What would it mean if we actually loved our neighbors? I mean really loved them the way Jesus mandates: to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”
To be sure, the definition of neighbor is actually far bigger and more inclusive than just our literal neighbors. However, it doesn’t make the person you see when taking out the trash any less your neighbor. Unfortunately, we don’t always live that way. We pull into our garage and close the door behind us, never taking the time or opportunity to truly get to know and build meaningful relationships with our neighbors.
The biblical story of the Good Samaritan reminds us of what it takes to love our neighbor as ourselves. To simply say animosity existed between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ time would be an understatement. Religious and historical differences had driven a relational wedge between the two groups. God’s people knew the commandment of loving God with all their being and to love their neighbors as themselves. Yet, they chose to interpret the commandment of loving their neighbor as limited to those who were of a similar background.
The parable of the Good Samaritan comes out of a teaching moment Jesus took advantage of to challenge the attitude of the day. In the story, the Samaritan demonstrates what it means to love our neighbor. A man was beaten and left on the side of the road to die. While he lay there helpless, others, including some of the religious elite of the day, continually passed him by.
It was the sympathetic Samaritan who saw the victim’s situation and responded to his needs. While others went out of their way to avoid him, this Samaritan was a loving neighbor personified. He showed mercy, compassion and generosity to a person with whom he had no similarities and from whom he would receive no benefits by helping.
I have heard it said that sometimes Christians aim to love everyone and, as a result, end up loving no one. We may not have an opportunity to have meaningful relationships and love all our neighbors. But we can be intentional about neighboring.
For much of my life, I have found a unique way of redefining or expanding the term and meaning of “neighbor.” And I encourage you to try these few things I’ve learned. They made a big difference for me when it comes to knowing and loving my neighbors well. And they may do the same for you.
1. Identify your neighbors
Begin by drawing a map of your neighborhood and plot out who you know and what you know about them. This will begin to create and lead to more intentionality when it comes to knowing and loving your neighbors.
2. Call your neighbors by name
Take time to learn, retain and use your neighbors’ names when talking to them. Nothing is quite as sweet to a person’s ears as his or her own name. Consider writing your neighbors’ names on a piece of paper after the first meeting and then place the list on your refrigerator. Seeing their names on a regular basis will make it easier to know them and will also serve as a great reminder to pray for them. It is hard to love someone when you don’t even know his or her name.
3. Spend time in the front yard
It is easy with our fenced-in yards to hide away in the backyard. Most, if not all, meaningful interactions with neighbors, however, happen in the front yard. Find any chance you can to be in the front yard, whether it is to play catch with the kids or to wash the car. Simply making a conscious decision to hang out in the front yard can open great opportunities to get to know your neighbors. If you live in a condo or an apartment, spend time in the complex’s shared spaces.
4. Free up your schedule
Learning to say no in order to free up your schedule creates the space to spend more time in your community. We live in an incredibly fast-paced world in which it is easy to run past and overlook the needs of others. Clearing your schedule allows you to slow down enough to live aware of those who are around you. Love requires an element of being proactive. What can you do to be more proactive in showing love to your neighbors?
As Christians, we have no choice but to love those around us, even when they have harmed us. We can love people and not love God, but we cannot love God and not love people. The two go together.
The best way we can show love to our neighbors is to share the good news of the gospel with them. God has placed you where you are and given you circles to influence. Don’t let the next opportunity slip by without rising to the challenge of investing in someone’s spiritual journey.
Will you be the one God uses to bring someone to life in Jesus? It’s a question only you can answer.
Lee Stephenson, Executive Director of Church Planting
Lee Stephenson has served as the Church Planting executive director for Converge since the spring of 2015. He earned both a bachelor and master’s degree in ministry from Bethel College (Mishawaka, IN). Lee also started and is lead pastor of Harvest Community Church, Orlando, Florida. He has also served on the Vision Arizona church planting LEAD team and is a go-to coach for church leadership and planting.