You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 19:19b)
You’ll find the instruction to love your neighbor repeatedly throughout Scripture. It’s obviously important to God. But it’s not easy. Maybe you have a generous, friendly neighbor. Perhaps you have a cranky, difficult neighbor. The people who live beside you are neighbors, but so are those who you come in contact with on regular and irregular bases. You know some neighbors well and some hardly at all. Some might even be considered strangers, but they’re still your neighbors. As your neighbors, you are instructed to love them. And remember: love is active.
Loving with God’s love is inconvenient at times and, often times, uncomfortable. We end up serving people that don’t appreciate it and are even antagonistic. We go into houses and neighborhoods that aren’t like ours. They might be dirty and smelly. They might take more money and time than we want to give. They might have issues that we don’t know how to work through with them.
Despite all these challenges, we’re still called to love our neighbors. Thankfully, like anything else we do for God, we don’t do it on our own. We don’t need to rely on our own strength and provision. This is God’s love we’re sharing with neighbors. He owns it; we deliver it.
I love the servant culture that is rising up, especially among the younger generation. There seems to be a passion for reaching out to and serving others as a responsibility of faith. It’s not just about a project but a lifestyle. And while it’s encouraging, I have to say I continue to be frustrated by what I hear so often when working with women in ministries around the country.
“Why should we help when we don’t know if they’re really going to appreciate it?”
“We have people in need in our own church family. Shouldn’t we take care of them first?”
“We can’t do it all. I really like the idea of helping more, but I have so many of my own responsibilities. Maybe when I have more time, more money, my kids are grown, my health is better…”
If you don’t know if someone is going to appreciate something or not…so what? We don’t control others’ reactions. We’re not responsible for their reactions. We’re responsible for sacrificially loving our neighbors as God says.
If you have people in need in your own church family, of course, you should meet their needs. But every time I hear this excuse, the situation is not so dire that people have to choice between two people or groups to serve. The needs just aren’t that great. But what often happens is the needs get weighted. Someone in the church who has a “would be nice” need gets more attention than the person outside the church who has a pressing need, because the existing relationship and obligation adds weight. And that’s not a true reflection of providing for others through God’s abundant love.
And the idea that you can’t do it all? You’re absolutely right, but loving your neighbor in a way that inconveniences you isn’t the same as a demand to do it all. You shouldn’t just do what you can, because it gives too much weight to what you think you can do. It’s about what God says you can do. And whatever He says will work. It might not always be comfortable (in fact, I can pretty much guarantee it will often be uncomfortable), but that’s okay. If you wait until everything has aligned to what you establish as perfect conditions, you’ll likely never get there. And you’ll certainly miss a lot of opportunities to love your neighbors and serve God along the way.
Dear God, I don’t want to make any excuses about loving my neighbors. I don’t want to rationalize how uncomfortable it makes me or how that person isn’t going to respond in a loving way. You know what I need to do, and You know what someone else needs to receive. I will be Your vessel and share Your love with others however You guide.