For most of my adult life I’ve lived in an apartment and one of the biggest realizations is this: it can be difficult to have neighbors that are so close to you. Rarely have I had quiet neighbors that have totally kept to themselves. I’ve heard the intricacies of arguments that I wish I could unhear. I’ve smelled cooking that was not appealing. I’ve been awakened in the middle of the night to a barking dog or to a loud crash of pots and pans falling out of a cabinet unexpectedly.
It isn’t always fun being a neighbor.
Sometimes it’s challenging to want to be a good neighbor to people because of the way they act. On the other hand, it’s not always as obvious to us that we might be the neighbor that needs some improvement. Being a good neighbor should not be something that we do because it is reciprocated by another person. Being neighborly to others is what God asks us to do despite the way they might treat or think of you.
The biblical concept of being a neighbor goes beyond those who are in our immediate vicinity. It is not just someone who lives in your apartment building or on your street. A neighbor is not limited to someone that looks like you, talks like you, or acts like you. A neighbor is not just someone who is a Christian. A neighbor is not just someone who shares citizenship in the same country as you. The Bible is clear that all fellow humans are our neighbors. This is a concept that Jesus really drove home in a conversation with a Pharisee.
The expert lawman approaches Jesus and asks “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). Jesus then asks for the man’s opinion on what the law has to say about it. The man responds with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27). Jesus affirms the lawyer’s answer, but the lawyer had a follow up question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The question: “Who is my neighbor?” is not a
question of identifying who his neighbors are but rather who they aren’t. The question that the man is really asking is this: who am I allowed to not be loving towards and still get away with it? Jesus explains in the parable that follows this interaction that being a good neighbor means loving other people regardless of who they are.
Paul in Romans 13 really drives the point home on what it means to love our neighbors.
He says this:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).
Paul begins his thought on neighborly love by speaking about debt. Paul wants to make it clear that the only thing we truly owe one another is to love one another continually. What a remarkable thought. That’s a type of debt that even Dave Ramsey can get behind!
Paul continues with a list of familiar commandments. The “shall not” list is a list of bare minimums of how we should treat one another. We shouldn’t be killing each other, or stealing from each other, or desiring one another’s possessions. But if we seek to love one another we are truly fulfilling what is required of us: not just scraping by on what’s minimally expected. That’s why Paul finishes up with this thought: “Love does no harm to a neighbor”. We should look to fulfill the highest good to those around us by never seeking to do harm in any capacity. Let us seek the good of those who might not seek our good in return. Let us not repay negatively for what negative things people might have done to us. Let’s take the higher path and accept the greater calling that God has called us to: to love others with no bounds.
Let’s strive to be good neighbors by seeking out the good to those around us. Let us be as loving as possible to others who are different from us. Let us fulfill what God has called us to: to love people no matter who they are or how different they might be. Let’s continually aim to fulfill the high calling of loving others as we love ourselves.
A lot has been said about loving others and seeking the good of those around us, but that is more of an ideal than something to do. Loving those around us in a neighborly way is extremely practical. It could be meeting the needs of someone in your community – whether physical, spiritual or emotional. It could be volunteering at your local food pantry to sacrifice some of your time to help the hungry. It could be spending time after school tutoring someone who is struggling in a subject. It could be performing a service for someone that isn’t physically capable of doing it. It could be spending time with a shut-in who is lonely. It could be discipling someone to follow Jesus. Loving people is an extremely practical act.
Being a good neighbor means meeting the needs of those around you regardless if they return the favor to you. Loving people is an endless job that will never have an end. The world needs strong examples of what it means to be a good neighbor, and it starts with us.
- What does it mean to be a good neighbor?
- Who are some neighbors in your community that need help, and how can you
- How does being a loving neighbor positively impact your community?