You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but this commandment is really hard to keep. I mean really, really hard. Especially with people I don’t particularly like.
Now, it is entirely possible to love someone without liking them. Just think about family members you find particularly obnoxious. But you still love them, don’t you? (Don’t answer that.)
I always find, when studying scriptures, especially commandments, that it’s helpful to have some context. Besides, I might find some loophole that means I don’t actually have to love everyone! (Kidding.)
Jesus was teaching the people when one of the Pharisees asked him, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36, KJV). Matthew tells us that this Pharisee was trying to “tempt” Jesus, meaning, I suppose, to trick Him into saying something he’d regret later. And this guy was a lawyer, too. Figures.
Jesus replied: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38).
That sounds pretty straightforward, and very similar to the the first commandment given through Moses, that “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). It also sounds like what a true Christian, having faith in God, would want to do. Of course we want to love God.
The next commandment gets harder. Jesus said “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:29).
Nope, there doesn’t appear to be any getting out of it.
Jesus ends with “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (verse 30). That makes sense. If you love God and you love everyone else, you won’t do things like steal, cheat, and murder. If we follow the first two commandments, it isn’t actually necessary to explicitly prohibit those other things.
This holds us to a higher standard of behavior, of treating others with compassion, the way Christ did. It’s the proverbial “golden rule.” But we should be kind to others not just because we are supposed to, but because we love them.
Take the example of marriage. On the t.v. show MASH, the married character BJ was tempted to have an affair. His reason to not have an affair was “I love my wife.” His reason wasn’t because he was married, it was because he loved her. Because he loved her didn’t want to hurt her.
But to actually love others as you love yourself? How can I feel that way about a complete stranger? I try to do this by “putting myself in their shoes.”
For example, when I’m in the checkout line or at a restaurant, I try really hard to be nice, or at least polite, to the people working there. In my first job, I often had to deal with difficult customers while balancing the many demands on my time. Remembering my own experience helps me be kind to others.
Service is a great way to love others. Even if I don’t love someone initially or even know them very well, when I begin to perform acts of service, I grow to love them. I grow to love my students when I take the time to listen to them, understand their needs, and try to help them learn and grow.
How about loving people I actually dislike? Jesus taught “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Even if they say mean nasty things about me, try not to reciprocate. Serve them, when possible. And, if all else fails, pray for them.
Christianity isn’t just a set of rules to follow. It’s actually meant to turn us into better people. And that means loving others.