Loving God means that I seek him everywhere, that I talk to him (prayer), that I constantly ask how he wants me to act in any given situation, that I love the whole world because he created it and gave it to us as a gift, that I care for that gift, that I share it with all other living beings.
Loving my neighbour means that I behave towards them as I would like them to behave towards me, that I consider all humans as my siblings and am benevolent towards them, that I try to build bridges and to fill abysses between “us” and “them”.
Loving myself means that I care for my body and my soul. It includes working for education, wisdom and success. It includes caring for my private property and increasing my wealth.
Note the ordering: first comes God, then your neighbour (“as important as the first”), and last comes you (potentially just because Jesus assumed it as obvious).
See also What does it mean to be a Christian?.
What is love?¶
The word “love” is obviously used for a very wide range of different meanings. When you compare my statements in the introduction with what you hear in movies and talk shows, you might even get the impression that we are using a same word for things that are completely different.
These aren’t different meanings, only the contexts are different. Love applies to a wide range of different contexts, but the meaning remains the same.
Anecdote: When I was a Sunday school teacher in Vigala, I once entered the local youth centre on a weekday evening. Many children were there, most of them from non-Christian families who laughed at Christians. One boy, maybe 12 years old, came to me and asked “Hey, do you love me?”. I knew him, and I knew that he was making fun, but I answered “Yes, of course”. And before I could a second sentence with more explanations, he had already run away to tell his friends that I am gay and pedophile.
The entertainment industry tends to focus on the family context (marriage, partnership, flirting and other situations around the making and breaking of couples and generations living together as families), but keep in mind that the family is just one of several other contexts where love is important. I see the following contexts:
familiar (the couple and its children)
non-binding groups (all kinds of volunteer activity groups)
legally binding groups (national, municipal, …)
economically binding groups (neighbourhood, work team, …)
In his triangular theory of love, Robert Sternberg describes (in the 1980s) three components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Julius W. Anderson wrote a book about this theory in 2016, where he introduces it as follows: “Within this theory, individuals love each other to the extent that they experience and evidence these three components, and different combinations of the components will yield markedly different kinds of love. The triangular theory allows for eight types of love: non‐love, liking, infatuation, empty, romantic, companionate, fatuous, and consummate.” It seems to me that they focus on the familiar context.
About neighbourly love¶
- neighbourly love¶
Love towards your neighbour. Where “neighbour” does not mean the guy who lives next door but every individual human you happen to meet in your life.
Neighbourly love means to love our fellow humans as much as ourselves, i.e. that we assign the same priority to their needs as to our needs. It means that we see the other as an enrichment and not as an obstacle.
Neighbourly love is more than tolerance, charity or altruism. It doesn’t mean that we continue to believe that actually “we” are right and let “them” have “what they want” because we are tolerant, generous or selfless.
Neighbourly love doesn’t mean that we are indifferent, “give in” and let the other side “win” just because we are fed up of discussing with them.
Love, and then do as you want¶
Love in a couple¶
The couple is just one of these contexts.
Loving your enemies¶
“You might prefer to get rid of the parts of your soul that carry unwanted thoughts and feelings. But is it possible that, with God’s help, they might become your greatest allies? Remember: every part of you is valuable and worthy of your compassion, and God loves and wants to do something beneficial through each one.” – Alison Cook in Loving Your Inner Enemies
L’amour, ce n’est pas se regarder l’un l’autre, c’est regarder ensemble dans la même direction. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
An amazing thing happens when you stop seeking approval and validation from others; you find it. – Mandy Hale