Living on Mission: Are you my neighbor?

person on doorstep gift

This is the second part of my thoughts about Living on Mission.  For its companion, read Living on Mission: What is it Anyway?

What was your favorite Bible story growing up?  Maybe it was the story of Noah and all the animals, David and Goliath, Joseph and his very colorful coat, or Jesus walking on water.  For me, it was the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  (I actually called it The Good “Cemetery,” but hey, I was little, ok?)  I’m not really sure why it stuck with me all these years, but I do know I was drawn to the person who saw a person in need and helped.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest command is, the second part of His answer included: ”Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). It may lead you to wonder who your neighbor really is.  This is the exact question the expert in the law asked which launched Jesus into the story of Good Samaritan.  If you’re not familiar with the story, the short answer is, “Look around.  See someone in need?  That’s your neighbor.”

Or, let me put it this way.  When Jesus gave us our mission in Matthew 28:19, He said “Go…”  The problem with language is sometimes things are lost in translation.  I’ll spare you the whole grammar lesson this English degree holder is craving to dig into, but the long and the short of it is verb tense.  In Greek, this would be better translated to “As you go…”  Jesus didn’t give a command to us all to leave where we are and seek out a different people and tell them about the Gospel (although that may indeed be your calling).  He said, “Do the mission as you are living your life.”  Your everyday life is the mission field.  Love your neighbor.

At my church here in California, we talk a lot about our spheres of influence.  That is, the people we encounter where we live, work, and play.  We are each uniquely placed and gifted to reach a specific group of people.  For example, if you asked my husband and me who our neighbors are, we’d give different answers.  Sure, we would have some overlap because we live in the same place and have some of the same interests.  However, we don’t work in the same place.  Our hobbies are different.  We have different roles within our families that lead us to encounter different people and have different relationships.  Why do I love reading and running?  I don’t know.  God made me that way.  But because of this, I meet people at the gym and the library and book clubs and online reading or running forums and races.  My husband who loves cycling and racing remote control cars with our kids also encounters a separate group of people.  See what I mean?  Ephesians 2:10 really highlights our role in God’s ministry of reconciliation.  It may sound a little boring, but as Willis and Clements say in The Simplest Way to Change the World, “We will have to view the ordinariness of our lives as significant…”

In the time of COVID, defining who my neighbor is has become increasingly difficult, but that doesn’t absolve me of my responsibility to love my neighbor.  My husband and I recently bought a house, and we have had to be creative in how we interact and get to know our new people next door.  For example, we have distanced sidewalk conversations and drop off baked treats and garden overstock on each other’s doorsteps.  And since I can’t go to the gym and library and usual social spheres, I still check in regularly with my mom community.  Sometimes that check-in means an emergency FaceTime mental health check.  Sometimes it’s a $5 Starbucks e-card sent to her phone since we can’t physically go grab a cup of coffee.  Maybe, like me, your sphere of influence has shrunk since quarantine, but we can still love those neighbors.  What are some ways you can love your neighbors in the time of COVID?

As a fairly cynical person, this all can lead me to think about motives, and you might be thinking the same thing too.  “If I pursue my neighbor this way, they’re going to think the only reason I’m friends with them is that I want to spread Jesus.  They’ll think I have ulterior motives.”  In some ways, yes, but in actuality, not at all.  Showing others Christ and His love isn’t an ulterior motive, it’s the ultimate motive.  “Ulterior” means something is concealed while “ultimate” is the end goal.  As it says in The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, “The ulterior motive in good neighboring must never be to share the gospel. But the ultimate motive is just that – to share the story of Jesus and his impact on our lives.”  It’s the difference between “you are only loving me because you want to push Jesus on me” and “I want to show you Jesus because I love you.”

I find it interesting that Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Alternatively, as the Golden Rule states, “do unto others what you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12).  Growing up, I took this to mean the bare minimum or basic politeness.  But if you think about it, wouldn’t you want others to go above and beyond for you?  For example, I would love it if someone randomly dropped dinner off at my house for no other reason than to show love for me.  According to Scripture, that means I should be taking that exact same initiative for my neighbor!  

To take this to its ultimate, consider the following assertion by John Piper in Don’t Waste Your Life. He says, “Love is doing what is best for someone.” He argues that the best way to love someone is to show them the “all-satisfying God,” and “not to aim to show God is not to love, because God is what we need most deeply.”  If the ultimate act of loving is to share the all-satisfying God, then I would want someone to do that to me, and therefore I should do that for others.

So, go, friend.  Love your neighbor.

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