"Just" Love Your Neighbour

Karen Wilk

(First appeared in the December 2009 issue of the Christian Courier.)

We read and hear a lot of talk about healthy church these days.  It’s funny though, the Bible never uses such a phrase.  Of course, Paul, John and others certainly address issues in the church that indicate some ‘church health’ concerns but striving for a ‘healthy church’ is never mentioned.  Nor is church success—which may be equally surprising to some. We don’t read about a particular church being successful.  There are no scorecards or evaluations or statistics describing attendance records or giving amounts or number of people serving.  We do see the local gathering of believers doing all these things as it manifests the Kingdom of God by its words, deeds, and community life.   So, if the Bible doesn’t talk about being healthy or successful as congregations, what does it talk about?  Faithfulness.  We’ll be judged by our faithfulness.  We’re called to be faithful. (Matt.24:45, 25:21; Luke 12:42, 16:10-12, John 8:31, Acts 11:23, 2 Tim. 2:2, 4:7, Rev.2:10, 17:14).  What does it mean to be faithful?  Perhaps it starts by keeping the greatest commandment.

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”  Galatians 5:14 NRSV

What if we were actually to love our neighbour?  What if God has actually placed us where we are—on our street, in our apartment block—to be the Presence of Jesus there; to demonstrate His grace and compassion to the people next door, the people right in front of our noses, our neighbours?  What if there was more to this greatest commandment than just trying to be nice to everyone which usually ends up meaning that we’re nice to no one in particular? What if it actually is a call to love, be of use to, care for, go out of our way for our neighbour?  What difference would it make to us and our church and our neighbourhood if we truly loved our neighbours?  Perhaps more than we could ever ask or imagine.  Perhaps it would transform us, our neighbours, and our communities.  That’s what city leaders seem to think any way.

The mayor of Arvada, (Denver, Colorado) was asked to address a group of pastors representing twenty churches about his dream for the city and the issues that were hindering that dream from becoming a reality. Bob came with a list of pervasive issues/problems such as at-risk kids, elderly shut-ins, dilapidated housing and hunger. However, before talking about these Bob shared that, “after thinking about all of these things, it occurred to me that what our city really needs are good neighbors.” He went on to say, “the majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just become a community of people who are great neighbors.” 

As one pastor put it, “here we are asking the mayor what areas of the city are most in need, and he basically tells us that it would be great if we could just get our people to obey the second half of the Great Commandment.” 

The next question, then, is how?  In 600 words or less, we can only scratch the surface but in three words or less Nike captured it: Just do it.   Intentionally, faithfully, sincerely love YOUR neighbour.  Start by identifying your neighbourhood.  For most of us, the place to begin is with the people, households on our street.  Make a map of your block with little houses on it.  In each house write the names of the family members including their: pets, occupations, hobbies, recreational activities and their needs: emotional, relational, and spiritual.  Did I lose you on the first instruction? Then it’s time to take time to meet your neighbours. Stop and introduce yourself.  Host a neighbourhood open house.  That’s what we did. 

A number of years ago we put invitations to a Neighbourhood Open House in our neighbours’ mailboxes because we were too chicken to knock on their doors!  We knew the people next door by name and one other family whose daughter was a similar age to our own but that was it.  The day arrived and we had no idea who (or if anyone) might come.  The first couple who knocked on the door, before they had their coats off, exclaimed that they just had to come to see who would do such a crazy thing as invite total strangers into their home!  And we’ve been having a blast getting to know our neighbours ever since—Bridge for Fun; backyard campfires; Wine, Cheese and Art nights, etc. We now have a bi-weekly women’s gathering. Others are volunteering to host events. We expanded our neighbourhood and together hosted a block party and about 75 people showed up!  We had a garage sale and my husband and I mentioned that we had decided to donate our earnings to buying bikes for community workers in Zambia and everyone else decided they’d like to do that too. They took over and organized a hot dog sale and an gift basket draw which you could participate in if you made a donation. By the time we were done, we had raised close to $1,600!  God is at work in our neighbourhood, deepening conversations, opening spiritual windows, building community, and all we did was offer hospitality.

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.  Romans 12:13

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:1b, 2

He can’t quit talking about it, going over again and again the story of your prompt obedience, and the dignity and sensitivity of your hospitality. He was quite overwhelmed by it all!  2 Corinthians 7:15

It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God- For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.  Hebrews 11:31

The gift of hospitality is supposed to operate in the life of every mature believer. This gift invites people, prepares a party that draws people, and makes sure everyone feels special. If it’s been awhile since you had people over, consider an event that you would enjoy and launch your strategy. God values people being with other people, sharing life. It won’t happen by accident.  Hospitality is a gift that requires effort, and creates life.  Author unknown

The other important starting place is prayer.  Pray for your neighbours.  Prayer moves the hands of God.  Prayer changes things.  God acts in response to our prayers.  Pray for your neighbours by name.  Pray the Lord’s prayer on their behalf—Your kingdom come, Your will be done in their lives, in our hood....Pray for opportunities to connect, for authentic relationships, for discernment and for eyes to see what God is up to on your street and then partner with Him.  That’s one of the most incredible things about moving back into our neighbourhoods—we discover that God is already there! 

I live here too—I, God, live in the same neighborhood with the People of Israel.”  Numbers 35:34  MSG

I’ll set up my residence in your neighborhood; I won’t avoid or shun you; I’ll stroll through your streets.  I’ll be your God; you’ll be my people.  Leviticus 26:11-12a MSG

Shout and celebrate, Daughter of Zion!  I’m on my way. I’m moving into your neighborhood!” God’s Decree.  Zechariah 2:10

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God.  Revelation 21:3

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  John 1:14a (TMSG) – your neighbourhood, our neighbourhood!

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”  
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”  Luke 10:27,28 MSG

For more on transforming lives and communities by loving your neighbours, pick up a copy of Karen’s new book, Don’t Invite Them to Church – A Devotional Guide to Pursuing God’s Mission in Your Neighbourhood and/or contact her at kwminstry@shaw.ca  780-483-8064