You are here

12. As Yourself

– Chapter 12 –

As Yourself

In this chapter we look at “as yourself” in greater depth. These two words are taken from the well-known command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” a statement which occurs many times in the Old and New Testaments: Lev.19:18; Mt.19:19; 22:39; Mk.12:31; Lk.10:27; Rom.13:9; Gal.5:14; Jms.2:8; we can also include Lev.19:34.

The early church fathers are silent on “as yourself”

As I was pondering on the words “as yourself,” I decided to con­sult the Ante-Nicene Fathers [1] to see what insight they might have on as yourself. To my surprise, I found no dis­cussion on as yourself in the 10-volume Ante-Nicene Fathers.

There is similar silence on “as yourself” in the Ancient Christian Com­mentary on Scripture (ACCS), a 29-volume compila­tion of what the early church writers wrote on the Bible from Genesis to Revelat­ion. The silence is remarkable because of the wide scope of ACCS, which covers not only the Ante-Nicene Fathers but also the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, and even early heretics.

In ACCS, no early church writer even mentions “as your­self” for Lev.19:34; Mt.19:19; 22:39; Mk.12:31; James 2:8. These make up half of the verses listed in the beginning of this chap­ter. As for the other half of the verses listed, “as yourself” is men­tioned only in pass­ing or with a one-sentence explan­ation:

  • For Luke 10:27, ACCS has one mention of as yourself, but Ambrose simply quotes “your neighbor as yourself” without discussing it.
  • For Galatians 5:14, ACCS has one mention of as yourself, but Victorinus simply quotes “your neighbor as yourself” without discussing it.
  • For Leviticus 19:18, ACCS has one mention of “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” but Augustine inexplica­bly mis­reads this as “no one loves himself unless he loves God”!
  • For Romans 13:9, ACCS has two mentions of as yourself. Chrysostom simply quotes “as yourself” without discuss­ing it, whereas Pelagius says, “For one who loves his neigh­bor as himself not only does him no wrong but also does him good.”

Hence, in the entire ACCS, the best that we can find for as your­self is a one-sentence explan­ation from Pelagius who is viewed by the tradition­al church as a heretic. I am puzzled as to why something as import­ant as “as yourself,” which comes from the greatest command­ments, is not given any discussion apart from a few passing references.[2]

I then searched through the modern commentaries but found no dis­cussion on as yourself of any depth. Why are the commentaries ignoring the two key words taken from the greatest commandments? If I am com­manded to love my neighbor as myself, isn’t it crucial for me to under­stand what as yourself means? Why hasn’t anyone in the past 2,000 years been tackling this most crucial question? The closest I have found on this subject is a work by Paul Ricoeur, a Catholic theo­logian and philosopher, but his book is written primarily as philo­sophy and not theo­logy, and it is unclear in the end just how much of his book has to do with the scriptural idea.

One would think that the exegete — whose main task is to expound the word of God — would have as his highest priority a clear explanat­ion of “love your neighbor as yourself” in order to help those who seek to live by the word of God. Perhaps the malaise of the church is that it doesn’t seriously seek to live by the word of God.

The aim of this chapter

It is impossible to fully analyze as yourself in one chapter. My aim in this chapter is to get our minds started on the subject and to begin an initial exploration into the meaning of as yourself.

The statement “love your neighbor as yourself” originates in the Old Testament, in Lev.19:18, but we will examine it as it appears in the New Testament. The statement “love your neigh­bor as your­self” occurs 7 times in the New Testament: Mt.19:19; 22:39; Mk.12:31; Lk.10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal.5:14; Jms. 2:8. We include as the eighth occur­rence the minor variat­ion in Mk.12:33 (“to love one’s neighbor as oneself”). But we will skip Mt.22:39 because it is parallel to Mk.12:31, leaving us with seven verses to study. We now consider the seven verses, pro­ceeding in biblical (canonical) order.

Occurrence #1: “As yourself” and possessions

The first instance of “love your neighbor as yourself” is found in Matt­hew 19:19, spoken by Jesus to the rich young ruler. Their discuss­ion cen­ters on eternal life and was in fact started by the question, “Teach­er, what good deed must I do to gain eternal life?” (v.16). Hence “love your neighbor as yourself” is connected to eternal life in some way.

The young ruler says he has kept the commandments (v.20), in­clud­ing that of loving the neighbor as oneself (v.19). Jesus then brings in the matter of perfect­ion in order to give concrete meaning to “love your neigh­bor as your­self”. Hence he says to the rich young ruler, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possess­ions and give to the poor” (v.21). In order for the rich young ruler to love his neigh­bor as himself, he has to sell all his possess­ions and give to the poor.

In speaking of loving your neighbor as yourself, Jesus doesn’t even cite Deuteronomy 6:5 of the Shema regarding loving the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength. Jesus doesn’t quote the first com­mand (love God with all your heart) but only the sec­ond command (love your neighbor as yourself) because the second includes the first. In ful­filling the second, one has fulfilled the first.

Occurrences #2 and #3: “As yourself” and a living sacrifice

We skip Mt.22:39 since it is parallel to Mk.12:31. Not counting this omis­sion, the second and third occurrences of “love your neighbor as your­self” are found in Mark 12:31-33 (see the italicized statements):

31 “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as your­self. There is no com­mandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understand­ing and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more import­ant than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mk.12:31-33, NIV)

Here we see two instances of “love your neigh­bor as your­self”: the first is spoken by Jesus in v.31, the second is spoken by the scribe in v.33. The scribe makes the add­itional comment that fulfill­ing the command of love is more import­ant than “all” the temple sacrifices put together. Com­ing from a Jew, that statement is most astonishing. Why are the temple sacri­fices nothing com­pared to obeying the two great commands? Be­cause if you love God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself, you are a self-giving living sacrifice (Rom.12:1-2) which is far greater than the tem­ple sacrifices. This is ex­pressed con­cretely in Paul’s statement, “They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” (2Cor.8:5)

Occurrence #4: “As yourself” and compassion and mercy

The fourth occurrence of “love your neighbor as yourself” is in Luke 10:27, a verse that leads up to the parable of the good Samaritan. Since we will be looking at this parable in the next chapter, I will make only one comment on how it explains loving your neighbor as your­self.

The Samaritan’s deed in v.33 (“had com­passion on him”) depicts “love your neighbor” in terms of compass­ion. Similar­ly, v.37 (“showed him mercy”) depicts “love your neigh­bor” in terms of mercy. Hence loving your neighbor involves com­passion and mercy, which are God’s own qualities. To love your neighbor as your­self is to become like God in His compassion.

Occurrence #5: “As yourself” and fulfilling the law

The fifth occurrence of “love your neighbor as yourself” is in Romans 13:9. We quote verses 9 and 10:

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other com­mandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neigh­bor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom.13:9-10, ESV)

In the last sentence we see the crucial fact that loving your neighbor as yourself ful­fills the whole law. Because the second command (love your neigh­bor) fulfills the law, Paul doesn’t even mention the first command (love God). As in Mt.19:19, the second com­mand includes the first, so Paul is simply teaching what Jesus teaches.

Although the first and second commands are identical in many res­pects, they are not equal. Loving the neighbor is not exactly the same as loving God, otherwise we may think that we can spend one hour talk­ing with our neighbor in place of spending one hour with God in prayer.

Occurrence #6: “As yourself” and serving one another

The sixth occurrence of “love your neighbor as yourself” is in Galat­ians 5:14. We quote verses 13 to 15:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your free­dom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one an­other. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Gal.5:13-15, ESV)

Again the whole law is summed up in one command: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Paul makes this a parallel to “through love serve one another”: to love your neighbor is to serve your neighbor through love. Paul allows no middle ground: you either serve one an­other or “bite and devour” one another.

Occurrence #7: “As yourself” and the royal law

The seventh and final occurrence of “love your neighbor as yourself” is in James 2:8: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neigh­bor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” (NIV)

We have discussed the link between the kingdom of God and God’s love in us. James 2:8 includes these two things in what is called “the royal law,” a term that can also be rendered “the law of the King”. This royal law is none other than the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The next verse (v.9) tells us not to show favor­itism, which means that everyone is equal under the law of love.

These are the seven instances of “love your neighbor as yourself” in the New Testa­ment (not counting Mt.22:39 which is parallel to Mk.12:31). Scripture doesn’t simply say love your neighbor but raises the standard to as yourself. It is treating the other person as if he or she were yourself. It must mean at least that much.

But how do you treat the other person as your­self if he doesn’t look like you or dress like you? He may belong to a different age group, or come from a different culture, or has a different hairstyle. How is it poss­ible for me to treat him as myself or as an extension of myself? Should I regard him as my alter ego (Latin for “other me”) — a person like me, yet not me?

The end of yourself

Let’s now look at the real-life challenges of as yourself. At the very least, it must mean tearing down the barriers to commun­ica­tion and mutual under­standing, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to think of you as myself. That would be the case if you are a woman and I am a man, or you come from Mexico and I come from Madagascar: I can’t think of you as myself because I don’t know what it’s like to be you. I have to pull down the bar­riers that stand be­tween us, and under­stand what it is like to be you. This is an amazing exercise in which I sit back, look at you, and ask myself, “What is it like to be you? How would I think if I were you?” To think like you, I would have to stop thinking my thoughts. The words “as myself” would mean the end of myself.

A barrier gives protection, so if I pull it down, I would be de­fense­less. The barrier safeguards my security and individual­­ity, so pull­ing it down and accepting you as myself would undermine that secu­rity. There is no more “me” when that “me” has become “you”.

In every direction you turn, you will encounter a barrier between you and others. Even if you are willing to pull it down, others may not: “Keep your dis­tance from me. If you become me, what will happen to me?” They feel that you are threatening their “me”. But if both sides have no more “me,” then the barriers are removed on both sides.

But there is a potential complication: Some people express love in a controlling way. They take over every aspect of your life, even telling you what you may eat. This kind of love is terrifying because it is poss­essive and seeks to control. To this kind of love we say, “No thanks. Keep your love to yourself and I will keep mine to my­self. Then we’ll all be happy.”

Jesus never says that loving the neighbor means to take over his life as if it were mine. Am I giving or taking? If I take possession of your life as if it were mine, I would be loving you as myself but not in the way God intends. Maybe you don’t even want me. It is like reject­ing a marriage proposal where one says, “I am giving myself to you!” but the other says, “No thanks, you keep to yourself. I’m happy with myself.”

Another problem is that we don’t always love ourselves in the right way. To give a down-to-earth example, some people eat so much sweets that they become obese and lose their teeth. If they love you as them­selves, they will stuff you with the foods that will ruin your health.

I won’t examine as yourself fully in this chapter. I only want to give you an idea of how deep and complex the issues are. One thing does come out: To tear down the barrier between myself and someone else, I must be will­ing to die. Tearing down the barrier signifies my death as an individ­ual because I am giving up my rights and what is important to me. These I sacrifice in order to establish a har­mony in which the other person stands equal to me, not in terms of the law (under which all are equal) but such that your concerns and interests become my concerns and interests.

Humanly we can do this to some extent, but not in the full sense in which every interest of yours be­comes mine. This is humanly unattain­able, even humanly unaccept­able, because your interests might not align with mine. To fulfill this com­mand, I would have to learn what your interests are and what values are dear to you, and make them my own. This is almost unattain­able even in a marriage.

In analyzing as yourself, we are simply using the language of love. Jonathan loved David as himself and gave him everything, even his own armor and throne. Love does that sort of thing, for the love of neighbor means the death of the self, the total denial of the self.

Here we see the vast difference between “love your neighbor” and “love your neighbor as yourself”. The first can be done with limited love. If some­one needs two dollars, we give him two dollars. If he needs a hun­dred, we give him a hundred, if we can afford it. But “love your neighbor as yourself” has no limits and requires total self-denial. This is related to Jesus’ teaching about taking up the cross and deny­ing oneself.

Loving the neighbor with limits is not what Jesus taught. We may have obeyed the com­mand to love the neighbor, but not as our­selves. If you cook a meal or wash the dishes for your house­mates when you are tired, you are showing them love even if there may be mild resentment in your heart. But if you love your neighbor as yourself, can there be any resent­ment? There can’t be because the deed was done to yourself. The resent­ful­ness arose be­cause you did not regard the other as yourself. There is a qualit­ative differ­ence between loving the neigh­bor and loving the neigh­bor as yourself. The words as yourself change the nature of the command.

Even more than yourself

But it doesn’t stop there, for it turns out that loving the neigh­bor as yourself means lov­ing the neighbor even more than yourself!

Let’s say I have two bowls of rice and you have none. We are both hungry. My two bowls are just fine for me but because you are hun­gry, I give you one bowl. You now have one bowl, I have one. That is equal­ity and a practical fulfillment of as yourself. My stomach yearns for two bowls, but because I love you as myself, we have one bowl each.

Suppose I have two jackets and you have none. It is wintery cold, so I need both jackets to keep warm. But you are shiver­ing, so I give you one of my jackets. We both shiver a bit but not severely.

But if I have one jacket and you have none, how do I love you as my­self? Do I tear the jacket in half so that each has half? If I do that, neither of us will have a jacket. To love you as myself, I give you the whole jacket and I have none. To love you as myself, I love you more than myself.

Sharing jackets is not a big issue compared to some real-life situat­ions. If only one of us could get out of a situation alive, how do I love you as myself? If I save my life, you will die. So I choose to die so that you may live. To love you as myself, I love you more than myself.

In 1993, a barge floating down a river in Alabama struck a bridge. A short while later, an Amtrak train reached the bridge and derailed into the river. On board were a couple and their eleven-year-old daughter who was para­lyzed and confined to a wheel­chair because of cerebral palsy. When the train plunged into the river and wat­er was rushing in, the parents’ first thought was to save their daughter who was helpless to save herself. They struggled together to push her out the win­dow with help from the rescu­ers. In the end, the girl survived but the par­ents died. They could not save themselves just as it was said of Jesus at the cross, “He saved others but cannot save himself”.

In loving the child as themselves, the parents loved her more than them­selves. Some may ask if the sacrifice was worth it. Aren’t two healthy adults worth more than one disabled child? But that question never crossed their minds. Love makes no such calculations. Love does not measure a person’s worth by her ability to contribute materially to society. If the parents had saved themselves, perhaps they could have had another child, one who is healthy. But that kind of cold calculation is the den­ial of love. In the choice between saving yourself and saving another person, you end up with the remarkable outcome that lov­ing your neighbor as your­self means loving him or her more than yourself. The term as yourself is not an equal sign but a greater-than sign, in that you regard the other person’s welfare as being more import­ant than your own.

How much do we love ourselves?

Let’s reverse our analysis: How much do we love ourselves? Let’s be frank about it. If anyone does not love or take care of himself, some­thing must be wrong with him. The truth is that we love ourselves. How hard do you work for your salary? Or study for your grades? We love ourselves with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, all our strength! Who else do we love as much as ourselves? No one even comes close. We love mom and dad if they don’t get into our way. We love our friends if they don’t irritate us, and the same with husband or wife. In the end, we love our­selves with our whole being.

The great command is functionally like this: You shall love the Lord your God with all the love you give yourself. The two great com­mands are say­ing the same thing: You shall love Yahweh your God as yourself, and your neigh­bor as your­self. These are the two sides of the equation. Hence the second com­mand is some­times mentioned without mention­ing the first.

Love takes mountain-moving faith

If the command was simply you shall love your neigh­bor, it is already hard enough. But to love your neighbor as yourself is impos­s­ible to the carnal man. It is hard even to love the one we have chosen to love. You presum­ably chose the person you are married to. You looked into the crowd and there stood this wonderful masculine person you fell in love with. Or you saw this ideal feminine representation of humanity. But after you get married, you discover it is hard to love the one you have chosen, never mind the rest of humanity.

It is humanly impossible to love your neigh­bor as yourself. To do this, mountains will have to be moved. The first mount­ain is the one inside us which elevates us to a height from which we look down on the rest of hu­manity. But when that mountain is removed, we will be brought down to the level of everyone else, and everyone will become as myself. The second mountain is the corres­ponding mountain in the other person. Given such insur­mountable barriers, we soon realize that it is only by faith that such mountains can be removed. Jesus says in Mt.21:21 (cf., Mk.11:22-23):

If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you tell this mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,” it will be done. (Mt.21:21, HCSB)

Salvation is by grace through faith, not by works. By this grace, God’s transforming power enables us to fulfill His com­mands. Let’s imagine what will happen if everyone, by faith, fulfills the com­mand of love. This will lay the foundation of a glorious vision. In this age, can we envisage a community of people who love the neigh­bor as oneself, where everyone is as oneself such that there is one self shared among all? I hope I have fired up your imagination so that you can see, on the one hand, the depth of the Lord’s teaching, but also see on the other hand the vision before us — a vision imposs­ible to man but possible with God — of a commun­ity of people who live in love. It doesn’t have to be a big commun­ity, for it takes only a small com­munity of people who live by this command to shake the world by God’s power!

If you examine the Old Testament’s use of the word neighbor, you will see that it refers primarily, often exclus­ively, to the community of God’s peo­ple. I think the rabbis have arrived at the same conclu­sion. It doesn’t mean that we don’t love those outside the com­munity. Paul makes a dis­tinction between the two: “Let us do good to all people and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal.6:10). The universal love for human­kind, includ­ing your enemies, is not on the same standing as love for God’s people. A disciple of Jesus will love all people, even his enemies, but not equally. Your love for your enemy is not on the same level as your love for your brothers and sisters.

To achieve the goal of a community united by lateral love, we start by loving those close to us. Next we love those in the church whom we are not close to. Then we extend our love to God’s people outside our churches. Then we extend our circle to include non-Christ­ians, and finally, if we can manage it, those who are hostile to us.

But we must do this wisely, step by step. In athletic compet­ition, you don’t jump from the beginner’s level to world-class compet­it­ion in one step. You go step by step until you are ready to compete for the gold medal. In carrying out scriptural teaching, real­ism is important, for we could easily get lost in idealism. It is good to have ideals, but we must also be down to earth in fulfilling them.

Closing remark: Some non-Christians exceed Christians in the qual­ity of their character, and that puts us to shame. Some non-Christians are not only willing to risk their lives to save others, they some­times lose their lives in so doing. Many firemen have been killed in rescue ef­forts, not­ably those in the 9/11 attacks, some of whom are non-Christ­ians. All over the world, there are police­men who die to save people. You may say that they’re just do­ing their job, but the fact is that they have chos­en that job of their own free choice, and actually put their lives on the line for the safety of others. These people seem to come under Romans 2:14: “when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinct­ively the things of the Law” (NASB). We don’t need to be dog­ma­tic about the meaning of this verse. I think that Scripture, in God’s wisdom, doesn’t always allow us to arrange things in neat dogmatic categories.

True and self-giving love requires God’s grace, but it seems that in Paul’s teach­ing, that grace is sometimes made avai­lable to non-Christ­ians. This may upset our neat theolog­ical categories but any­one who has worked with theology would know that God doesn’t care about our neat categ­ories. If some­thing doesn’t fit our categories, we tend to skirt around it. Some Christ­ians say that the good works of non-Christians don’t count whereas those of Christ­ians count. This assertion casts doubt on God’s fairness. If a non-Christian fireman dies in rescuing a stranger, his sacrifice means a lot to me and certainly more so to God. God’s love is higher than our narrow-minded think­ing.

[1] Prefix ante means “before”. The Ante-Nicene Fathers are the early church fathers who lived before the Council of Nicaea which convened in AD 325.

[2] Although ACCS is a 29-volume compilation, it is not exhaustive and may be missing a few references to as yourself by the early church fathers. But even if this were so, it pro­bably would not alter the fact of the general silence on as your­self, for ACCS would likely include any commentary on as yourself that is weighty and significant.


(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church