Are You the Christ-follower Next Door?
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Why do we make this simple command so hard? Instead of just doing it, we over-examine and dissect it with questions like “what does love really mean here?” and “Is a neighbor someone in need, everyone in general, or something else?” In the midst of solving this puzzle, we implement a murky placeholder for the command. “Love” becomes anything not directly offensive or intrusive, and “neighbor” becomes such a vague global notion of everyone, we’re all but off the hook from loving the actual people we’re surrounded by everyday: our neighbors.
Note: To be clear, I am not limiting Jesus’ “love your neighbor as yourself” command to only those next door and across the street. The command impacts our relationship with everyone; for as the parable of the Good Samaritan makes clear, anyone in need of a helping hand – regardless of our fondness for them – qualifies as our neighbor. However, I have found that people often struggle with where to start when it comes to loving their neighbors. Why not start at home? Bloom where you’re planted and expand from there.
With that said, how can we get back to the core of this command and make strides toward living it out in our immediate areas of influence?
Top Three Things Stopping Us from Loving Our Neighbors: Time, Fear, and Misunderstanding
“I don’t have time to invest in my neighbors”
I agree with you. In fact, I’m in the same boat. I don’t have time for my neighbors either. I actually don’t have time for prayer, meditating upon God’s Word, or sharing the gospel. My schedule is packed with my roles as a husband, father, employee, church volunteer, and more. But that’s all because having time and taking time are two very different things.
In order to have an impact on the neighbors next door, across the way, or beyond the alley we have to take time from something else. Now, if you’re going to say there is nothing you can take time from in order to pour time into fulfilling the second greatest commandment Jesus gave us, I would be much less hesitant to agree. I recommend meditating upon your schedule as well as your daily and your weekly routine – including the weekends. What could you take time from in order to make time for this most important of activities?
The fear of what if…
“What if my neighbors don’t like me?” “What if I don’t like them?” “What if it turns into a major commitment I’m not ready for?” “What if they’re like that neighbor I saw on the News the other night?” Exhausted yet? Who wouldn’t be after mentally living out a 100 outcomes that haven’t happened? But What if your neighbors do like you? What if you do like them? What if the Lord opens an opportunity for someone to hear the gospel next door? What if one of the best friendships you’ve ever had is a smile and friendly introduction away? Anticipating the positive instead of the negative can be very helpful and rewarding. But I think there is another tactic that can be even more helpful.
Instead of surrounding yourself with anxiety-driven “what-ifs”, consider surrounding yourself with the example of Jesus and directives He gives for us to be His hands and feet. Swap your “what ifs” for “even ifs.”
- Even if my neighbor is non-responsive to my efforts, I know I am honoring God by seeking to live out His commands.
- Even if my neighbor turns out to be unkind, I know God will use my efforts to impact him/her in some way that is for my good and His glory.
- Even if my neighbor has no interest in the gospel when the opportunity opens to share it, I will thank God for the opportunity to be a faithful witness for Him and a potential stepping stone to their future salvation.
I highly suggest taking all those paralyzing “what ifs” that pop up when you think about loving your neighbors, and replacing them with faith-driven “even ifs” that move you to step out as the hands and feet of our Savior.
Misunderstanding the mission
When some Christians hear “love your neighbor as yourself” in regard to their actual neighborhood, they can immediately interpret it as “neighborhood evangelism.” It becomes a mission to find the neighbors who don’t seem to know Jesus and blaze the shortest possible path to a gospel presentation. This can cause us to pursue an ulterior motive instead of an ultimate motive. Here’s what I mean.
An ulterior motive is usually manipulative. It’s when we say or do something in the open but intend something else privately. In a neighborhood context, it could mean that we are sweet to our neighbors or seek to help them for a time – but in reality, we’re only looking for an opportunity to share the gospel. It’s a much nicer version of bait-and-switch.
An ultimate motive is different. It’s an eventual point that we hope to get to; a longed-for destination. In a neighborhood context, it could mean that we truly seek to love, help, and bless our neighbors for their good. In doing so, as we have conversations and grow in fellowship, we look for natural opportunities to share the story of Jesus and His impact on our lives. It’s simply part of sharing the things you care about most with others as those conversations happen. However, your love as a neighbor is not hinged upon a gospel transaction. In short, we don’t love our neighbors to convert them. We love them because we are converted.
By taking these three points into consideration, I think we can take big steps toward loving our neighbors and opening new gospel opportunities that we never even considered. Why not start today with one of these simple steps:
- Start an across-the-yard conversation – it’s as simple as it sounds
- Leave a baked good on a doorstep (with a note that it has been handled safely)
- Offer to help with some yard work that you can perform while socially distanced
- Download a neighborhood app (like NextDoor.com) and introduce yourself to neighbors
- Ask if anyone in the neighborhood is interested in starting a bookclub via a Facebook or email group.
When you stop to think about it for a bit, the opportunities for simply getting to know your neighbors to extend the love of Jesus toward them are virtually endless.
PO Box 703929
Dallas, TX 75370-3929