Rediscovering the Great Commandments compels us to consider, “Do I really love God supremely; and do I really love my neighbor as I love myself?” Neighborhood Groups [NG] actively reinforce and encourage the values of loving God and neighbors better. In this article we focus on loving neighbors outside of our group better.
Who is your neighbor? An expert in the Mosaic Law sought Jesus to discern how to inherit eternal life [Lu. 10:25-37]. He correctly understands the essence of the law is to love God supremely and love neighbors as self [Deut. 6:4, Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:37-39]. In an effort to justify himself he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” The Greek word plesion translated “neighbor” is akin to our words “friend” or “countryman.” A first Century Jew felt his duty was to fellow Jews (i.e. people like him).
Neighbors are people where you live, work, study, and play: Jesus told a story to help the man, and us, to understand whom our neighbor is, and what our duty to our neighbor is. We know the story as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In the story, a man, presumably a Jew was beaten and robbed as he traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho. A Jewish priest and Levite passed by without helping. But a Samaritan had compassion and showed mercy by caring for the wounded Jew. Jews looked down at Samaritans as being less spiritual and moral, and had nothing to do with them. Yet the Samaritan treated the Jew as a neighbor. We, like the original audience, are likely to have a sense of conviction that we may not love like the Good Samaritan.
Neighbors are different than you, and often someone you are not naturally drawn to. Love transcends race, religion, and social commonalities: Jesus compels us to appreciate that we tend to define “neighbor” more narrowly than God intended. The first Century Jew would have limited the idea to fellow Jews, particularly friends. The parable reveals that neighbors are different than us. Frequently, we are called to show love and mercy to people that we are not naturally drawn to or have much in common with. Once God’s standard was more clearly revealed the lawyer realized that he could no longer justify himself.
He did not love neighbors as God commanded. Jesus instructs him to likewise show mercy. The child of God is to display kindness, care, and help others. In a word, we are to love our neighbor. Neighbors where we live, work, study, and play. In essence, people that God brings into our sphere of influence, that He is leading us to love. Here are some ideas to help you love your neighbor better:
How to love your neighbor outside the group: 7 best practices
- Create margin + be Intentional: Remember the religious people (priest and Levite) were too busy with religious task to care for their neighbor. Many of us feel too busy with life, work, or church related activities to have time for neighbors. Loving your neighbor is not just one more activity we can add to our endless list. If we are going to do so effectively, we will need to create margin and be intentional. Take a look at your schedule and commitments and prayerfully simplify your life. If you have a family, call a family meeting to discuss and pray about your collective commitments.
As I considered my life, I realized that I was too busy with commitments at the church building to know neighbors. I was able to make some incremental change to commitments so that I had time for neighbors where I live, work, study, and play. What can you change in your life to have time for neighbors?
- Befriend + build relationships: Just as Jews looked down at Samaritans as being less spiritual and moral, and had nothing to do with them. The culture around us may perceive that Christians do the same. For me, one of the simplest steps was saying “Hi” and introducing myself and asking my neighbors their name. Walking around your neighborhood or regularly going to a local park is a great way to meet neighbors. My friend Justin has learned to discreetly write down names on his phone in a note related to neighbors. Like my Dad used to say, “A short pencil is better than a long memory.” I’ve learned to remind neighbors of my name so that we can minimize any awkwardness related to forgetting names. My friend, Debbie tries to get her mail when she knows that her neighbors are likely to do the same. That’s an epicenter for her to meet and befriend. Activities like walking a dog, playing in front of your residence, yard work, or countless others activities can become opportunities to befriend. Be intentional to build relationships when opportunities arise rather than avoid people.
Keep in mind that relationships take time. Seek to be sensitive to how people relate and the pace of relational development they are comfortable with. Some people are face to face while others are shoulder to shoulder. Face to face people like spending time talking. Ask them, “How are you doing?” Or, ask them to share their story with you. Be a patient and good listener. Face to face people tend to relate best talking, perhaps over a meal or coffee. Others are shoulder-to-shoulder people. They would rather do something than just sit and talk. Consider recreation together. I ride bicycles with groups of guys and use that as an opportunity to build relationship with neighbors where I play.
- Pray with + for them: praying with and for neighbors is a great way to show love and to let people know that you follow Jesus. When my neighbors share a struggle I offer to pray with and if they seem resistant than I’ll offer to pray for them later. I don’t recall a single time that a neighbor refused the offer to pray for them. They might not have been a follower of Jesus, or believed in the effectiveness of prayer, and may simply have chosen to be polite and accept my offer. Nevertheless, prayer is often a first bridge to plant seeds regarding the reality of a spiritual realm.
- Serve + ask for help: Just as the Samaritan cared for the wounded traveler in tangible ways, we too demonstrate God’s love with actions fueled by compassion. Serving neighbors is a tangible way to show God’s love. Look for ways you can serve or be served.
I offer to assist an older neighbor with trashcans, or offer to go to the store. I also realized that I’m more comfortable offering to help than asking for help. Recently, I asked my neighbor Don if he wanted help trimming his hedges. In reality I would not even know where to begin if Don had accepted my offer. I’ve discovered that part of my hesitancy in asking for help is likely my pride. And that I’m likely to be more attractive to neighbors when I ask for help as well as offering to assist. Arguably the culture around us perceives that Christians think that they are better than, and humbly asking for help may reduce that perception.
Seek ways that your Neighborhood Group can serve together. Our group recently received a donation to support our local pregnancy center. We purchased a huge amount of diapers, wrote card for staff and clients, and brought cookies. The activity of serving together blessed our group and those we served.
- Meals: Invite a neighbor for a meal: breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and accept invites. Try to create a rhythm, for example once a week, every two weeks, or once a month to share a meal with a neighbor.
- Spend time in your NG to share stories and praying for neighbors: Share how you recently loved your neighbors. Remember to be sensitive to avoid sharing information that might embarrass them if they attend the group some day. Sharing these stories will inspire others. Create a rhythm in your NG to pray for neighbors. Praying for our neighbors not only moves the heart of God but also changes our hearts towards our neighbors.
- Invite neighbors to encounter Christ with you: Look for open doors that God will give you to invite your neighbors to experience Christ with you. This may mean that you invite them to your Neighborhood Group, have a spiritual conversation, invite them to a church service or share the Gospel with them. Seek to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and it won’t be forced. Generally speaking, people in our post-Christian culture want to see the authenticity of Christ in you before they will be open to hearing about Christ from you. Be bold, but remember that faith is a process for many people. Preach the Gospel in word and in your actions. Be comforted in the fact that you don’t need to have a seminary degree to be able to share Jesus with someone. The Holy Spirit will give you the right words to say (Matthew 10:19).