Import jQuery

Some Thoughts on Loving Your Neighbor by Aaron Hecht

Matthew 22:37–39Jesus 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.’

I've heard many messages on this passage over the years, and you probably have too. I have some of my own thoughts on this subject and I'd like to share them. But first, I am reminded of something Bible teacher Derek Prince once said, "There is no shortage of people who need us. They are all around us—people who need to be loved are everywhere. They are lonely; no one cares for them; they lack answers and are desperate. You don’t have to go far from home to find people like that."

This quote, I believe, gives an answer to the question someone always asks whenever this topic is brought up, to wit "who is my neighbor."

I think Jesus' meaning in this verse is obviously that our "neighbor" is everyone who lives on this planet, all 8 billion or so human beings. But loving 8 billion people, and even showing love for them in a practical way, is a lot for anyone to contemplate. So it's better to start with something more manageable.

Therefore, the people who live in your immediate vicinity, including your family or your roommates, other people who live in the same apartment building you do, or in the house next to your house, etc. are an obvious place to start. These people are our "neighbors" by any definition and if we don't treat them with love we probably won't treat other people who meet less obvious definitions of "neighbor".

As Derek Prince said, you don't have to go far to find people who need compassion and hope (in other words, the Gospel). There's probably someone who needs the Gospel within easy walking distance of where you're sitting and reading this blog right now. If you want to share the Gospel with them, you must first establish a relationship with them, because as the old saying goes "people won't care what you know unless they know that you care."

Getting to know your neighbors is the first step to loving them

From the time I was a small child, I can remember hearing people lament that most Americans (and it's true in many other countries as well) don't even know the names of the people who live in houses and apartments in close proximity to them. If they do, it's usually because there's been arguments or fights with them.

I grew up in a house several miles outside of the nearest small town, with our closest "neighbors" living in another isolated house almost two miles away down a dead-end, unpaved road. I think that's a fairly good excuse for not knowing my neighbors back then. 

But these days, I live on the ground floor of a small, three-story apartment building and the stairway that leads to the second and third floors is right above my front door. So I see these upstairs neighbors all the time as they're going up and down the stairs. They're not always in a good mood (and neither am I always in a good mood) so these interactions aren't always pleasant, although I do my best to make them so.

Sometimes they have loud music playing late at night, or sometimes there are arguments between teenagers and their parents, or between parents, or between siblings (especially teenagers) and so on. Sometimes the neighbors shout at each other about different things, and that's the worst.

Sometimes I'll find garbage on my porch or in the garden that must have been thrown out of one of the windows on the second or third floor. Once there was even a kid who was a guest of someone who lived upstairs who stayed there with them for a few days and while he was there, he thought it was funny to urinate on my porch from the stairs.

In short, it's not always easy to love these neighbors of mine but I try, and I've had some success. 

So if you've got neighbors who live next door, or on a floor above you, or around the corner, or two miles away, or whatever, and you'd like to get to know them so you can love them, help them, share the Gospel with them, etc. then here's a few things I've found that can be helpful in this regard, even or perhaps especially if they're not easy to get along with.

For starters, especially if you live in an older building, there's always stuff breaking. So one way to get to know your neighbors and develop a relationship with them is to acquire basic plumbing, carpentry, and maintenance tools and learn how to use them. This will make you really popular with your neighbors and it'll form the foundation for a good relationship with them which can generate benefits in many other areas.

Even if you don't have time to learn handyman-type skills, just look for things in the area that need fixing and/or cleaning and take the initiative. It doesn't have to be complicated.

When I first moved into this building, the garden and parking spaces were full of trash, dead leaves, etc. I grabbed the broom and a few other tools and cleaned it all up in less than two hours. Since then, I've spent just a couple of hours a month keeping the area around the building tidy and it has really endeared me to everyone, including people who live in other buildings up and down our little street.

The crazy thing is, I did it for myself, because doing yard work is good exercise and also a way to unwind from all the hassles and distractions from working at the office. I also did it because I didn't want to come back from work every day and see my home looking like a trash heap.

But in the process of taking care of this simple task, I built good relationships with everyone who lives here. These neighbors of mine have helped me out in all kinds of ways because of these healthy relationships, and everyone who lives in this building has benefited from it.

Closer to home (literally) I've found that taking care of ordinary day-to-day tasks like laundry and washing dishes is a great way to make my wife happy, and as another old saying goes "happy wife, happy life."

My wife is my closest "neighbor" after all, and so I should be willing and even eager to serve her and love her and try to make things easier for her in any way I can. She does the same for me by the way, and it works pretty good that way.

Making the best of a difficult situation

In the last 8 months that Israel has been at war, the people who live in our little building on our little street have become much closer. We talk often about ways we can help each other prepare for the possible scenarios that we can see coming and in many day-to-day things as well. I've lost count of the number of trips I've taken to hardware stores, camping stores, and even the grocery stores, together with my neighbors who weren't sure what to get to fortify their homes. In turn, my neighbors have helped me with many things, especially things that require paperwork with the government, since these kinds of things require really high-level Hebrew, and my Hebrew isn't at that level.

Further afield, I've grown much closer with the other parents at the school where my sons attend, as we've all had to rely on each other for many things. This has provided me with many opportunities to love the neighbors I have who live in buildings up and down these streets. I would have preferred to get to know these people under less stressful circumstances, but I'm grateful for the opportunity nonetheless.

Everyone knows we're Believers, and that's not always welcome in Israel (although it's much less of an issue now than it was when I first made Aliyah 20+ years ago). But my willingness to be helpful to anyone who needs help has led to a lot of very fruitful conversations, even with people who are ultra-Orthodox and Modern Orthodox.

These neighbors of mine, whether religiously observant, traditional or secular, often "lack answers and are desperate" and they're interested to know what I think about all this. Knowing that I care about them has made people care about what I know and what I think. It all started with me spending a couple of hours raking up leaves and picking up some garbage in the garden in front of our building. That was how these relationships started, and over time, it's led to this.

So, in conclusion, brothers and sisters, I beg to remind you (and myself) of yet another old saying that we are all called to "make a dent where you're sent."

If you want to be about our Father's business of sharing the Gospel with a lost and dying world that desperately needs it, a good place to start is by looking around your own neighborhood and seeing what opportunities there are to serve your community.

Is there junk lying around that needs to be picked up? Are there leaves and other trash littering the street that need to be swept up and thrown in the dumpster? Are there little repairs that need to be done on public spaces and/or infrastructure? Are there other children who go to school with your children whose parents need help? Are there elderly people who live alone and look like they need someone to invite them over for coffee and a snack? Are there single mothers who need help (remember that the Bible has a lot to say about the importance of caring for widows and orphans)?

You don't have to go far to find people who need the Gospel, and these days, with things getting so difficult and frightening, people are more open to the Gospel message than they would be in more easy times. There's never a bad time to "love your neighbor as yourself" but the season of history we're in now makes it an especially auspicious time.

One last point I'd make about all this is that loving our neighbors as ourselves IS a great way to love ourselves because one of the quickest ways to feel better about your own problems is to help someone else with their problems.

On that note, I hope reading this blog blessed your life.

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