Love your neighbor as yourself

Can we really love others if we don't love ourselves?

Original in German

I Used to think of Christ Jesus' command "Love thy neighbour as thyself" as a demand to love my neighbor as much as myself. Through prayer and my study of Christian Science, I have come to see that this command to love our neighbor as ourselves also includes a condition: that is, first we must love ourselves in order to be able to love another.

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The love we need to have for ourselves is very far removed from self-love. Instead, it is a love for our true selfhood as God's image, His idea. It involves recognizing ourselves to be God's perfect, spiritual creation. As we do this consistently, we realize that our apparent weaknesses and character flaws cannot be any part of our real being and that we can therefore overcome them. The more we acknowledge our true nature and strive to express it, the more we can be sure negative character traits will disappear from our thoughts and lives. Once we know how to love ourselves in this way, we are able to love others in the best way—by seeing who they really are as God's children.

In his parable of the good Samaritan, the Master makes it clear that our neighbors are not just the people who live next door but everyone we meet, regardless of social status, nationality, religion, or race. In fact, our sphere of thought and spiritual love should extend further and further beyond our home and community or even our home country to include the whole of mankind. The family serves as the preparatory school of love, so to speak. From the time we are small we learn to love our parents, brothers and sisters, and other relatives. We learn to apologize for mistakes we've made and to forgive the mistakes others make. We then bring this same love and forgiveness to all our relationships and to our prayers for the world.

A child's heart usually quickly forgets disappointment and hurt feelings. But belief in the reality of material living, with its ups and downs, can cause us to lose this childlike heart. We may remain conscious of our own and others' faults, or at least they may remain in our unconscious thought and so create in us a false picture of ourselves and our fellow beings. We need to regain the childlike heart that knows only God, good, divine Love. We can increasingly succeed in doing this by denying that any fault, whether it appears to be our own or someone else's, could be part of God's infinite, good creation. God created man in His image, forever faultless, lovable, perfect. We are all in reality God's beloved children, without exception.

An experience I had illustrates this. One day when I was walking along a street, two men were walking in front of me, one about half a meter behind the other. As the first man turned to go into a shop, he dropped his wallet. The second man grabbed it, stopped, and checked to see how much money was in it. He then walked on. Observing this, I quietly prayed, knowing most emphatically that God had never made a dishonest man. I silently affirmed that God's children are honest and that the evidence of the material senses is a lie; God's child can only act rightly.

I had hardly completed this line of thought when the first man rushed out of the shop with a despairing look on his face, looking for his wallet. By this time I had arrived at the spot where he had dropped it. The other man turned around, came back a few steps, and returned the wallet to the first man. He said, pointing to me, "This lady told me I should give back your wallet." I had not said a word to him. This change of heart on his part was the result of his own response to divine Truth.

It is important not to hold on to negative thoughts about our neighbor. God is the only real Judge. The task of loving our neighbor consists of acknowledging God's perfect creation in every individual. Should we, then, never point out a person's faults to him? Occasionally this can be appropriate, but the most important thing to do—and the best way to help others overcome faults—is to know what is true of them in God's likeness.

But what about enemies? Jesus tells us, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you." We can only do this if we truly see everyone as God's image and likeness; then we realize that there are no enemies. Mrs. Eddy tells us this very clearly in her Miscellaneous Writings when she states, "'Love thine enemies' is identical with 'Thou hast no enemies.'" In proportion as we keep in mind the spiritual, perfect man, feelings of animosity or hate disappear from our consciousness, and our so-called enemy is regarded as a friend, or at least someone we can respect as God's child. And this understanding of our so-called enemy's true nature as God's child can help free him or her from the misconceptions that created animosity, conflict, and unhappiness. Then we're not only loving our neighbor but we're also helping him to find peace, joy, healing.

The overcoming of every thought of animosity has a mental effect like that of a stone thrown into a calm lake, causing ever larger circles to form on the surface of the water. So let's always throw only precious stones of love into the pool of human consciousness, that this love may have an ever more far-reaching effect, until it reaches the whole of mankind. In this way we are making an important contribution to world peace. Let's pray to fulfill the Master's command "Love thy neighbour as thyself."

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