Christians unanimously believe this to be a summary of the Ten Commandments: loving God and loving your neighbor (see also Heidelberg Catechism 93). At the core, all Ten Commandments relate to the summary thereof: loving God and loving your neighbor. These two aspects are so intertwined that the first is the precondition for the second. Whoever claims to truly love God, should also love their neighbor (cf. 1 John 4:7–11).
The command to love our neighbor, therefore, is not undefined. It isn’t detached from the contents of the Ten Commandments. On the contrary, the command to love one’s neighbor is defined and guided by the Ten Commandments. Within these commandments, the “how” of neighborly love is clearly explained. The instant we grasp this truth, any uncertainty about “who” my neighbor is, also disappears.
Love and Neighbor Defined
The Ten Commandments define the love we owe our neighbor as follows:
- Neighborly love doesn’t withhold the truth about the one, true God from others, but rather testifies unashamedly.
- Neighborly love doesn’t present false images of God to others.
- Neighborly love uses God’s name with reverence in the presence of others so they too can be struck by awe for His holiness.
- Neighborly love prevents me from being a stumbling block for others toward observance of the Lord’s Day.
- Neighborly love honors the authority God has placed in my neighbor.
- Neighborly love protects and respects the lives of others.
- Neighborly love doesn’t betray marital love; neither does it infringe on the relationships of others.
- Neighborly love steals from no one and protects the property of all.
- Neighborly love is truthful to all, without partiality.
- Neighborly love withholds egocentric desires that are harmful to others.
Whenever I do these things to anyone, I am displaying neighborly love. As in mathematics, the reverse of an equation should also be true. Anyone to whom I then display this love, as commanded by God, is considered to be my neighbor. By this, the Ten Commandments then define “who” my neighbor is. According to this definition, it even becomes possible to love our enemies (cf. Luke 6:27).
With this biblical definition of “neighbor,” all other definitions most surely fail the biblical litmus test, as they all limit neighborly love to certain groups or certain people.
Natural Affinity Lifted?
What, then, about our inborn kinship? This biblical definition doesn’t deny or ignore our God-given natural affinity as God created us within natural societal institutions such as family, people, and ethnic groups. Within these societal institutions, the definition of the “who” of neighborly love is primarily fulfilled. However, this definition is not limited to these institutions, nor to our natural inclinations. As a family, we live among other families, and as a people or ethnic group, we live among other peoples and ethnic groups. Although it is true that some neighbors are closer than others (cf. Gal. 6:10), it doesn’t deem those who are further away to be less of a neighbor. Our obligation to be obedient to the Ten Commandments also applies to those who are further away.