These are also ascending levels of neighbor. A community of many is a neighbor on a higher level than a single individual. On a level still higher is our country, on a level still higher is the church, and on a level still higher is the Lord’s kingdom; but on the highest level, our neighbor is the Lord. These ascending levels are like the rungs of a ladder with the Lord at the top.
A community is a neighbor to a greater extent than an individual is because it is made up of many individuals. We are to exercise goodwill toward it just the way we do with respect to individuals, namely, according to the goodness that we find in it. This means that the exercise of goodwill directed toward a community of honest people is totally different from goodwill directed toward a community of dishonest people. We love a community when we are concerned for its welfare because of our love of what is good.
Our country is our neighbor to a greater extent than our community because it is a kind of parent. It is where we were born; it nourishes us and protects us from harm.
We should do good to our country out of love according to its needs, which focus particularly on nourishment for it and on the civil life and the spiritual life of the people who live in it.
If we love our country and do what is good for it because we care about it, then in the other life we love the Lord’s kingdom because there the Lord’s kingdom is our country. Further, anyone who loves the Lord’s kingdom loves the Lord because the Lord is absolutely all there is to his kingdom.
The church is our neighbor to a greater extent than our country because if we care about the church we are caring about 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 heaven and eternal, happy lives for others.
The Lord’s kingdom is our neighbor on a still higher level because the Lord’s kingdom is made up of all who are engaged in doing what is good, both people on earth and people in the heavens. This means that the Lord’s kingdom is where everything that is good is gathered together. When we love this, we love every individual who is engaged in doing what is good. These are the levels of neighbor, the levels by which love increases for people devoted to love for their neighbor.
These levels, though, 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 any level as the goal we seek, he is to be loved above all people and all things.
This now enables us to tell how love for the Lord unites itself with love for our neighbor.
It is often said that our neighbor is ourself, meaning that we look after ourselves first. However, a theology of goodwill tells us how we should understand this.
We all need to take care to have the necessities of life, such as the food, clothing, shelter, 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 cannot be in any condition to extend goodwill. We are in fact in need of everything.
The following comparison may show how we are to be our own neighbors. 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. Furthermore, we all need to provide food for our minds in the form of those things that focus on intelligence and wisdom, the object being that the mind will then be in condition to be of service to our fellow citizens, our human community, our country and church, and therefore the Lord. If we do this we are providing for our well-being to eternity. We can see from this that the main thing is our ultimate purpose in acting, because everything depends on that.
It is also like someone who is building a house. First we need to lay a foundation, but the purpose of the foundation is the house and the purpose of the house is living in it. If we think being a neighbor to ourselves really comes first, it is like regarding the foundation as the objective rather than the house and our life in the house, when in fact our life in the house truly is the first and final goal, and the house and its foundation are only means to this end.
from Regeneration, Pages 12-14