The church is our neighbor to a greater extent than our country is because if we care for the church we are caring for the souls and the eternal life of the people of our country. This means that if we care for the church out of love we are loving our neighbor on a higher level because we are longing and striving for others to reach heaven and have happy lives forever.
The Lord’s kingdom is our neighbor on a still higher level because the Lord’s kingdom is made up of all whose lives are devoted to doing good, both people on earth and people in the heavens. This means that the Lord’s kingdom is goodness of all kinds gathered together. When we love this, we love every individual who is devoted to doing good.
These are the levels of neighbor, the steps by which love ascends in people who are devoted to loving their neighbor. These levels are in a definite sequence in which the primary or higher is preferable to the secondary or lower; and since the Lord is on the highest level and is to be our central focus on every level as the ultimate goal of our actions, he is to be loved above all people and above all things.
This now makes it possible for us to tell how love for the Lord becomes joined to love for our neighbor.
It is often said that we are neighbors to ourselves, meaning that we need to look after ourselves first. However, teachings on caring tell us how we should understand this.
We all need to make sure that we have the necessities of life, such as the food, clothing, housing, and more that are necessary for whatever civic life we are involved in. We need to provide these not only for ourselves but also for our dependents, and not only for the present time but also for the future, since unless we acquire the necessities of life for ourselves we are not in any condition to extend caring to others; we ourselves are instead in need of everything.
The following example may show how we are to be neighbors to ourselves. We all need to provide our bodies with their food and clothing. This needs to come first, but the object is to have a sound mind in a sound body. Further, we all need to provide food for our minds, meaning things that build our intelligence and wisdom, but the object is that our minds will be able to be of service to our fellow citizens, our community, our country, the church, and therefore the Lord. If we do this we are providing for our well-being to eternity. We can see from this that what should come first is the purpose for which we do something, because everything depends on that.
It is also like building a house. First we need to lay the foundation, but the purpose of the foundation is the house, and the purpose of the house is living in it. If we think being neighbor to ourselves is actually the most important thing, this is like regarding not the house or living in it but the foundation as our final goal. But in reality, from start to finish, living in the house is the true goal, and the house and its foundation are only means to this end.
from New Jerusalem, Sections 94-98