Loving Your Neighbor (When It’s Hard)

Some time ago, my next-door neighbor began a major renovation on his home.

Not a new driveway. Not a new bathroom. We are talking about a total demolition of his home from the first floor up!

There was a constant parade of contractors, deliveries, and construction equipment on our block for months.

One morning as I was taking my wife to work, one of the delivery trucks was blocking my driveway as they parked to make a delivery for the construction project.

Of course, these things ONLY happen when late for work.

We asked the guy to move…. and he did… reluctantly.

However, upon returning, the same truck was blocking my driveway again, which prevented me from entering.

I blew my horn… no response.

I blew it again… still no response.

I drove to the front of my neighbor’s driveway… (yes, you read that right… they only blocked MY DRIVEWAY, but the neighbor’s driveway… was unobstructed)!

I blew my horn again to get someone’s attention… all to no avail.

After several minutes of this, I admit that I was a bit aggravated.

At that point, I drove up my neighbor’s driveway to see if I could find my neighbor or the delivery person. As I arrived at the top of the driveway, the driver was speaking to my neighbor in the middle of all the construction.

Once they saw me, the driver immediately recognized who I was, apologized profusely, and ran to move his truck.

My neighbor, realizing that I was a little upset, just waived “hello”… I waved back, got in my car, and backed out of his driveway.

We have been neighbors in this community for over four years, and that was the closest we have ever come to a squabble.

 Importance of Love

Remembering this situation the other day got me thinking.

More than any other time in recent memory, we are experiencing tense situations.

People everywhere are dealing with festering racial tensions, systemic inequalities, differences in political ideologies, growing fears of a global pandemic, and loss of freedoms (for health reasons) many took for granted.

As Christians, it can be easy to forget that our primary role is to win others to Christ… through word and deed.

Considering all that is going on, our focus can quickly shift from showing love to others to our self-interests.

And that’s the real challenge.

  • Showing Love when faced with inconsideration.
  • Showing Love when faced with disrespect.
  • Showing Love when being mistreated.
  • Showing love when we feel others don’t deserve it.

What does such a love even look like?

In a word: Jesus

In the scriptures, we see Jesus was often accused, mocked, tested, and scoffed at. Yet, the scriptures record that He maintained control by speaking factually, resolutely, and calmly.

More than His example, we also have the warning that those who follow Him will be persecuted as He was (John 15:19,20; 2 Timothy 3:12).

While there are and probably always will be tense situations where people will do or say things we don’t like, it’s still advisable to maintain both physical and verbal control.

Some of us are better at the former than the latter, but control over ourselves and our tongue is essential to walking circumspectly in our society.

The bottom line is that self-control is essential to our witness as Christians.

We will not be successful at leading others to Christ, the Great Commission unless we lead with love. The Apostle Paul emphasized just the importance of love as it pertains to our attitude and outward demeanor.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV)

Nothing we say or do as Christians will be influential, let alone effective unless it is done with love.


Difference Between Love and Acceptance

It is necessary to understand that Christians should always show love to others to win others to Christ and avoid accusations and negative attention by unbelievers (Titus 2:7,8). In this way, we can live peaceably and circumspectly in the world.

However, it is also essential to understand that showing love to others is not equivalent to accepting bad behavior.

One standard definition of acceptance is a “general agreement that something is satisfactory or right” 1

Christians can and should call out bad behavior and sin for what it is. To not do so is a dereliction of our duty to stand up for righteousness and justice (Deuteronomy 16:19,20 Psalm 94:16; Proverbs 25:26; James 4:17).

In pursuit of justice and righteousness, love must not be obscured or put aside.

No, love must be front and center in all that we do in our quest.

The Apostle Paul reminds us, Love is patient and kind; Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV)

We again turn to scripture to understand how to speak to others who may not agree or understand how they have offended us.

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

So, we see here that Jesus commands that we always use how we would want someone to speak to us (or any action towards another) as the standard of speaking to others.

And to put this principle into practice requires us to think very carefully about what we are to say in a situation and how received if someone spoke to us that way.

A careful action is a thoughtful action… a thoughtful action is a controlled action.

Being thoughtful and considerate fosters greater self-control in all that we do so that we may live out our faith as we should (Ephesians 5:15).

A Personal Witness That is NOT About Us

What often gets in the way of showing Love has to do with our heart… It’s a heart problem.

Upon being questioned if He could heal when His disciples could not Jesus clarified that it was not His power but his lack of belief (Mark 9:14-29).

Similarly, what prevents us from being a powerful witness of the gospel is not a lack of power in love but our willingness to extend the love we received from God to others.

A common snare of the Christian is pride.

Oh, we talk a good game…

We know how to act the part of the dutiful Christian.

We pray powerful prayers…

We tithe a tenth of our goods, but like the young rich ruler, we lack something. There is something we refuse to let go of. But letting go is essential to be an effective Christian witness.

We must surrender all.

The Master can use only the surrendered soul.

Only those who surrender can be a tool of Love God uses to pry open an unwilling ear, leading to a change of heart and mind.

Suppose we are to be effective witnesses for the gospel of Jesus Christ. In that case, we cannot use as our weapons pride, egotism, sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, nationalism, exceptionalism, or the like.

Our tool must be the same as Jesus’ tool

and Jesus’ tool is and always has been LOVE.

No wonder that Jesus, upon His ascension, told His followers that the world would know you by love. Love is the distinguishing characteristic of a disciple of Jesus (John 13:35).


Not by Might; Not by Power, but by My Spirit…

The Holy Spirit empowers one who has been born again to display the same love to others that God has shown him. Acting in love is not optional but a central part of living out the Christian faith.

Only those who are born again have the courage, born of the Holy Spirit, to love as God loves.

Only the spirit-filled disciple of Christ desires to love as God loves.

Only a true believer has the power to love as God loves.

  • An unselfish love … you may not be loved in return.
  • An unwavering love … you may not see the benefit of your love.
  • An everlasting love … no bounds, no limits, a love without end.
  • An unmerited love … Jesus went to the cross while we were sinners
  • A sacrificial love … Jesus sacrificed Himself for us

In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Jesus tells us of a person who was forgiven an outstanding debt by a benevolent King only to turn around and harass and threaten a person that owed him much less (Matthew 18: 23-35).

When the King heard about what had happened, he called the servant wicked for not having the same compassion for others.

Jesus ends the parable by clearly stating, “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should repay all that he owed. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:34,35 NKJV)

Remembering the importance of love in our everyday interactions will help us to keep the command to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.


Physics Class and the Christian Walk

I didn’t do well in High School Physics class.

In fact, it can be said that Physics and I didn’t get along well at all. It was a troubled relationship at best … and downright abusive at worst!

I had to memorize what seemed like endless theories and principles about the universe by people who have been dead for centuries. And then there were never-ending formulas that seem to be written in another language. I did my best, but it all seemed like “gobbli-gook” for the most part.

I remember specifically one time in class where I became so frustrated with my inability to understand that I basically walked out of class intent on never coming back.

I went to the guidance counselor and begged her to let me drop this class and take another elective… yes, you read that right… physics for me was an ELECTIVE CLASS! Physics was not required for my major. I was attracted to the subject because I wanted to know more about the universe and how it all worked.

I was a glutton for punishment in my youth!

Even from a young child I showed interest in the physical world and was acutely fascinated by the stars, planets and how they all worked and fit together. Little did I know that high school Physics would be much more than I bargained for.

High school physics was more than just looking at pretty pictures of the stars in my set of encyclopedias.*

*Age Myself Alert: For my readers born after 1990, encyclopedias were a volume set of home reference books we used to look up information prior to the invention of the internet.

Similarly, for many of us, our Christian walk is very much like my experience in Physics class. We are attracted to the high ideals of living for Christ, the joy of fellowship with other Christians, serving our communities, and the excitement of spending eternity with God and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

We are eternally grateful for the promises of God and the many-fold blessings He gives every single day…

but then the hard part comes.

The Bubble Bursts

Things happen to us we don’t expect…

  • We lose a job.
  • Our house gets foreclosed on.
  • We get diagnosed with a severe illness.
  • A close family member dies tragically and unexpectedly.
  • We could not conceive the children we desperately wanted.
  • We go through financial hardship… after hardship… after hardship.
  • A relationship we hoped would lead to marriage comes to a bitter end.
  • We suffer betrayal from a close friend … or worse… a family member!

We turn to our spiritual leaders in the church for perspective, but not all churches are equipped with people qualified with the gift of counseling.

Some may offer a helpful perspective and others… well, not so helpful. Some recite bible verses that “might not” quite fit our situation or even worse, don’t apply at all. It can be challenging to offer sincere advice when we have not been in the situation ourselves.

I’ve been there.

We know to turn to scripture and prayer in times like these… or at least we should.

Many do not. Prayer is an important discipline for the Christian, but it’s also a discipline that is best developed before a tragedy. There is nothing more frightening than looking for the fire extinguisher after the kitchen fire started.

I’m not suggesting that it’s not possible to pray effectively during times of stress, conflict, and tragedy. It’s more the case that if we have not made prayer a major part of our lives when times are good, it is unlikely we will turn to God in prayer as we should when things are bad.

Some will walk away in frustration as I tried to do from Physics class … intending to never return.

 Help from Scripture

In difficulty, we turn to scripture. We recite Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

We recite it like the formulas I tried to make sense of in Physics class and some of the other science classes.

We know it’s TRUE but still don’t understand or know how to navigate the situation. Application is the key, and learning how to apply scripture… the right scripture… to the situation is where we sometimes lack knowledge.

For many of us, knowledge is experiential. We gain knowledge and understanding as we do something. And like prayer, if we are not familiar with God’s word through daily reading and study, turning to the bible in tough times may be like walking into a library for the first time the day a term paper is due.

“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only…” (James 1:22).

The experience of going through something is often the “teacher,” not the knowledge in and of itself. “We’ll understand it better by and by,” as the old Charles Tindley hymn goes.

We learn by doing.

This concept is essential to understand because, like St. Augustine once said, “Understanding is the reward of faith… seek not to understand that you may believe but believe that you may understand.”

Belief, not empirical evidence, must guide our actions until substantiation appears. Christian beliefs are based upon historical facts grounded in the truth of eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus, death, and resurrection.

However, our actions will determine what and how strongly we believe. Therefore, consistent action in accordance with what we believe is paramount to know where to go and what to do when the need arises.

Relationship Is Key

So, what happened to me and my tumultuous relationship with Physics? My experience didn’t get any better with study, but by communicating with the teacher.

After meeting with the guidance counselor, I spoke to him and let him know about my challenges and frustrations. He told me something I would never forget, “don’t let a little course like this get you down… you are more than capable.”

It was not only the words he said, but his reassuring confidence in me to learn and do well in the course that motivated me to want to try and succeed.

Speaking to my teacher that day solved so much of the apprehension that stifled my learning of the material. High school physics wasn’t greater than me… I was greater than high school physics.

Comparably, God provides a similar message in His word:

“Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 KJV)

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their righteousness is from Me,” Says the LORD.” (Isaiah 54:17 NKJV)

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 BLB)

 “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV)

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 ESV)

And yet, these verses are but a few. Nothing of this world should intimidate the born-again believer because he/she has the victory over every situation because of Christ Jesus.

We can only be successful living as a Christian by spending time with God.

Just as I was encouraged by speaking to my teacher about my challenges, we should all spend time with God talking to Him and taking to heart the encouragement He gives through His written word.

Christianity does not come naturally… it comes spiritually. Developing a deepening relationship with our heavenly Father through Christ Jesus is the key to overcoming any challenge we may face.


So, what was the outcome of my high school physics class experience?

Well, let’s say that I did well enough on my final exam to barely pass… with one of the lowest grades of my high school career.

I learned one thing in physics that always stuck with me: It isn’t about how well we rise or fall in a situation, but how well we apply what we know.

Christianity is not something we will ever “master” in this life, no matter how hard we try. We will repeatedly need to reinforce even the most basic principles of love, patience, and forgiveness with prayer, studying the scriptures, and practice.

And more than any other principle is to remember that we were created to live relationally.

Spending time with God gives us the ability to know Him better. And the better we know God, the better we can focus on not only what is most important but keep sight of how much greater God is than our circumstances.

With God’s magnificence always in view, nothing of this world can bring us down.