Love Thy Neighbor as Thy Self


Mark 12:28-34

“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 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.  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.  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:  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.  And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.”
‘And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well…’

Please indulge me as I speculate and seek symbolism in this selection of scripture.

It is likely that the scribe in this verse represents the learned, those who study and interpret scriptural law. Scribes were men that were specially trained in writing and influential as interpreters and teachers of the Law, they would also copy and recopy the Bible meticulously, even counting letters and spaces to ensure each copy was correct. The closest modern equivalent to a scribe would be a lawyer, but lawyers today are focused on the laws of man rather than on the scriptural, religious laws of God. 

The scribe's role was to interpret the laws of God and influence the creation of their interpretation of spiritual laws into the laws of man. Thus, in a fashion, scribes would have been considered Heavenly Father’s lawyers and interpreters in the time of Christ. It is important to understand that scribes often went beyond the interpretation of Scripture and often mingled man-made traditions into what the scriptures offered. Often the regulations and traditions the scribes added to the Law became more important that the law itself and thus the spirit of the law was often lost. An example of Jesus pointing to this face can be found in Matthew 5:1-3:

 “Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread, But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?.”

Also worthy of note, is that scribes were often Pharisees and agents of the rulers and held deep influence over the thoughts and rulings of the Pharisees. They provided spiritual influence and exerted political motivations and were thus a significant force behind the creation and execution of the laws of their day.

The Gospels often portray scribes (along with the other ruling classes and political parties of the day) as opponents of Jesus who actively sought his death and frequently laid traps, hoping to force the Lord into saying or doing something that would give them reason to have Rome take his life. 

This passage of scripture from Mark 12 sets the stage for a very important conversation. Taking license and wording the first few passages in an interpretative way I would state: 

‘A powerful political person that devotes his life to studying and interpreting scriptural law and influencing the laws of man and who also sought to condemn Jesus, stood paying listening to and was attracted to Jesus and his followers as he listened to their preaching.  To test our Savior’s knowledge and thereby trap him, he asked a critical question, one that could easily be the foundation of many further lines of inquiry. A question whose answer had the potential to immediately condemn Jesus. A question that was within his own expertise (a question he possibly assumed he, a scribe, would know the answer to better than Jesus); “Which is the first commandment of all?”

Jesus responds simply and directly using an obvious reference to the extremely important scripture found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”) This is thus the foundation of his comment:

The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 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.
The significance of this reference to Deuteronomy 6 cannot be understated.  This portion of scripture from Deuteronomy chapter 6 (verses 4 and 5 specifically) are and were considered the choicest portions of scriptures to all sects of the Jews.  Deuteronomy further  instructs the readers (verses 7-9) to

“… you shall teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.  And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”

These scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) are still to this day written on small scrolls and placed in the Tefillin (small black boxes containing scriptures worn by male observant Jews during weekday morning prayers called Shema Yisrael).

These verses from Deuteronomy are also written and affixed to the door frame of Jewish homes (called a Mezuzah). Some Jewish scholars  interpret Jewish law to require a Mezuzah on every doorway in the home.

Thus is the significance of the reference Christ has made when answering the scribe. In his answer Jesus has affirmed the greatest of all laws.

In true New Testament fashion, showing he is come to fulfill and increase current understanding, Jesus expands this foundation of the Jewish faith, stating: “And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these”

“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:  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”. 
His full reply has not only satisfied the Scribe but has motivated him to call him “master” and further state that this answer and truth is: “… is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

The Scribe has affirmed our Savior’s reply, but even more he has alluded (knowing or unknowingly) to the Lamb of God, who is the completion, the fulfillment and most perfect of all sacrifices. It is love, love of God and neighbor, which ends burnt offerings and sacrifice once and for all. Our Savior is Love itself and the scribe has not only been placated but obtained a glimpse of the atonement.

Of equal significance to all that has transpired is the seemingly minor complement from Jesus to the Scribe, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God”.

And I now ask, where is this Kingdom of God?

Luke 17:20-21 

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Jesus has stated that this Scribe is close to the Kingdom of God.

And now we have arrived at our conversation: Love Thy Neighbor as Thy Self, and we shall find within this topic the key that unlocks the door unto the Kingdom of God.

How do we define ourselves? Take a moment and think how you would answer the question should you be asked by a stranger, who are you?  

If you are like most, you would begin your answer with simple and broad statements including your employment, your family structure, your personal likes and dislikes.
Most of your answer would be comprised of superficial facts including many of your behaviors and practices. But really, who are you? 

We know from the Gospel that we are children of a Heavenly father loves us. But why does He love us? Must He love us simply because He is God? Of course not, he loves us because he knows us. He knows us beyond any description we can provide of ourselves, He knows us beyond our own understanding.

Our perspective of ‘self’ is so limited and bias, slanted towards negative judgments and misunderstandings of who we truly are, for if the Kingdom of God is within us, we must be something far greater than anything we can define.

Most of us, as ‘our self’ is often self defined, have a very limited and at least slightly negative and almost always myopic internalized view and opinion of who we really are. A definition we almost never share and often seek to hide, not only from others but more deceptively, from ourselves.

Most frequently actions and behaviors are used to define our 'self' both to ourselves and to others. “He is a surfer”, “She is a woman of easy virtue”, "He is smart", "She is a teacher",“They are thieves”, “He is always doing things to get attention”, “She is a drug addict” etc... 

Are you what you do? Can you really be accurately defined by your actions and behaviors? Well, partially, but not even close to accurately and no where near definitively!

Some aspects of your moral character (internal principles you live by concerning the distinction you have made between right and wrong or good and bad that direct your behavior) can be surmised by your actions, but who you are goes much deeper than your moral character, your actions or your behaviors!

Behold, the door to the Kingdom of God is now within our view!

Why do you do what you do?

I propose that there are very few motivators that dictate almost all of our actions in life, actions that go beyond the meeting of basic needs i.e., food, shelter, clothing. Think of some of your recent actions. Why did you do what you have done?

In my personal experience and in working with others, I have come to the conclusion that there are very few motivators in life beyond the survival motivations of finding food and shelter. These motivators are as basic as is the need to feel safe, and these motivators are all centered around the need to experience love, to offer our love for others and to feel love from them in return. The vast majority of all of our actions can be traced back to these two motivators - all centered around love.

We work to obtain money to pay bills, to provide shelter, clothing, but often once these are obtained we work for other reasons that begin to go beyond meeting our basic physical needs. We begin to seek to purchase things that will make us happy, to fill a need that truly can only be filled by love.

“I love this dress!” do you, really? Or are you seeking love through this dress? 
More accurately stated: “This is beautiful, it will make me look good, people will like me in this dress, and I will be loved.”

“This picture I just took is amazing, it is beautiful, people will like this, they will think I see beauty, that I live in a great place, that I am doing something fun have a good life, and take good pictures, go good places, they will love me, or at least want to be like me and make me feel special,… loved, …I will better than I feel now because I have been admired, a little love is better than no love…”

And thus we can start to see. Heavenly Father loves us because He accurately sees us, He knows who we really are and why we do what we do. More often than not, we do what we do for love.

So now, where is our conversation; Love Thy Neighbor as Thy Self?

I have so often heard it said you must love yourself to love others. The truth in this statement has eluded most who have uttered it.

To love yourself you must know yourself, and not simply know and define yourself based on your behaviors.

“I shop too much, I am a shallow person addicted to shopping”, “I drink too much, I am a hopeless alcoholic”, “I am lustful and bad”. Statements like this are not only shallow misrepresentations of self, but are self-perpetuating pronouncements that often doom us to repeat the same unproductive behaviors and eventually are used to define ourselves - to at least ourselves. We become what we think we are in our own mind based on what we do, rather than why we do it. Which in truth, is a deceptive lie and misrepresentation of self. 

I shop because I feel emptiness, something is missing from my life, I desire to feel filled, I need to be loved.

I drink because I am in pain, I desire to feel better and be loved.

I am lustful because I am lonely, I need to be loved.

Often, should love not be the primary motivation, the motivation is in seeking relief, or comfort from pain, but the need to interact with love remains and will become primary once again when the primary pain is relieved.

Luke 18:16-17 

“…Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”

Do you condemn a child when they do something they do not understand? They seek to get a need met in an unproductive way because they know no better. A child takes a toy from another child, you must teach them to share, but do you condemn them for not wanting to have something that provides them comfort removed?  They push their little brother out of your lap, because they are scared that all your love will be to their little brother and they will get none. Do you condemn them and deny them your love? No, you teach them to share, understanding that they simply want love and you love them all the more for having ‘seen’ them and their loving desire for who and what they are.

Are you starting to see?

Do you condemn yourself for wanting to be loved simply because you sometimes do not understand how to be loved and seek easy, quick and fruitless behaviors and actions that you somehow within your subconscious hope will succeed in helping you to be loved and love?

We are all children…

Heavenly father loves us because he knows us. When we get to know ourselves - our motivations - how can we not love us, for we are truly, all our lives, seeking love! 

We are children that got big, we simply do not always know how to be productive our efforts to find love. Is seeking love worthy of condemnation? of course not. We must know why we do what we do to begin to know who we are.

When we honestly see ourselves, we cannot help but love ourselves.

As we see ourselves, our motivations, we begin to understand the motivations and subsequent actions of others. We then find empathy and we cannot help but love others as we have come to love ourselves.

Thus: Love Thy Neighbor as Thy Self.

But to do so we must know ourselves we can then begin to obtain a glimpse into how Heavenly Father sees us and why He loves us.

We must see ourselves as we are, not as we do. Once we can begin to do this, we will naturally only have the option to love our self and then we have the hope and capacity to love others.

The weight of this truth; To love others we must love ourselves, to love ourselves we must know ourselves - cannot be overstated.

The most important scriptures, containing the greatest commandment as affirmed by the legal experts, even those opposed to Christ, has been referenced by our Savior in this short passage for a purpose.  The purpose is to emphasize that in all aspects, in all dimensions and in all-ways – the truth is, To love others we must love ourselves.

Once we know ourselves we can love ourselves - but even more than that we can recognize ourselves in others. Once we see beyond the behaviors we engage in and see the loving motivation underneath them we can then see the same in others.

When we know ourselves, we can see ourselves in others and we can love our neighbor as our-self.

This is the beginning of seeing ourselves and others as Heavenly Father sees us.

Matthew 22:36-40  

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 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. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


Stephan 1/6/17



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