I attended church before I could even speak. “Love your neighbor as yourself” was one of the the first memory verses that I memorized as a young child.
Growing up I thought of the verse as meaning “be nice to your friends.” I missed the fact that the neighbor in the passage of the Good Samaritan (the story Jesus used to illustrate who the neighbor was) was someone both needy and outside the comfort zone of the Samaritan. The story isn’t about someone who was nice to their friends. It’s about someone who sacrificed, who put himself out, inconvenienced himself for a needy stranger. While I would have said I loved my neighbor—I was a friendly person—I didn’t really meet the biblical standard.
In 1999, I heard a teaching that when the law and the prophets got summarised into one idea, it was “love your neighbor,” not “love the Lord your God” (Gal 5:14). It’s a powerful idea. Naturally, loving God is the most important thing, and yet 1 John 3:16-18 and 4:6-12 remind us that if we don’t love others then we can’t we say the love of God is in us.
In 2004 we started the TCT program. One if its central ideas is that we are to love our neighbor. As part of the program, partner churches commit to carrying out Acts of Love. The impact of this one idea has been beyond dramatic. It changes whole communities, multiplies the size of churches, and has even ended persecution in many villages.
The ways the churches show love are varied. They are starting schools, helping in fields, building houses, repairing roads, giving food, and caring for elderly widows. You can read many of these stories on the TCT website.
It isn’t easy for them. For one they are extremely poor—they have little to give. But even more than that, many times when the church members pray and ask God who they should reach out to, God has them serve the most violent, most hated person in the village.
In one area there was a man that was a violent alcoholic, often beating his wife and children—consequently he was intensely disliked by the rest of the village. As a result he isolated himself and moved his family to the jungle near the village. The only time he associated with anyone was when he went to buy alcohol. As the church prayed, they felt God asking them to love this man. Not easy. They didn’t like him. They decided the best thing to do would be to help him come back to the village, where he and his family could have access to electricity and water. Some church members went to visit him, and he agreed to move. Since he didn’t have any land to move to, one of the church members loaned the family land for a house. Thirty people from the church came together to prepare the land and then helped the family move thier house (Think of carrying loads on long jungle trails, not loading up a truck.) After two days they had completed the job, connecting the house to electricity and water. The cost of the project was $350— about one years income for a family at the church. Another person loaned the man farm land with the offer that, once he was on his feet, he could buy the land at a reduced price. The man was overwhelmed by the love shown to him by the church and gave his life to Christ. He has now stopped drinking, become a loving husband and father, and is an active member of the church. His life was transformed through the church’s obedience.
I’m personally challenged by this story. I still am mostly nice to my friends (except when I’m stressed). I’d still struggle to name an example of how I have loved someone that was so rejected and disliked by everyone else. I still play it safe.
This month on the blog, we are going to explore the idea of loving our neighbor. What does it mean? What does it look like? We’ll hear personal experiences of loving and some principles to get us started or push us further. I hope you’ll join me this month and ponder how we can all take loving our neighbor to the next level.