We want to talk about the second part of the Great Commandment —“loving others as you love yourself.” Honestly, somehow, that’s a problem. I’ve listened to hundreds of sermons on television and in real life. I’ve seldom heard anyone preach about the Great Commandment. And I think part of the reason is that the average person has a problem with the word “love” and “loving all others.” To begin with, I personally didn’t like to think of loving myself. When I thought of love, I thought of romance or my family or my good friends. But, love myself? Love everybody? I could see why people would have a hard time with that. Don’t you agree?
The answer proved to be with the Greek language, the language of the New Testament. They say the Greeks have a word for everything. They have four words, all translated by our one ambiguous English word “love!” Four kinds of love! They have eros for sex, storge for family love, philia for comrade and special love, but they also had another word for love: agape. It’s not like any of the other three terms, but it is a certain kind of love. It is an attitude, not just an emotion, a mindset of deeply wanting to do good and acting to do good. Agape love can simply mean to want and to do what is good for others.
As I thought about this, I said to myself, “If that is a form of love, then I could honestly say that ‘I love myself’ because the truth is, I want what is good for me. I don’t want less for anyone else; I just want what is good for me, and I want that attitude toward me from others.” Now, if I applied that agape to other people, then I could say that I could love others! I could possibly “love everybody,” even people who are enemies, if I, as a Christian, sincerely want what is good for them and that they will change. “Agape love” is something I think a person can develop if he or she thinks about it, with God’s help! It is a very powerful attitude of wanting what is good and right for others, as well as for myself. (see “Agape, the Greatest of the Virtues,” pages 17–23, New Testament Words, William Barclay).
That is what Jesus was saying, that we must love others, care about them, be deeply and honestly concerned and act for their best interest, just as we want for ourselves.
Understanding this attitude began to develop in my mind like a beautiful flower in bud that then started to flower out. It all began when I began thinking about loving others the way I love myself. So just as I want good for myself, “loving myself,” I want that “good” for others too.
Then came these brilliantly mind-illuminating words of the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12: “therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, you also do to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” I asked myself, “Just how would I want others to do to me?” I know I want to be respected. I want to be dealt with honestly. I want their genuine goodwill for me. I want people to have high expectations of me. I want them to say, “Peter may be different, but if I had gone through his life, maybe I would feel the same way he does.” And, now, I need to think that same way about them! This is agape love in action!
When I started thinking of “love” as having this “agape” attitude, looking for the good in others and asking how can I do good for them. Finally, it struck me! The Golden Rule is exactly the same thing as the second part of the Great Commandment!