Why does God tell us to love our neighbors as ourselves?
When the Lord walked upon the earth he was asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” The individual asking the question, a student of law, hoped to tempt the Lord to answer incorrectly. But, instead, he was instructed. The first answer provided us with the knowledge that we should first love the Lord our God with all our heart, might, mind and strength. The second answer instructed us to love our neighbor as ourself. Why, then are we first instructed to love God, and then to love our neighbor as ourself?
Love is a powerful emotion within all of the sons and daughters of God. Love is an emotion that is a powerful motivator to perform good works. The Book of Mormon instructs us that if we have “faith, hope, and charity…[we] will always abound in good works.” (Source)
If we have faith, hope, and charity, why will we always abound in good works? Well, let us define love as provided in scripture, “And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (Source)
These attributes are motivations that are found within the attribute of charity — the pure love of Christ. Imagine if all the world, all the sons and daughters of God, exercised these attributes daily, and sought them in their perfection? Would fraud exist today, if we all rejoiced in truth and not in iniquity? Would murder or war exist if people were not easily provoked, weren’t envious, and did to seek their own? If love motivated all our actions, and we thought continually about others more than ourselves, would theft even be a part of our lives? How much easier would it be to forgive our fellowmen, if we suffered long and were always kind? How would life be if we all were motivated by love/charity to “think no evil”? Joseph Smith once declared,
“Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind” (History of the Church, 5:23–24).” (Source)
We further learn that charity is an attribute that Heavenly Father has “bestowed upon all who are true followers of His Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God.” The reason we are able to become the sons of God is due to the atonement of Jesus Christ, which stems not only from our Savior’s love but also from our Heavenly Father’s love, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
Truth allows us to recognize that hate destroys, while love saves. Our world would be very different if we all kept the first two great commandments rooted in the love of God and the love of our neighbor.