Love Your Neighbor

April 23, 2020 at 10:21 AM Leave a comment

When Jesus told His followers to “love your neighbor” (Mark 12:30-31), He had a definitive and concrete concept of what that meant then and what it means for us now. What does that really mean for Christians today?

It would be impossible to do or say all things that evidences love for everyone because people have their own idea of what “love” means, so to some folks, no matter how hard we try, believe we’re doing it wrong, based on their understanding of love. Normally today, the concept of love is far selfish or self-centered than what Jesus meant. Paul spells it out in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love, as Jesus meant, is to reach out to other people with the Good News (Gospel), first and foremost. Certainly, if we truly love others, we will share the Gospel with them because we don’t want anyone to leave this life without receiving the Lord’s salvation. That is primary. But along with that goal of spreading the Gospel because we don’t want to see anyone perish, there is the daily “grind” of treating other people as we ourselves, want to be treated and as we often do treat ourselves.

To love your neighbor can mean getting to know them and eventually talking with them about God in Christ. It can also mean evidencing that love for them by a willingness to help them and even provide for them when they need help. Today, because of Coronavirus that has kept most folks sheltered in place, a good thing to do is to check up on neighbors, especially older folks or the infirm, making sure they have what they need to make it through. This can be done with a phone call or standing out in their front yard as they come to the door.

Sometimes, loving your neighbor means coming alongside them to simply get to know them, to let them know that there is someone who cares, who will listen, who will be there for them. This “loving kindness” can and often does open doors for the Gospel.

What I’ve noticed about living in the South is that most everyone I meet is a “Christian.” Ask them and they’ll tell you.

When we moved into our home we live in now about three years ago, we got to know our immediate neighbors (we have two on one side and nobody on the other side for at least six acres). One of the first things I discussed with the one family closest to us was whether or not they were Christians; did they know Jesus? In that case, I was heartily assured that they did. I’ve tried to keep that communication going but it’s difficult because people in the South who have lived here forever believe they are Christians simply by being born into a family that went to church or has a Bible. It’s sometimes difficult to help folks understand the value of a working relationship with Jesus. It’s not simply, “Hey, I’ve got salvation!” It’s an ongoing process of sanctification once we receive salvation.

As we walk our dirt roads walking our dog, we come in contact with other “neighbors.” One particular gentleman lived in a nice home about one half to three quarter of a mile away from us, but we would walk past his home often during our walks. We would stop briefly to chat with him. He told us the name of his beagle, Dolly. We got to know other people and their dogs along the road as well.

The conversation with this older gentleman never really got passed chit chat. We tried, but it was a bit difficult. He wasn’t out that much and when we’d walk by, his dog Dolly would just bark at us because, well, we were walking by. We tried to talk but Dolly had to let everyone know that she was the boss of the yard and no one was getting by her. She certainly wasn’t vicious by any means. She was just “on guard.” Often, the old man would simply call the dog into the house and he’d follow her there with a wave of his hand to us.

The old gentleman never seemed unhappy. He was often working around his home, trimming tree branches, ripping up an area of lawn to replant, or in one case, removing a huge tree and planting lawn where it had been. He’d often be in his garage listening to his favorite music.

One day, we walked past his house and noticed everything was very quiet and dark. In fact, the home seemed vacant. There literally was no sign of life, not even from Dolly. No barking, no friendly smile or wave from the old man.

Several weeks went by and eventually there was a “for sale” sign on his front lawn near the road. We simply assumed that either the old gentleman or his wife had passed away and the survivor had chosen to move in with relatives.

More weeks went by until we began talking to the old gentleman’s neighbor who was sitting out on her front porch. We asked her about her neighbor. Turns out, the old gentleman’s wife had died about a year and a half ago. All he had left was his beagle, Dolly. A few weeks before the house went up for sale, Dolly died and the old gentleman was truly alone and bereft, trying to bear up under the pain of having first lost his wife and now his only other companion.

To make matters worse, according to the neighbor, the old gentleman’s own grown adult kids never came to visit him. I cannot imagine that, You raise children, help them get established and during your own twilight years, they ignore you. That must have hurt the old guy as well, in spite of his outward demeanor of contentment. In fact, we learned that the house had been left to the wife’s sister, not to the kids.

As we talked with the woman neighbor, I asked what happened to the old gentleman. Had he gone to live with another relative? She paused for a moment and stated that after his dog died, he apparently felt he had nothing to live for. So one afternoon, he got into his truck and drove to the sheriff’s station about 10 miles away. He pulled into the parking lot out in front of the building and shot himself to death. He wanted to make sure he’d be found so did not want to end his life in his own home.

I was shocked and perplexed. Would it have made any difference at all if we had tried harder to get to know him? Would it have made any difference if we had deliberately spent more time trying to get to know him? I’m really not sure but the woman neighbor we talked with said that she and her husband had tried on numerous occasions to invite him over for dinner or just to simply talk with him. The old man was hard to get to know.

This whole thing reminded me that this world is filled with hurting people, but often, they hide it so well, don’t they? They have no one they think they can count on and often, they don’t want to open themselves up to others for fear of being disappointed or let down.

I truly wish we could have had the chance to have gotten to know him, but I get the impression it would have been very hard for him to just relax and be himself around us, even if he had allowed us in closer.

It is a strange thing to think that someone is here one day, and gone the next, and by their own hand because they did not think there was anything in life that held them here.

There are so many ways we can love our literal neighbors and we should keep trying to show our love for them even when they don’t let us past the invisible line they’ve drawn in the sand.

My heart goes out to that old gentleman (and many others like him). We continue our walks and every time we walk past his empty house, I think of him. I remember his smile, his outwardly calm demeanor and his apparent likability. The problem is not being able to see what was really going on in his mind and heart.

Jesus said we must love our neighbor as we love our own self. He wasn’t saying that we should love ourselves. He was saying that we already love self and in the same way, we should love others. The reality is that we cannot do both. You honestly cannot love your own self and others at the same time. It is really one or the other. That was Jesus’ point.

For most Christians, myself included, loving other people is a practice that takes time to develop. Most of the time, we are thinking of how life affects us, how what people say affects us, etc. As a Christian, I need to be redirecting that “love” of self and ensure that it reaches out to others. It means putting them first, not putting myself first.

It is a very difficult road to hoe and the difficulties and roadblocks to loving others can be different for each person. Because of our fallen nature, we are far more apt to do things in life that cater to self. It takes practice to create a new habit of loving other people.

I know people who have steady personalities. They are often unruffled by the same kind of things in life that at times, knock my feet out from under me. I have learned a good deal from observing them and I am extremely grateful for their living example. This doesn’t mean I imitate what they do perfectly and let’s face it, no one is perfect and they would be the first to admit that. However, from the outside, they appear caring and concerned about other people. They tend to reach out more easily to the needs of other people. Because of the steadiness of their demeanor, it is easier for them (it seems) to do what is most loving.

I find that for myself, loving others is not quite as easy as some find it, though I also know that I’ve improved over the years and that of course, is due to the Presence of God’s Holy Spirit within me. Yet, the frustration of still knowing that I have such a long way to go exists. Will I ever see huge gains in this life? I’m hopeful. Very hopeful. I know that it won’t happen by accident, but only by my perseverance in pursing God’s character. This is only done by submitting myself to His will even when I don’t fully understand what His will is, but know that I must submit to Him.

I think of times in my life where my eyes were so focused on me and my “needs” that I couldn’t see anyone else or their needs. I’m supposed to take that and with God’s help, turn it around so that the focus becomes other people.

We need to all endeavor to submit our self-directed will to Him for His working in and through us. It’s all for His glory anyway, right?

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