“Love your neighbor.” That command is echoed throughout Scripture (see Matthew 22:34-40, Leviticus 19:18, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8). And typically when it’s taught in church, pastors focus on how our “neighbor” is anyone and everyone: co-workers, relatives, enemies, and strangers are your neighbor and you need to love them.
So that is how the command to “love your neighbor” typically gets taught. And there is a lot of truth in what I just wrote. But here’s the problem. And it’s a biggie. If we say our neighbor is anyone and everyone, if we define our neighbor in that manner, then we don’t need to feel guilty about NOT loving them.
Because after all, in our hectic and overloaded lives, we can’t really be expected to love EVERYBODY, can we?
This is a classic example of the cliche: “When you aim at everything, you don’t hit anything.”
When we tell ourselves we need to be neighbors with every person on planet earth, that we need to love everybody… then in reality, we often end up being actual neighbors with NOBODY.
Instead of following Jesus’ command at face value, we reinterpret it. We redefine it. We rationalize that this command only applies to the wounded enemy lying on the side of the road — like the story of the Good Samaritan. So since we haven’t come across our arch nemesis in a ditch lately, then we decide we are doing just fine when it comes to loving our neighbor! 🙂
Please don’t get me wrong. Yes, we need be kind toward every person we come into contact with. We should not hate anyone. We should not judge anyone. We should even pray for our enemies.
But when it comes down to it… when it comes to showing God’s love in actual ways… when it comes to showing God’s love in practical ways… here is a key question. A convicting question:
What if Jesus meant that we should love our actual neighbors? The people who live right next door. The people who live across the street. The people who live on our block.
Jesus said “love your neighbor.” So as His disciples, we should love… our… neighbor. Right? In other words, the people who we typically think of when we use the word “neighbor.”
So just who is your “neighbor” in the normal usage of the word? Not the person in Iraq. Not the homeless person we drive by on our way to work. Instead, it’s the person or family who lives next door to us or across the street or a few doors down.
When we hear the word “neighbor” THOSE are the people we think of, right? Those are our neighbors. And Jesus said we need to love them.
But here’s the truth: you can’t love someone that you don’t know.
Here’s a quick quiz… think about the closest 8 residences to wherever you call “home sweet home.” Whether you live in a house, condo, apartment, or dorm room. Do you know the names of the folks who live in those 8 closest residences? Do you know the ages of their kids? The name of their dog? Do you know any other piece of information beyond that? Like what they do for a living? Where they grew up? Their favorite sports team?
Think about it.
May you live in the tension of what you are most likely feeling right now. Of what I am feeling as I write this blog. That while all of us may say we live in a “neighborhood” it would be more accurate to say you and I live in a “strangerhood.” That we don’t know some super basic things about people who live less than a block from us.
Stay tuned for my next blog as I begin to share what Kellie and I are doing to go from living in a “strangerhood” to a “neighborhood.” 🙂
P.S. This blog was inspired by The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. It’s one of the most practical books I have read in a long time. Pick up a copy!
***”Our Father Who Art in Heaven.” That’s the title of my sermon this Sunday as we launch a new series that will press into our Core Values. September 14th. 10:30am. More info at tevchurch.org***