Have you ever wondered why God commands us to be kind to our neighbors…you know the whole Leviticus 19:18 idea that we are to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Why couldn’t we just love God? We could go on retreats, we could find a cave up in the mountains somewhere and live as a hermit just with our love of God. On a level, that might be nice for a while — and on those days where you are frustrated with everyone around you…well, let me say that there is an appeal. So, why does God command us to love our neighbor (which you can’t do as a hermit because a hermit has no neighbors)?
Realize too, that when the Bible speaks of one’s neighbor, it is not just speaking about those who live next door nor is it talking about just those who are Christians or who are part of your local church (the Apostle John makes it clear that if you do not love the people in your church, you are not a Christian — 1 John 3:14-15; 4:20). No, your neighbor is anyone you come into contact with — that is the context of Leviticus 19 and that is the point of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). But why? Loving God is clear, but why must we love our neighbors as well?
As Christians, not only are we to bear God’s image, but we are to be witnesses of God in the way that we live and speak. In this, we are called to “imitate” God (Jesus) in those attributes of God that we bear and exhibit. This is sometimes spoken of as the doctrine of the Imitatio Dei — an integral part of our sanctification. Thus, as we see God being loving, we should strive to be loving. As we see God being merciful, we also ought to strive to be merciful. As we see God being all-knowing (omniscient), we strive to learn as much as we are able to learn. And, as God pours out his wrath upon sin, we also ought to pour out our anger and righteous indignation against sin — especially against that sin we harbor in our own lives.
And in light of this, we see Jesus’ teaching that God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends the rain to water the fields of the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45). King David says it even more concisely: “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5). Theologians typically refer to this as the “Common Grace” of God. In other words, God gives good things to the totality of his creation. This is meant to draw the elect closer to God in love and affection and to add judgment upon judgment to the life of the reprobate.
And thus, our kindness to our neighbor is a means by which we imitate the Common Grace of God. In addition, it is an extension of God’s common grace through us. Thus, we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we do otherwise, we falsely represent God’s character of Common Grace, we fail in our witness about God to the world, and we fail in our obedience to our God and master. We may even demonstrate that we do not really love God in the first place and need to begin by repenting and believing in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior — your sovereign King and Redeemer.