[This is a chapter from a new book coming soon: True Christian Leadership]
Recently a friend from my past came into my life again. We had been in a ministry together many years ago. So we began to talk about old places, old times, old songs, people, and more. He reminded me of a song which a music group sang and in the chorus it said: “God first, others second, and myself third.” I remembered that song, but for the very first time that chorus did not sound right. I said to him some of what this article is about.
There were certain verses that popped into my mind when he repeated that chorus, and I shared them with him, as I will now share with you. Take a look at the following verse:
Leviticus 19:18 (KJV)
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.1
In Leviticus, the Israelites were instructed to love their neighbor as themselves. This is a Simile, a very common figure of speech. When you have a sentence using “like” or “as” making a comparison between people, places, things, or ideas; showing the similarities, it is a “Simile.” So, what do we get from this “Simile”? They were to “love their neighbor “as” or “like” themselves! Okay then, they were not to love their neighbors more than themselves! Hey, guess what else? They were not to love themselves more than their neighbors! They had to love their neighbors “as” or “like” they loved themselves! That is what the Simile is telling us. To understand it, it can read this way: Love your neighbor as you love yourself, not more, and not less, but as or like you love yourself, love your neighbor. Get it? That was under the Levitical Law. Let us look further at what Jesus said in the Gospels:
Matthew 19:19 (KJV)
Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love [agapao this is the verb form of agape2] thy neighbour as thyself.
Matthew 22:37–39 (KJV)
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
In both of these verses in Matthew, Jesus says: “love your neighbor as yourself.” I will not explain the Simile again, but must point out that in Matthew 22:39 it is used again making a comparison of “love” in verse 37 with the love in verse 39. Let us look at that closer! In verse 37, it says to love God. In what way? With all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind! Then verse 39 reads: “the second [commandment] is ‘like’ unto it.” That word “like” makes this statement a Simile as well! In the Greek text, Nestle-Aland 27th Edition, “like” is the Greek word ὅμοιος transliterated into the English homoios meaning: of the same nature, like, similar with the person or thing compared in the dative case. “Like” is the proper translation! In other words, the love in the first part is “like” [of the same nature] the love in the second part. It is, in essence, saying, “Just like you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, love your neighbor that way and yourself too.” I would really hope you are seeing the Bible come alive as it is for me. God and Jesus gave us these wonderful words to see and learn from. Remember, when you see “like” or “as” used in a comparison it is a Simile. We will see that Jesus said this in other Gospels.
Mark 12:29–33 (KJV)
29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. 32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: 33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
This is a different record than the one in Matthew. Jesus is dealing with a different group of people in this Gospel. Mark adds to loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, the word “strength.” Also, it is the same figure, a Simile. Therefore, we need to love our neighbor with all our strength as well as God. Remember the end of verse 31 above: “…There is none other commandment greater than these.” If this stands true for us, we had best remember it! In the Gospel of Luke cited below, it says in earlier verses, a lawyer or expert in the Law quoted Leviticus 19:18, depending which version you are reading.
Luke 10:27 (KJV)
And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
This expert used heart, soul, strength, and mind. Not the same order as Mark but the same way to love. Here the emphasis is on God, but the figure Simile is used to love your neighbor as yourself. This time it is said without the emphasis of the different ways to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Here he was just saying to love your neighbor the same way you love yourself. I love this subject! Okay I can hear you saying, “But Bob, this was written to Israel and the Jews?” Yes, that is very true, but let us look at Romans which is a doctrinal Christian epistle, written to us.
Romans 13:9 (KJV)
For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill [Greekφονεύω (phoneuo) which should read: murder], Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Even us Christians are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This comes at the end of a list where the Lord is saying no adultery, no murdering, no stealing, no being a false witness, and not to covet, if there is any other commandment, love your neighbor as yourself. These are commandments of do not do this, but do that one thing of loving others as you love yourself! There are more verses to study, which are written to Christian’s.
Galatians 5:14 (KJV)
For all the law is fulfilled in one word [λόγος (logos) Meaning: a word (as embodying an idea), a statement, a speech], even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Here in Galatians, we Christians are told the same thing as in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels, namely, “love your neighbor ‘as’ yourself.” We have seen this called a commandment throughout Scriptures but wait till you see what it is called next. Let us look at another verse.
James 2:8 (KJV)
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
Let us rephrase this verse: If you fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, you do well! And what royal law is it that we do well with? We should love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
I see nothing in the Christian Scriptures that tells us we are to not love Yahweh, our God, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength so I would say that still stands. We have seen in Romans, Galatians, and James that loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is still true. I believe since there is nothing about it in the Christian Scriptures, we should carry on as Matthew puts it, to love ourselves and our neighbors with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength just like we love God. Also, there is nothing in any of these Scriptures about loving things. I have family and friends who love things more than people and that is wrong. So, there is no question, we are to love God! There should be no question about loving our neighbors as we are to love ourselves either!
All this brings us to a question! How can anyone love his neighbor as himself if he elevates the other person above himself? Or, how can a person love himself more than his neighbor? I have done both, and as I work God’s Word I now know I have been wrong. Many churches elevate their Pastor So-And-So higher than anyone else in the congregation. People elevate the Pope, as the Vicar of Christ, above literally everyone else. And, there is Doctor So-and-So or Reverend So-And-So all of whom are elevated above everyone else. We believe that to love your neighbor as yourself makes it wrong to love anyone more or even less than you love yourself. Our walk with Jesus Christ has room for one Head, and he is it. Our work with others is different but equal. Christ’s Body, just like our physical body, has many parts, all with different functions, but no part is more important than any other. We need each part in his or her own way. Throughout the Christian Scriptures, especially Romans through Thessalonians, we see many references to the Lord’s Church [us], his Body, being compared to the physical body. This verse shows every part is needed.
1 Corinthians 12:17 (KJV)
If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
The point here is this, we are to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and we are to love our neighbors that same way and ourselves the same way too! Understanding that leaves no room to love any man more than we love ourselves. Yes, Jesus is the Head of us, his Body, and the Bible shows he paid the price he did not owe for our sins, and the Word tells us to love him. We will get into that in another article, but, for now, elevating any man [except Jesus Christ], above any other, does not fit with Scripture. Therefore, we all have some changing to do. We need to right a wrong that has gone on for way too long.