Think for a moment: Of you’re immediate neighbors, say the eight closest residences, how many do you know? Could you introduce them by name? Do you know the names of their children? Do you know where they work? Or what they want to do with their lives?
In Luke 10 a teacher of the Law asks Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life” (v. 25)? Jesus turns the question back on him and asks, “What is written in the law” (v. 26)? He cites Deuteronomy and Leviticus, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself” (v. 27). This is what we call the Great Commandment, what Jesus says is a summation of the entirety of the Law and Prophets.
We’re then told this teacher “willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor” (v. 29)? He desired to present himself as righteous. In order to do this, he needed to define neighbor in a way that was convenient and comfortable, something that would fit into what he was already doing.
We too face the temptation to justify ourselves before God. Of course we love our neighbors! Then, justifying ourselves, we point to the volunteer work we do at a shelter or soup kitchen, our participation in church organized outreach activities, coworkers we interact with, and parents at our kids’ soccer games we’ve befriended and say, “Those are my neighbors!” That’s completely true.
But your loving them doesn’t somehow lesson the fact that our literal neighbors are still our neighbors. What often happens in our context is the exact opposite of what we read in Luke 10. We grab hold of that very broad definition of neighbor that Jesus gave the teacher and in that generality we find a loophole to ignore those closest to us—the people thirty feet from our door, the people just down the hall or the next house over. However, great things happen when we begin building relationships with those who live closest to us and work out from there.
In our new series Love Where You Live, based on the book The Art of Neighboring (Grab a copy for you and a friend here!) we’ll explore the genius of the Great Commandment and learn that the most powerful thing we can do to impact our cities for Christ is to actually live out Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.