Sunday, February 21, 2010

Relationships: Neighbor

Relationships here for the overview.


"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself." Luke 10:27

So we have discussed what it means to love our enemies. Now the next level of intimacy is our neighbors. Who are our neighbors? These are people that you actually come in personal contact with. These are the people that you live by or work with. Friends of friends or acquaintances. This is the girl in the checkout line at the grocery store. This is the lonely guy at the party. People that you have an interface with but are not friends with.

Your neighbor is also the bum on the street corner. The poor and the needy. The oppressed and forgotten. So these are people that you have been affected by personally or that God has affected your heart for personally. You hear people say "God has really given me a heart for the girls enslaved in sex trafficking." That is a call from God to love a specific neighbor. But these are people that you don't necessarily have affection for or personal relationship with. For all intents and purposes you do not call them a friend. But you are called to love.

We are commanded by God to love our neighbors. In the same way we were commanded to love our enemies. Now these are people that you would otherwise have no emotion for. But unlike the "enemy" you are in closer proximity. You have contact. So along with that comes a little more responsibility.

When the pharisees asked Jesus who their neighbor was he told them the story of the good Samaritan. Not only did the good Samaritan help the stranger to a safe place, he provided his immediate needs. So loving your neighbor commands personal interaction. It requires you to actual do something to make an impression on another person and in turn share the love of Jesus.

Some have a specific call to love a specific group of neighbors. These are the missionaries, the relief workers, the food shelter workers. Those that work for the cause of the oppressed, the lost, the rejects. One person came immediately to mind when I thought of what it meant to love my neighbor. Mother Teresa. She devoted her life to loving those who would otherwise would be unloved. And if you read about her experiences she will be the first one to say that it was the loving that made the difference in peoples lives. Not the food or clothes or shelter that was provided by her work; just simply the love.

Now even though Jesus was very clear that we were to love our neighbor and to give to the poor and the needy I think he expected us to be wise about it. There are a few keys to keep in mind. Number one don't forget about yourself. We are also commanded to love ourselves. So that means we need to use wisdom in how we go about loving our neighbor. We don't go down to the slum part of town at night, by ourselves to hand out hot cocoa. That is not wise and it is not looking out for yourself.

You also don't empty your bank account and give it all to the poor. Unless you have a very specific word from the Lord to do so. Otherwise you are now a burden on someone else to take care of. Your giving or loving should not be counter productive. When we are called to deny self for the kingdom that means to deny our selfishness. We don't bankrupt ourselves physically or emotionally for the cause of love. Because that is not loving yourself. We need to think in these terms as a nation as well.  How is the love that we are showing other nations facilitated?  Are our actions the most loving for the people we are loving?  We need to be loving in a way that is teaching people to be self sufficient but not doing that at the expense of our own self sufficiency. That is why it is important that we love or give in obedience to what God has asked, so that we are never lacking because He makes up the difference. So ask God specifically how he wants you to show love to your neighbor and ask for limits as to when your job is done.

Second giving or loving for selfish reasons is not love. You could work at the food shelter all day and if you did it just to look good or for attention, that is not loving your neighbor. {1 Cor 13:3} If you make an obvious gesture in church that you just put $50 bucks in the offering plate. That is not giving out of love. That is giving for selfish gain.

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do...your Father, who sees what is done in the quiet, will reward you." Matt 6:1, 4

So what if you don't have a specific call or "heart" to go into missions? Are you off the hook? Nope. You are still called to love the neighbors that you do come in contact with. And that love is to be displayed in action with wisdom and guidance from God. But it should be simple really. It should not be a difficult task for us as Christians to let someone cut in front of us in line. Or hold a door open for an old lady. Help the guy that dropped all his books. Take some extra clothes to the goodwill. To not engage in the latest gossip at work. Or cover for someone at work by working on your day off. Give up your seat on the bus. Buy a coffee for the guy behind you in line. There are lots of things we can do and should do and are commanded to do!

"Spread love everywhere you go, let no one ever come to you without leaving happier." Mother Teresa

We should be a witness to the love of God in all situations. So that God is glorified in all that you do and to everyone you come into contact with. Can you imagine what the world would be like if Christians just did what they were commanded to do? We were not commanded to love our only our Christian friends. We were commanded to love our neighbors and strangers. And it's the non-Christians that seem to be passing us up in this department! Your life is to testify the love of Christ even when no one is looking. Even when you gain nothing. Even when you don't feel like it.

So to sum your neighbor! Who is your neighbor? Anyone that you have come in contact with. Someone that has affected you or that God has affected your heart for. These are not personal relationships. These are generally people that we otherwise have no affection for. But we are to love them by random acts of kindness or being called to serve in a missions situation. There is generally no commitment in these relationships. Therefore no reciprocal love or emotion is to be expected. Often all you will get is a thank you. Gratification is gained simply by knowing that you have obeyed God's command to love your neighbor.

Next post we will be discussing how we are called to love our friends.

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