You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people,
but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
(Leviticus 19:18 ESV)
Most people today believe a "good neighbor" is one who causes no trouble, poses no interruption, and in general keeps to himself. The modern motto of a good neighbor is, "Do no harm." He works hard at making no interruption in the lives of those around him. This seems to be the general sentiment for many, and it misses the biblical mark by a mile.
What Do I Want From My Neighbor?
The whole neighbor discussion often revolves around the idea of what we want from our neighbors, and what many want is no intrusion. If I'm honest that is what I want. I'm home, I'm tired, I want to kick off my shoes and be left alone with my family. And that kind of thinking leads me to not only expect no intrusion from my neighbors, but to live that way toward them as well. I am prone to stay back and keep my distance. It is easier to pretend not to see the man standing in his garage, or the woman gardening in her lawn, as I pull into my driveway. Eye contact could lead to a hand wave, or even worse—a conversation. Who knows where it all might lead?!
The question should not be what do I want from my neighbors, but what do I want for my neighbors. That correction to the question can prove helpful to those of us who sin by keeping our distance.
What Do I Want For My Neighbor?
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
(Romans 15:2-3 ESV)
The truth is keeping your distance from your neighbors, and doing them no harm, can be a kind of evil, for God doesn't call us to ignore them, but to involve ourselves in their lives and invest in them personally. "What do I want for my neighbors?" changes the conversation and leads us into the will and ways of God.
It all sounds so good on the page, doesn't it? But here's the rub: God's command for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to seek their good, is a call for us to be intrusive. It's counter intuitive to many of us who have come to believe in the value of keeping our distance, but God wants us to have them in our homes, and he wants us to be in their business.
And please understand this—when God commands us to love our neighbors, he is calling us to love our bad neighbors, not just the "good" ones. Ignoring the people next door, regardless of their moral character, robs them of the ministry God has called us to fulfill on their behalf.
What Will I Do For My Neighbor?
It would be a good idea to draw a circle of influence around your home. Be it apartments, other houses, or dorm rooms, determine who your close neighbors are and begin there. Once you have them in mind, begin praying for them and their welfare regularly. This will benefit them whether they know it or not, and it will help you develop a heart for them and eyes to see how you can better serve them.
Seeking your neighbors' good can manifest itself in an array of both temporal and eternal ways. From the practice of generosity and hospitality, to identifying real needs and seeking to meet them, to inviting them to church or sharing the gospel with them, we have the calling and God-given ability to bless them in ways the world cannot.
Why Will I Do for My Neighbor?
Here's the thing. I can lay all of this out for myself, feel the guilt of not doing so well, and put together a plan of action to change things, and still do nothing. If I wait long enough the guilt will dissipate and my heart will grow hard to the issue. What will actually move me, and indeed change me, is Jesus.
You see, Jesus is the one who not only showed me how to love my neighbor, but he showed me by saving me. It was no mere example. He sought my good, my redemption. Jesus loved the bad neighbor, me, enough to deny himself, intrude into my life, and rescue me from my slavery to sin and isolation from God. He would not keep his distance, but drew near, and for this I am eternally grateful to him and compelled to follow him in ways that will interrupt my neighbors' lives with grace and the gospel.