In Mark, when asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the law,” Jesus answered with two commandments: to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. In Jesus’ teachings, our relationship with our fellow man is inseparable from our relationship with God, but in a time when neighbors are people we rarely see thanks to garage door openers and busy lives, or thought to be nuisances with barking dogs, noisy children and unkept yards, this concept has become foreign for many. There was a time when we valued our neighbors – we knew their names and we trusted them to play valuable roles in our lives, including the lives of our children. But today, our neighborhoods have become places where nobody knows your name. As followers of Jesus, we are called to follow His command, but loving our neighbor can only begin with knowing our neighbor. As Christians, we must be intentional about this call.
If you are one of the many Christians today who want to follow Christ's call to love thy neighbor, you may be responding to Christ’s call to share your life more fully with others. When people decide to follow this path, they discover richer and more meaningful lives – lives that Jesus had in mind for all His people. This original calling was for Christians to be gathered, united in a community that demonstrates the transformative love of God through the sharing of all things in common and taking care of one another and their neighbors. We can do this by connecting with those who live right next door to us.
In the book, “Next Door as It is in Heaven” authors Lance Ford and Brad Brisco offer principles and best practices to make our neighborhoods places where compassion and care are once again part of the culture, where good news is once again more than words, and where the love of God can be once again rooted and established. One of the ways they challenge us to do this is by sitting down with our families and creating a neighborhood declaration of interdependence, a passionate call to action. The example they provide in their book begins with: We, the Christians of (insert your neighborhood), in order to form a more perfect community, provide for a common good, ensure tranquility and share in the joy of our own individual blessings. They then encourage highlighting those individual blessings. The examples they use in their book include: believe God has sent us to our neighborhood; believe God has gifted us to share our stuff with our neighbors; believe there are gifts from us to receive from others, trust the gifts are present to make us a better neighborhood; hold ourselves accountable for the welfare of our neighborhood, choose to steward our gifts and our power rather than be passive, or leave it to others to fix what is broken; choose to become active in excavating and activating the gift of others. This is a powerful, transformative call to love but the only way we can follow this through is by getting to know our neighbors.
In order to do this, we must first seek out our neighbors. In Ezekiel 34:16, God says, “I will seek out the lost and I will bring back the strayed.” God does this many times through His flock. Remember, Jesus didn’t spend His time around the saved, but the unsaved. It’s important as followers of Christ to model our lives after His. Seek out someone in your neighborhood that God has placed on your heart and use that relationship to reflect God’s love. Another beautiful thing that comes with seeking your neighbor is community. Nobody wants to feel like a stranger in their own neighborhood, and their also may be times where you need to call on a neighbor for help. You won’t know what your neighbor is going through, and your neighbor won’t know what you’re going through unless you seek them.
Next, we must see our neighbors for who they really are. In their book, Ford and Brisco give a great example of this when highlighting the cultural practice of a tribe in northern Natal in South Africa. Their most common greeting, equivalent to “hello” in English, is the expression Sawu bona. It means, “I see you.” If you are a member of the tribe, you may respond with Sikhona, “I am here.” Bestselling author Peter Senge, who relates to this greeting explains how important the order of exchange is in this common greeting. “Until you see me, I do not exist,” Senge said. “It’s as if, when you see me, you bring me into existence.” In this cultural practice, we can find a deep truth. When we don’t see people as people, then as far as it matters to us in that moment, they really don’t exist. Yes, we are busy people living in a busy world but we are also called by God to encourage others with love, joy and kindness. We should be conscious of how we approach people we encounter through the normal routines of our day. When we do this, we are answering God’s call here on earth to love others as we love ourselves.
How many neighbors around your home do you know by name? When was the last time you had a conversation for five minutes with your neighbor? If you’re having trouble answering these, consider taking the time over the next week to behold your neighbors. Sit down and think daily about their lives in light of what you think about them. At the end of each day this week, think about those people that you’ve encountered face to face. When you behold them, you are boldly reflecting God’s love. Loving starts with knowing and knowing starts with getting to know.