What part of “love your neighbor” don’t we humans understand?

Love seems to me to be one of the most overused and misunderstood of all the words in the English language. Saying “I love you” is a turning point in relationships. Saying “I love you” to your child provides security and comfort. “I love you, man” designates a deep friendship. “I love chocolate”… well, the word love has a different meaning here than the others for sure!

The Greatest Commandment

When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus responded:

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? But then, some of us don’t love ourselves so much.

Jesus goes on to say:

27 But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.Luke 6:27-30

and tops it off with:

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

Love our enemies? Hummmm… well, it IS easier to love chocolate, isn’t it.

Jesus is asking a lot of us here. And, perhaps, we’re not quite sure what it means.

I’m trying to make sense of this for myself. Intellectually, it’s not so hard. Practically, well, that’s a different story.

One of the difficulties is the wide range of meanings we attach to the word love. Like the Inuit have many words for “snow”, other languages do the same for love. C. S. Lewis gives a lot of help in his book “The Four Loves”. He uses Greek: Storge, Philia, Eros and Agape to describe different types of love.

This is my brief take (summary) of these four types of love.


Storge most closely relates to the love we have for our family, especially our children, grandchildren, parents and, perhaps, siblings. It is a fondness and commitment to others that transcends most factors that might cause us to move away from other people. Storge can, in some circumstances, include others where we have a very strong, loving relationship with another when there are no other common interests. Storge can be one of the real delights in our lives, as the love of a child. It can also be a real challenge, like when we can genuinely say of a relative “I love you, but I really don’t like you much”. “Tough love” most often falls under the category of storge as well.

Jesus expressed His storge when He said:

15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:15-16

And John says of Jesus:

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12

“Brotherly love” could be a fair description here. Philia is the very strong and lasting bond that forms between people who share a common interest or experience centered on that common factor. “A Band of Brothers” of those who have served in war together, the bonds established in a fraternity or sorority, real BFF’s (best friends forever), members of a firehouse. The bonds of philia can be extremely strong and long lasting.

Jesus shows this love when He says to the Twelve:

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his masters business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15

And shows His philia

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down ones life for one’s friends. John 15:13


OK, we know this one. Cupid shooting arrows and all that.

Christian eros means something different and so much more. God created man and woman, then commanded that they leave their parents to join together as one, one of the flesh and one of the spirit. Christian eros is that very, very special relationship that are shared by a man and a woman in the holy institution of marriage. It is how two become one. It is “being in love” within this institution (or leading up to it). It is a bond that grows and grows over time when it is right. It includes that special sexual bond that can exist within marriage, but it is so much more.

Christian eros is not to be confused with “being in lust”. We do see that so much in our society, in everything for one night flings to throw-away marriages and empty marriages. Christian eros does not lead to marriage of convenience or to gain stature or wealth. Christian eros leads to a wonderful, ever growing of the bond between a man and a woman where they can share all things (at least in its perfect form). There caqn be a great deal of inclusion of storge in a marriage as well, but Christian Eros applies to that unique and wonderful relationship that exists between a man and a woman.


Agape is quite different from the other three forms of love. Agape is not dependent on any loveable qualities. It a specific Christian kind of love. It is a love for those who have NO loveable qualities.

This one can be really tough. How can we love the unlovable? The leper, the thief, the rapist, the murderer… how can we “love” such as these. I readily admit, I have a lot of trouble in my Christian journey here.

This is my interpretation of this, and it still needs a lot of work. But I think agape rests on two key elements, charity and forgiveness.

Jesus, His disciples and Paul sure give lots of examples of charitable love. So many, I need not reference them here. And we can do this through the gifts of our resources, time and talents via thousands of ministries to those in need. And don’t forget these needs may be spiritual as well as financial or medical. The tough part here is when we have to actually interact, have contact with the unlovable. John Wesley practiced this type of agape when he went into the prisons and brought help to prostitutes. What are you doing for the unlovable? What can you do?

OK, now the really tough one, forgiveness. A part of forgiveness is for us to give up our judgment of those who have caused harm or injury. Again, intellectually, we know this is God’s job, not ours. But practically?

This can involve a full range of things ranging for a small slight to real biggies. I’ve grown in my faith so that the small stuff is not even noticed and I can rather easily move past some pretty big things. Horrendous sins committed against those who are not close to me I can turn over to God for eternal judgment. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I believe in our justice system (flawed as it is). We cannot have tyranny or lawlessness. Civilized societies must have a means of being, well, civilized. Paul speaks of following civil authority, including punishments when we break the rules. But he separates this from obedience to God, following Jesus.

This gets so much tougher when the major offense hits closer to home. Could I forgive anyone who caused serious injury to one of my granddaughters? I honestly don’t know. I’ve never had to face that or anything near it. I suspect I still have a ways to walk on the Path before I could do that, and then only after chatting for a long time with God.

But I’m working on it. Each day, the Holy Spirit nudges me further on this path.

I pray through the power of Jesus that on this path I will turn neither to the right or to the left, but follow a path of obedience to God’s will.

Alive in the Word

About aliveintheword

Missouri, USA Married to Marty, 45 years 2 sons (with 2 daughers-in-law) and 2 granddaughters Life dedicated to serving Jesus Christ and delivering the Good News
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1 Response to What part of “love your neighbor” don’t we humans understand?

  1. ptl2010 says:

    Wide wide as the ocean, deep as deep as the sea
    High as high as the heavens above is my Saviour’s love.

    So goes the Sunday School chorus we used to sing.
    Only God’s love knows no boundaries.
    And if we have experienced His love we are apt to want to follow Him.
    However, we can only be perfected with the gift of the Holy Spirit which includes love.
    We can’t do it by ourselves. Only with His help. Praise the Lord, He promised never to leave us, even in helping us love the unlovely which may include ourselves. May we yield to the Holy Spirit more and more in our daily living that all men may know that we are His disciples.

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