Why Jesus DOESN’T Want You to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

You might be shocked at this powerful view on a familiar verse.

love your neighbor as yourself

Does Jesus really want you to love your neighbor as yourself? I can’t take any credit at all for the big idea that I want to share in this short post. In fact, I am shocked that I have lived with the Bible for so many years and had never really seen this as clearly as I was helped to see it (by the teaching pastor, and by the Holy Spirit) this past Sunday.

We had the joy of visiting a church this past Sunday here in Virginia Beach with some friends with whom we were once on staff at a Church in California. The teaching pastor’s sermon was entitled – “A New Commandment” – and it was from John 13:34-35. It reads:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

I have read that text hundreds of times. No kidding! I have heard it quoted more times than I can count in almost 30 years of being a follower of Jesus, and until this past Sunday, I had never really thought about what the text is saying. That, by the way, is one of the reasons I love the Bible. No matter how many times you read it, you can always learn something new. That was so true for me with respect to this text! I always heard it as Jesus’ call to love one another. But what about all that “new commandment” language?

The call to “love one another” is not a new commandment at all. It’s an old commandment, and it is the second commandment. In fact, in Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus says that the second commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself,” along with the first and great commandment to love God with our entire being is the center of the whole law of Moses.

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But here in John’s gospel, Jesus says he is giving a new commandment about love for neighbor. And, as I learned this weekend, it is not “love your neighbor as yourself.”  According to Jesus it is a “new commandment.”

There are basically two ways that we could say “new” in Greek. We could say “neos” which is the word for something new in the sense that it was not there before, but now it is.  Or we could say “kainos” which is the word for something even better than what was already there before. It’s the second word, kainos,that Jesus uses in John 13. It is a commandment that is even better than the original commandment about loving others.

Love your neighbor as yourself

In the original commandment, love for neighbor was measured by the standard of how well I love myself.

As an aside, I am personally convinced that this is a statement suggesting that I actually already love myself quite a lot. And if I can direct that same intensity of love toward others, I will — as this commandment has it — be loving my neighbor as God intends. In this construct of the commandment, my love for myself is the measure of how I am to love others.

But in Jesus’ “new commandment,” the measure of love for others is reoriented to Jesus and his love for his disciples. He says to them, “Love one another just as I have loved you.”  Here, John uses the word kathos where the text says “just as.”  And Jesus is not saying — “Since I love you, you should love your neighbor.” That’s not what kathos means. Nope. It means “in the same manner, with the same quality, and in the same way that I love you, love one another.” This is not about “paying it forward.”  This is about doing love for others in the same manner that Jesus does love for others.  This is about self-giving love that does not stop until the self-giving love equals the same quality and quantity of self-giving love shown by Jesus himself.  In this equation, my love for myself is no longer the standard of love for others. Instead, Jesus’ love for us is the new measure of love.

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This is liberating on at least two levels.

  1. For the person who really loves him/herself a lot.
  2. For the person who claims not to love him/herself much, or at all.

In either case, we can rejoice that our relative level of love for self is no longer the measure, the example, the quality, or the degree to which we are to love others. Instead, we are to look to Jesus and let him be the standard by which we evaluate love for others.

So — according to Jesus, there is  ??t????  ?a???? (“entolain kainain” — a new commandment). There is a commandment that has echoes of the original, but which is much better! It’s better because the standard for love of others is no longer how much, or the manner in which I love myself. The new measure of love for others is Jesus.

In short, Jesus does not want me to love my neighbor as myself.

He wants me to love others in the same way that he loves me.

I have a lot to learn about this. I’ll have to keep following Jesus because I simply can’t do it without him. But I want to learn to do it from him.

How about you?

This reminds me of this beautiful video of how we can give a little love to our neighbors. Enjoy!

Kenny Burchard
Kenny Burchard, his wife, MaryJo, (married 1992), and their son, Victor, live in Virginia Beach, VA, where he works with Operation Smile. He is an ordained Foursquare pastor and has served as a worship leader, church planter, lead pastor and Bible teacher since 1994. He has a B.A. in Organizational Leadership and an M.A. in New Testament and is a regular blogger at Think Theology. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
  • fatcityblue

    Word…for a long time, I’ve been working the wrong end of the stick when someone says that the scripture means I have to first love myself. A bunch. (Like you, I’ve found most of us don’t have nearly enough trouble doing that). Your explanation obviates the need for that conversation. Thanx.

  • David Song

    With what you just said regarding a “new” commandment from John,

    What do you do with the first commandment/part of the commandment (not just the second, “love your neighbour as yourself”)?
    This “new” commandment from John is even better than loving God?

    • Gary Mac

      I cant answer for him but I would think that when John Says New Commandment, the focus is on how we love each other. Because its already been established how we should love God. So whats “New” or “whats better than before” is the standard of how we love each other.

  • Gary Mac

    Wow Very Powerful

  • Chad

    Neighbor is “plesion.” You remark “Jesus says he is giving a new commandment about love for neighbor” and tell us he does not want us to love our neighbor as ourself. Are you sure you’re not wasting our time, and not “making Christ’s words of no effect?”

    [kathos: Strongs G2531 in the following manner: as (138x), even as (36x), according as (4x), when (1x), according to (1x), how (1x), as well as (with G2532) (1x). http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2531&t=KJV

    kainos: Strongs G2537 in the following manner: new (44x). (…new as respects form, recently made, fresh, recent, unused, unworn, as respects substance, of a new kind, unprecedented, novel, uncommon, unheard of http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2537&t=KJV%5D

  • Leyton Troy Dohnahue

    This feels like an article describing your experience and revelation and not necessarily that of the Holy Spirit. I say this because what your arguing is that we go against the second commandment to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’ yet Jesus himself emphasised that this is the second of the two greatest commandments given to us which is the foundation of all the law and the Prophets. Then he adds a third commandment to these two commandments and does not take them away or discredit them. Jesus was never out to go against his Fathers will he came to complete it and he is the fulfillment and completion of all of the Old Testament laws not just a pick and mix.

  • Buck

    Ok…..so this is the way I see the passage. Im a contractor and sometimes my backyard looks like a mess. Well ok, most of the time. It’s an ongoing mess getting cleaned up, and mess coming back type of thing as I rush between jobs. People in my neighborhood dont look @ me and always think I have it together.
    As a church, we dont necessarily need to have everything together, but we need to love “one another.” This message was to the disciples. It says nothing about neighbors. This new commandment is to love, cherish, and take care of peoe in the body. And when the world sees our live for one another it will expose a thirst and higher in themselves. And since im on a thread where we dont practice this, I will also say that im not proposing a country club mentality either.
    I look @ it this way. I had a friend growing up that woild invite me over, but i didnt want to go to his house. He did have a lot of cool stuff, but they were always arguing. I had another friend though, his parents were simple in possessions, but they loved ine another, ate dinner together every night. I always wanted to be there (the food was good too).
    The way we love one another should be attractive to the outside. Others should want to partake in our love, and by that love the world should recognize that we are His disciples.

  • @Kenny Thanks for taking the time to share your insights. I liked your slightly provocative and controversial angle because it challenges us to think further.
    However for the sake of clarity I think it’s helpful to confirm that of course Jesus didn’t abolish the command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” —this remains a command and should be seen as the base requirement— but rather showed us how He Himself fulfilled the underlying spirit of the law.

    Jesus’ revelation of this new better commandment, shows us the deep rooted attitude we really need to truly live in the spirit of the law.
    It is of course more than any mortal man can achieve which again is intentional to show us that this is only achievable by acknowledging our inability in our strength and asking Him daily to perform this through us.
    This scripture is like a litmus test and exposes to us our current attitude. It reveals to what degree we are abiding in His love. If we can’t do what He asks then we are not fulling abiding and there are issues we need to clean up.

    Hope that clears up any confusion.

  • Mark Hengst

    These commandments are for two different groups. The commandment to love our neighbor as ourself is directed to us for humanity in general. The new commandment to love ONE ANOTHER as He has loved us is a commandment for our relationships with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • Carmen Live

    I have been bringing this issue to the church for along time. When was the 2nd Commandment wrote? Notice it would be very easy to love your neighbor more likely back then, when the world wasn’t as corrupt as it is these days. I am not saying I hate LGBT’s but honestly something had to have gone wrong in the childhood. And since they are out numbering me in a big city, guess what? I have been beat to the max and I am normal. I did call Minneapolis the city of God, because boy oh boy do they need the message of God. I am moving to a different city, but I have had my say. Find neighbors I can be neighbors I can be with and keep praying some day the LGBT’s get the help they need. Because really why would a woman want to be a man when God born her a woman, and vise versa why a man would want to be a woman when God made him man. I would love feed back from everybody, but don’t think it will change my mind. Maybe get the world thinking. Do you want a LGBT babysitter to maybe make your child LGBT? NO Do you want a public teacher telling your child if she is a woman that she is married to another woman? No, because it is not normal. Do you think same sex couples should be able to adopt? No, More screwed up children like them