Jesus. While many of those people were well-meaning, their words and actions weren’t what ultimately led me to hope.
Jesus shows us instead how to enter a person’s world. I might see somebody that is hurting and say, “Look at that person. They are hurting. They are homeless. They look like they could use a meal. I am concerned for them” and then walk away. But compassion is concern plus action: “Look at that person in need. I’m going to go and do something to help them.” Jesus felt this compassion.
Sometimes I think the problem with Christians is that we see nonbelievers as our enemies. Maybe they are expressing themselves in a godless way in the language they use or the way they dress or the decisions they make, and we think, “They are not like us. They are not on our side.” In doing so, we miss the point. They are not the enemy. The enemy is Satan (see 2 Timothy 2:26). We need to remind ourselves it was not all that long ago that we too were one of “those people.”
Do we care enough to reach out to them, to love them as we love ourselves? Jesus did.
2. Be real with your neighbor
Sometimes we don’t love our neighbors as we should because we want to avoid being around their unlovable behavior — just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. And while it’s one thing to guard against the influence of sin in our lives, that doesn’t mean we remove ourselves completely from interaction with nonbelievers. Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, “You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.” (NLT).
We should not be shocked if we are at the gym, the store or the gas station, and while having a conversation with someone, they use profanity. We can’t expect them to exhibit the behavior of a follower of Jesus.
Part of “being real” is having realistic expectations of our neighbors. They are going to be unlovable — as we all are at one time or another. They are going to be flaky in their relationships and commitments. They are going to rub us the wrong way and do things we don’t agree with. But we are to love them as Christ loves them.
3. Invest time in your neighbor
John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can by all the means you can and all the ways you can in all the places you can at all the times you can to all the people you can as long as you can.” Well said. Let’s invest our time in loving our neighbors.
No life is ever wasted when it is invested in loving people like Jesus did. No life is ever wasted when it is lived for the glory of God. Life is wasted when it is lived for selfish ambition.
Our job is to be faithful to what he has shown us in Scripture and leave the results in the hands of God. When we stand before the Lord one day, it isn’t going to be about the quantity of our works; it is going to be about why and if we were faithful to do what the Lord set before us to do.
4. Pray for your neighbor
Research has shown us people check their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts several times a day. What if we prayed as often as we check our social media accounts, email and text messages?
The primary objective of prayer is to align my will with the will of God. You say, “How do I know the will of God?” It’s in the Bible. In Ezekiel 22:30, God says, “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one” (NIV).
God is looking for people who care enough to pray. People who would pray for our nation. People who would pray for their community. And people who would pray for their neighbors.
5. Share the Gospel with your neighbor
Christians and non-Christians have one thing in common: both are very uptight about evangelism. Christians are uptight about evangelizing, and non-Christians are uptight about being evangelized.
When we ask someone if anyone has ever told them about Jesus and they say they’ve already heard it all, or if we invite someone to church and they say no, we give up too easily. Instead, we should try asking, “Well, why do you say that? What has your experience with Christianity been like?”
The Great Commission Jesus gave his followers was to go into the world and preach the Gospel (see Mark 16:15). Our job is proclamation. God’s job is conversion. Our job is sowing the seed. His job is reaping where it has been sown.
Opportunities are everywhere, and we often miss them because we’re not looking for them.
God has primarily chosen to reach people through people. So, this Valentine’s Day, engage them — you’ll discover there is joy to be found in loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and of Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, best-selling author and movie producer. His new book World Changers: How God Uses Ordinary People to Do Extraordinary Things (Baker Books), releases Sept. 1.