Who Your Neighbor Really Is according to the Bible

Growing up, it is likely you heard the term neighbor used from a very young age. It is a common word that we use to describe others. So, what exactly is a neighbor? To answer this question let’s look back at the origin of the word neighbor. This word can be divided into two different Old English words “neah” and “gabur.” The word “neah” means near and the word “gabur” means dweller. Together this creates the word neighbor, someone who dwells near. Now that we know what a neighbor is, let’s look further and define who our neighbor is according to the Bible. 

Who Does the Bible Say My Neighbor Is?

Twice the word neighbor appears in the Old Testament when reading the 10 commandments. It says in Exodus 20:16 "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" and in Exodus 20:17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's." What do these verses imply about who our neighbor is? 

It is a fact that you cannot bear false witness against a name you have never heard or covet a person you do not know about. If we covet our neighbors, this implies we know them and have seen what their lives look like. A "neighbor" in these verses is defined as someone we have seen or known personally. This list could include those living literally next door to us, or those that we have met in passing.

Proverbs 3:28 tells us "Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you." In this verse, a neighbor is someone who asks for help. We are taught here that a neighbor is to be helped quickly, immediately. It also implies that our neighbor is someone we see regularly. We would not say to someone we ran into once “go and come again tomorrow.” That phrase only makes sense when used with someone we are able to see the next day. These verses in the Old Testament help us unlock the idea of who our neighbor is and then point us to how we need to respond. 

The New Testament also teaches us who our neighbor is. In Mark 12:31, Jesus says to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ To love someone as yourself, you have to know the person, spend time with the person and strive to understand the person. Jesus has compared the love we have for our neighbors to the love we have for ourselves. It is not a far stretch to say that we know ourselves more and think about ourselves more than any other person. Jesus is saying that is how much we are to love our neighbor, as much as we love ourselves. Naturally, we will not care about someone deeply unless we are intentional about understanding that person and treating him or her as the Lord has treated us. God is teaching us through these verses that we are to put our neighbors ahead of ourselves in word, thought, and deed.

What Does the Parable of the Good Samaritan Teach Us about Neighbors? 

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is found in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus was asked directly by an expert in the law “Who is our neighbor?” Jesus responded, as he so frequently did, in a parable. 

In this parable, a man was beaten and tossed on the side of the road by robbers. Three people pass this man on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. The first man is a priest, the second man is a Levite and the third a Samaritan. The first two men passed by the beaten man without helping, while the third stopped to help the man. Jesus asks the expert in the law, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The answer to Jesus’ question was the third man, the Samaritan, who stopped and showed mercy. 

The expert in the law would have expected Jesus to list the three people in the story walking by as a priest, a Levite, and the people (Jewish people) because they were talking about neighbors and all three of those groups were Jewish; however, Jesus replaced the Jewish people with a Samaritan man. Jesus showed the expert how easy it is to choose our own needs over others, especially when we tell ourselves that we can't stop because we have other important tasks to get to. The priest and the Levite would have worried about purity laws on the way to the temple and helping this man would have certainly defiled their cleanliness. It would have put a stop to their journey to the temple until they went through a purity ritual again. They chose their own agenda over helping the man on the side of the road. 

Jesus then points out how love should expand over cultural boundaries and ethnic lines, as the Samaritan is the one who stopped to help. Jews and Samaritans clashed mainly over religious differences, but also cultural differences, which produced hatred among many inside both groups. The Samaritan put aside any negative judgments about the man on the side of the road and chosen to delay his errand. Because he put the man before himself, he was truly loving him as a neighbor. This teaches us that our neighbors are not those who simply look, act and think like each of us. 

Yet, Jesus was not merely teaching the expert a moral lesson to be kind to others; He was also pointing to Himself as the Messiah. His description of what happens to the Jewish man on the side of the road were foreshadowings of what would happen to Him in His sacrificial death (attacked, stripped, beaten, left for dead). Jesus also told this parable within the broader question of eternal life and the law; Jesus replies that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love others. So in order to truly be a good neighbor, to love others deeply, you have to love God. Jesus made this possible for both Jews and Gentiles with his life, death, and resurrection. 

What Does it Mean to Be a Good Neighbor?

Now that we have analyzed who our neighbor is, through the examples given in the Old and New Testaments, we can focus on what it means to be a good neighbor. The Lord’s desire is not for us to simply learn what it means to be a good neighbor, but to act upon that knowledge and put it into practice in our lives. To bring the Lord glory, we must act upon the teachings He has given us.  

It can be intimidating to know where to start. How do we go from looking only to our own needs and preferences to helping those around us? The truth is that we cannot do it on our own, nor does focusing on others obsessively allow us to love them better. To be a good neighbor, we must first love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind. This is the greatest commandment. God placed this as the first commandment, and not the second for a reason. In Matthew 22:37-40 it says, 

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

To love others well we have to be filled with the love of God first. Our hearts, souls, and minds must be transformed and focused on the Lord before we can ever love our neighbors selflessly and intentionally. It delights the Lord when we strive to love our neighbors, His children. It is in mimicking God’s character that our own godly character is developed. If we love others as we love ourselves, we are displaying the Lord’s work of sanctification in our lives.

3 Foundations You Need to Be a Good Neighbor

Practically speaking, there are certain ways we can be good neighbors. The first is to spend time in the Word of God each day. To truly have eyes that see the needs of those around us, we must first be filled by time spent solely with the Lord. We are not helpful to anyone if we are not pouring out of a soul filled by the Holy Spirit. 

The second way is to pray intentionally that we would see the needs of those around us. This prayer pleases the Lord because it shows a heart that is operating from the love He has given us. Filling the needs of others can be done by making checkbox lists, but loving our neighbor requires a heart that is seeking to bestow God’s love and not to earn it. God will honor this prayer when we pray with a pure heart to open our eyes and minds to those around us that need help.  

Thirdly, share that you are praying to be a good neighbor with those around you. It is most beneficial to share with people who will keep you accountable and pray alongside you. Now simply look around and see the opportunities the Lord places before you to love others well. He will be faithful to let us love one another because He has commanded us to do so.  

A Short Prayer for Your Neighbors

Lord, thank you for the opportunity to love one another. Allowing us to love our neighbors for a season or for a lifetime is a gift that we do not deserve. We can only love because you have first loved us. We ask you to open our eyes to the needs of those around us and grant us courage to serve in ways that seem hard. Thank you for teaching us through the parable of the good Samaritan that you have called us to love all people and not just those that look, act, and think like we do. Mold our hearts to do your will. We love you so much. Amen.  

We all have neighbors; they are a certainty in life and it is a command from the Lord to love these neighbors well. May it be our hearts cry to the Lord that we love our neighbors, just as He has loved us. 

Sources:
NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible
Bible Study Tools

Photo credit: ©Getty Images / DmytroVaravin


Allison Auld is a young professional living in SC. She is a clinical counselor with a passion to help others grow and heal. She enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and good coffee.  

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