"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:37-39).
The Second Great Commandment is really just a practical extension of the First. Loving one's neighbor is simply the natural and necessary extension of true, wholehearted love for God, because your neighbor is made in the image of God.
God's image in every person is the moral and ethical foundation for every commandment that governs how we ought to treat our fellow humans. Scripture repeatedly makes this clear. Why is murder deemed such an especially heinous sin? Because killing a fellow human being is the ultimate desecration of God's image (Genesis 9:6).
In the New Testament, James points to the image of God in men and women as an argument for allowing even our speech to be seasoned with grace and kindness. It is utterly irrational, he says, to bless God while cursing people who are made in God's own likeness (James 3:9-12).
That same principle is an effective argument against every kind of disrespect or unkindness one person might show to another.
The prevailing rabbinical tradition in Jesus' day claimed that "enemies" are not really "neighbors." In effect, that nullified the Second Great Commandment. It was like saying you don't really have to love anyone whom you hate. All kinds of disrespect and unkindness became impervious to the law's correction.
Jesus confronted the error head on:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:43-45).
Your enemy is made in God's image and therefore deserving of your respect and kindness. More important, Jesus said, if you want to be more like Godif you want the image of God to shine more visibly in your life and behaviorhere's the way to do it: love even your enemies.
Remember, "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). Such loveexpressed even toward our enemiesis the mark of the true Christian, because it is the most vivid expression of God's image in His own people. "As he is, so are we in this world" (v. 17).