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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.

1 https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/acceptance

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