What ‘Loving Your Neighbor’ Really Means
October 1975

“What ‘Loving Your Neighbor’ Really Means,” Ensign, Oct. 1975, 40

What “Loving Your Neighbor” Really Means

“All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 7:12.)

The Lord has made known how people ought to treat one another. By searching the scriptures on this subject we become more fully aware that we do have a responsibility to promote the happiness and well-being of our fellow humans. For example, through Moses the Lord said: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Lev. 19:18.)

To help us understand what is meant by this, the Lord has given some specific examples of what a person will not do to his neighbor if be truly loves him:

“Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another. … Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him. … Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind. …” (Lev. 19:11–14.)

Furthermore, the hired servant should be paid promptly for his work: “the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.” (Lev. 19:13.) “Thou shall not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it.” (Deut. 24:14–15.)

Neither will we be anxious to gossip about our neighbor’s weaknesses or sins if we love him: “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people” (Lev. 19:16), for “a talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” (Prov. 11:13.)

A man who loves his neighbor will not only avoid doing wrong to him, but will deliberately help him. The Lord has given some examples for our guidance in this area:

“And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest.

“And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 19:9–10.)

“When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.” (Deut. 24:19.)

What is more, each of us has a responsibility to be of useful service to others:

“Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself [withhold help] from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.

“And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.

“In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost things of thy brother’s, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest hide thyself [refuse to help].

“Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide thyself [withhold help] from them: thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again.” (Deut. 22: 1–4.)

This kind of service is not to be limited to one’s friends: “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.

“If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, … thou shalt surely help with him.” (Ex. 23:4–5.)

Not only are we to help in time of trouble, but we are actually obligated to take steps to prevent physical harm from coming to a neighbor and his livestock. However, in the event of damage to another’s property, one has the responsibility to make restitution. In each of the following, note the inference and the awareness that the owner had an obligation to protect his neighbor’s life and property:

“If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit.

But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.” (Ex. 21:28–29, italics added.)

“If a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein;

“The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them. …

“And if one man’s ox hurt another’s, that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide.

Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time past, and his owner hath not kept him in; he shall surely pay ox for ox. …” (Ex. 21:33–36, italics added.)

“If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindleth the fire shall surely make restitution.” (Ex. 22:6; see also Ex. 22:5, 14.) And also:

“When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.” (Deut. 22:8.)

In taking security for a loan, certain regulations were given to ancient Israel whereby the loaner would show mercy and the borrower could maintain his dignity:

“When thou dost lend thy brother anything, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge.

“Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee.

“And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge:

“In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee: and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the Lord thy God.” (Deut. 24:10–13; see also Deut. 24:6 and Ex. 22:26–27.)

The disciple is encouraged to “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matt. 5:42.) But the borrower is given some straightforward counsel also: “… whosoever among you borroweth of his neighbor should return the thing that he borroweth, according as he doth agree, or else thou shalt commit sin; and perhaps thou shalt cause thy neighbor to commit sin also.” (Mosiah 4:28.)

Matters dealing with individual responsibility are especially numerous in the teachings of Jesus. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37) the Lord taught that one’s neighbor is anyone who is in need; he also showed that neighborliness consists of ministering to that need. In another instance, after speaking about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, attending the sick, and such things, Jesus explained that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” and conversely, that “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not unto me.” (Matt. 25:40, 45.)

Paul wrote to the saints in his day:

“… Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

“But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” (Gal. 5:13–15.)

In our dealings with others, the Lord Jesus set before us the perfect example, and he has said: “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” (3 Ne. 27:27.) Finally, the words of the prophet Micah graciously summarize the matter:

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8.)

Illustration by Michael Graves