When the COVID-19 lockdowns swept across the nation in early 2020, it was a difficult adjustment for many of us. Learning the intricacies of trying to work from home while having my kids do school from home was a difficult balancing act. However, there were some small advantages built into the quarantined life. My introverted nature enjoyed spending uninterrupted time with my wife and kids over those first few days of lockdown.
Yet as the days wore on, I started to feel the void of not being able to have face-to-face interaction with people that were outside my household. I missed the chats on the back porch with my best friends. I missed the unplanned conversations with complete strangers as I ran errands. I missed being able to stand on my front lawn and talk with my neighbors when I went out to get the mail.
At my core, I felt incomplete when I couldn’t relate to the people that were the closest to me. I also knew that God had called me to love my neighbors, but I was failing miserably at that because of mandated distancing. My wife and I remedied this distancing by setting up a hangout in our neighborhood cul-de-sac. We asked our neighbors to bring a chair, bring a snack, and come together to see how quarantine was going.
The Law of Love
Could I have just texted all my neighbors to see how they were doing? Sure. Yet, there is something about being able to look a person in the eye. For me, there was a greater depth that came from being able to both hear—and see—how a person was doing in the middle of our instantly-altered world. The most loving thing that I could do for my neighbors during this time was give them a chance to be known and to be loved.
Experiencing love is not just a human need but it is also a command from God. As He loves us, He calls us to love Him with our heart, mind, and soul. As He pursues us with His love, He calls us to take that same love and share it with those that we come in contact with. Being loved by God and others is a legitimate need. Loving God and loving others is an inescapable command.
Jesus masterfully sums up the commandments of God in Matthew 22 when He says that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are. The second commandment is to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves. This simplistic summary of the law of God is rooted in love.
“Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Jesus elaborates in the parable of the good Samaritan that “neighbor” is a very broad category. Our neighbors do not have to look like us, talk like us, or vote like us in order for us to love them. We love our neighbors because they bear the Maker’s image.
And while we see that the biblical definition for “neighbor” is a broad one, I don’t think we should lose sight of the meaning of neighbor as one who lives near us. The church needs to be people who reach out and love those closest to them—whether that be relationally or geographically. God knew what He was doing when He sovereignly placed you at the address you call home.
He has set you among a field of people who need to see the Jesus you hold dear. But getting them to see Jesus is more difficult these days. Fifty years ago, we were a culture of front porch people. We knew our neighbors and their kids. We saw them out and about almost every day. These days we have moved our lives to the backyard and surrounded that yard with an eight-foot privacy fence. We have become more protective of our time and our families.
Christians have to be intentional about serving and loving our neighbors. It could be inviting our neighbors over for dinner or making them a plate of cookies on their birthday. It could be as trivial as pushing their trash cans up their driveway while they are at work or keeping an eye on their house while they are on vacation. We could and should do much for our neighbors and yet there must still come a time when we tell them about our hope, our love, and our Savior.
Your neighbors are the people you live your life out with every day. They see your comings and goings, they notice your backyard birthday party fun, and they hear your yappy dog. They know the minutiae of your life—so make sure they know about the Jesus you love.