A few thoughts on loving our neighbors…
God is a missionary God. God sent prophet after prophet and even sent His own Son (cf. Matt. 21:33ff). And now Jesus the Son is sending us into the world (Jn. 17:18). The task was dangerous for the prophets and deathly for Jesus. We shouldn’t expect anything less (Christians are the most persecuted group in the world). We were sent into the world, not a Christian conclave. And we were sent into the world not to win the world over to our side but to love the world, to love our neighbor. To implore the world on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).
We are not to hide in Christian castles, build castles, or lob missiles at the outside world from our castle. The commission from Christ did not include a castle, it included sacrificial—boots on the ground—compassion. God showed His love for us through the amazingly tangible incarnation and cross. There is a sense in which we too can give love flesh.
So, in the words of the old song, should we “hide it under a bushel? No!” “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). We must live in such a way that our beliefs are apparent but we must also respect the convictions of others. We must love our neighbors.
When we care about our neighbors as people that matter, because they matter to God, then we will stand out as people that actually care because we do care. The trick here is to actually care, and not just say we care. When we care, we provide a pervasive alternative to the capitalistic culture where people are often pawns to be used as means to an end.
When we care, people (often) hear. When we love our neighbors, we can meet their hostility towards Christianity with kindness, clarity, and honesty, and because we love them, what we share will typically be received with charity and not rejected outright (this at least has been my experience).
We need to be in our society and care about our society, not just societal issues. We must care about more than just our pet issues. We must care about actual people. We must love our neighbors (actually, how can we even love God if we don’t love our neighbors?! cf. 1 Jn. 4:20). In caring for our neighbors we must care for their bodies, their communities, and their larger social concerns.
As Christians, we shouldn’t expect that we will be the majority in politics or in our neighborhoods. Jesus tells us that those who follow Him will be few (Matt. 7:14), so we should believe Him. What we should expect, however, is that it will be hard to be a witness in the world as He also said but we should also be reassured because He sent us His Helper (Jn. 16:7).
As we truly love our neighbors, we will necessarily subvert, challenge, and transform our neighbors and even our neighborhoods in substantive ways. When we love our neighbors first (actual people created in the image of God), instead of trying to be a sheriff in a Wild West movie killing any rogue opinion, then we can truly imitate the love that Jesus had for people. We can concentrate less on reforming people and more on reflecting the love of Jesus.
Let’s love our neighbors. And let’s remember that love is premeditated. Let’s love remembering the premeditated and extravagant love of God.
About Paul O'BrienI am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)
I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)