Who is my "Neighbor"?

I’ve got a confession to make, right out here where everyone can see it: I have been disobedient to a significant command of Jesus for most of my adult life.

Jesus had just identified “love your neighbor as yourself” as the second-most important commandment in all of Scripture (right after “love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”). His self-righteous, legalistically minded hearers needed clarification: exactly who is included in this obligation to neighbor-love? How far must we go to satisfy the requirements of the Law in neighbor-love?

Jesus told a story to answer that question, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). After scandalizing his audience by portraying the religious types as neglectful of their neighbors’ needs and showing that the hated Samaritan was the compassionate one who cared for his neighbor, Jesus asked his own question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36).

His point, of course, is that my “neighbor” is anyone who comes within my circle of influence who needs my help.

As I think about the people who live in the other houses on our block, I have to come to grips with the fact that I have not been a good neighbor to them. I don’t know what kinds of life-warping needs they are dealing with.

Of course, in our Beavercreek neighborhood, I’m not talking about the kinds of obvious needs like the man in Jesus’s story: he had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead. But my neighbors may well have deep, heart-wrenching needs that I can’t see, at least not from inside my own house. Their greatest need is to know that God loves them so much that He sent His Son to pay the awful price to bring them Home. I don’t know my neighbors well enough to know whether they have ever understood or even heard that Good News.

So where do I begin? I begin at the beginning, by praying for my neighbors. I let my prayers echo God’s love for my neighbors by praying that He will open opportunities for us to have spiritual conversations with the people who live around us.

Next step? Learning their names. That hasn’t been easy. No one came to the door to introduce themselves and welcome us to the neighborhood. Over the past two years I’ve had to look for opportunities to initiate even that simple introduction: while working in my yard I’ll keep an eye out for someone outside, and I’ve walked across the street to introduce myself. Slowly, over the months, I’ve learned all the names so that I can now tell you the name of at least one adult in every house on the street.

The next step? Begin to pray for my neighbors by name. Faithfully. And continue to pray that God will open those doors.

Then be alert for opportunities to help: elderly neighbors need help with yardwork, young families need help with childcare… As we get involved with our neighbors in occasional tasks, we build relationships.

Eventually, we get to hospitality, asking neighbors into our homes.

And eventually, our neighbors feel welcome enough to drop in or call on us when they need prayer or help with something.

That way, when we invite our neighbors to church, we are inviting friends, not strangers.

This topic came up at the elders retreat this week; to a man, we all admitted, to our shame, that we’ve been too busy serving God to obey Jesus’s command. We want to be those neighbors who organize the block party, the family who invites neighbors and co-workers into their homes, the people who cultivate deep friendships that can sustain the weight of a spiritual conversation.

We want to obey Jesus.

Paul Pyle
Discipleship Pastor