Christian Living

Spiritual Life

5 Safe Ways to Show Neighborly Love in a Pandemic

What’s Stopping Me from Loving My Neighbor?

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

Why do we make this simple command so hard? Instead of just doing it, we over-examine and dissect it with questions like “what does love really mean here?” and “Is a neighbor someone in need, everyone in general, or something else?” In the midst of solving this puzzle, we implement a murky placeholder for the command. “Love” becomes anything not directly offensive or intrusive, and “neighbor” becomes such a vague global notion of everyone, we’re all but off the hook from loving the actual people we’re surrounded by everyday: our neighbors.

With that said, how can we get back to the core of this command and make strides toward living it out in our neighborhoods?

Three Things Stopping Us: Time, Fear, and Misunderstanding

“I don’t have time to invest in my neighbors”

I agree with you. In fact, I’m in the same boat. I don’t have time for my neighbors either. I actually don’t have time for prayer, meditating upon God’s Word, or sharing the gospel. My schedule is packed with my roles as a husband, father, employee, church volunteer, and more. But that’s all because having time and taking time are two very different things.

In order to have an impact on the neighbors next door, across the way, or beyond the alley, we have to take time from something else. Now, if you’re going to say there is nothing you can take time from in order to pour time into fulfilling the second greatest commandment Jesus gave us, I would be much less hesitant to agree. I recommend meditating upon your schedule as well as your daily and your weekly routine – including the weekends. What could you take time from in order to make time for this most important of activities?

The fear of what if

“What if my neighbors don’t like me?” “What if it turns into a major commitment I’m not ready for?” “What if they’re like that neighbor I saw on the News the other night?” Exhausted yet? Who wouldn’t be after mentally living out 100 outcomes that haven’t happened? But what if your neighbors do like you? What if the Lord opens an opportunity for someone to hear the gospel next door? What if one of the best friendships you’ve ever had is a smile and friendly introduction away? Anticipating the positive instead of the negative can be very helpful and rewarding. But I think there is another tactic that can be even more helpful.

Instead of surrounding yourself with anxiety-driven “what-ifs”, consider swapping them for faith-filled “even ifs.” Here are some examples:

  • Even if my neighbor is non-responsive to my efforts, I know I am honoring God by seeking to live out His commands.
  • Even if my neighbor turns out to be unkind, I know God will use my efforts to impact him/her in some way that is for my good and His glory.
  • Even if my neighbor has no interest in the gospel when the opportunity opens to share it, I will thank God for the opportunity to be a faithful witness for Him and a potential stepping stone to their future salvation.

Misunderstanding the mission

When some Christians hear “love your neighbor as yourself” in regard to their actual neighborhood, they can immediately interpret it as “neighborhood evangelism.” It becomes a mission to find the neighbors who don’t seem to know Jesus and blaze the shortest possible path to a gospel presentation. This can cause us to pursue an ulterior motive instead of an ultimate motive. Here’s what I mean.

An ulterior motive is usually manipulative. It’s when we say or do something in the open but intend something else privately. In a neighborhood context, it could mean that we are sweet to our neighbors or seek to help them for a time – but in reality, we’re only looking for an opportunity to share the gospel. It’s a much nicer version of bait-and-switch.

An ultimate motive is different. It’s a longed-for destination. In a neighborhood context, it could mean that we truly seek to love, help, and bless our neighbors for their good. In doing so, as we have conversations and grow in fellowship, we look for natural opportunities to share the story of Jesus and His impact on our lives. However, your love as a neighbor is not hinged upon a gospel transaction. In short, we don’t love our neighbors to convert them. We love them because we are converted.

By taking these three points into consideration, I think we can take big steps toward loving our neighbors and opening new gospel opportunities that we never even considered:

  • Start an across-the-yard conversation.
  • Leave a baked good on a doorstep (with a note that it has been handled safely).
  • Offer to help with some yard work while socially distanced.
  • Download a neighborhood app (like NextDoor.com) and introduce yourself to neighbors.
  • Ask if anyone in the neighborhood is interested in starting a book club via ZOOM.

When you stop to think about it for a bit, the opportunities for simply getting to know your neighbors to extend the love of Jesus toward them are virtually endless.

Copyright © 2021 Brock Anderson, used with permission.

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