Who are my neighbors?

Jesus uses stories to explain a lot of things in the Bible. In Luke 10:29-37 Jesus tell us the story of the Good Samaritan:

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denariie and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

One day recently, I was looking through my friends’ posts on Facebook and saw something that really caused me to pause and think about this story and how it relates to us in today’s world. I decided to research what the Bible says on neighbors. There are 40 occurrences of the word neighbor in the Bible. These 40 verses talk about a variety of subjects on neighbors, from helping our neighbors , to celebrating with our neighbors, to how to live peacefully with our neighbors. The one verse that stood out to me on how we should treat our neighbors is:

Matthew 19:19 “honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”

I think in today’s world we have lost touch with who is our neighbor and what it means to love our neighbor. As we see in Matthew 19:19 we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. That is the entire sum of the verse. I do not see any asterisks at the end of that verse that further defines those neighbors. It does not say love your neighbor as long as you like them, or they have the same life style as you do. In fact, it does not even say love them only if they have the same religion as you. It just says to love your neighbor, period. We try to explain away the reason we do not love someone as based on doctrine because we disagree with something in their lives. This is really just a judgment in disguise. The Bible is also very clear on not judging others as shown in the verse below:

Romans 2:1 “You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.”

Everyone was created equal by God. Jesus died for the sins of everyone equally because we all have sinned equally as shown in Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So why in today’s world do we feel that we can hate some people and still call ourselves followers of Christ? I saw another recent post on Facebook where someone wanted to attend an Easter service at a particle church. The post was asking if gays would be welcome at this particle church. The question made me sad. How would I feel if I thought I was not welcome at church? Why would I want anyone to feel unwelcome in my church? If Christ were here on earth today, I am sure many of our churches would look very different and no one would question whether or not they would be welcome. Jesus would welcome everyone into His church and He would love everyone in His church. In fact, I am sure Jesus would have dinner with a lot of the people we would not associate with in our churches or in our neighborhoods. So why do we think it is okay for us to not love everyone we meet and everyone we know? If each one of us chose this day to love all of our neighbors more, then I think we would create a ripple effect that would spread. Others would see our love for our neighbors and want to learn why we had such love. Such love would open doors for us to teach about our faith and about our Savior. Such love would bring more people back to church.Such love could change the world.

During one of our mission trips we have been able to share this kind of love with our neighbors. One incident really puts “loving thy neighbor” into prospective for me. We were in Bolivia on a construction mission. It was a Sunday morning and we decided to attend a church in the center of town. This church ministered to the local homeless population of the city. We arrived at the church and found some seats. We quickly noticed most of those in attendance were homeless men. We also noticed that they moved away from us as we sat down in the pews. We asked the pastor about why they did not want to sit with us. She explained they the men were worried that their body odors would offend us. Here we were, in their church and they were worried about our reaction to them. We decided to show our love by making a move. We each moved to sit next to a one of the locals. We worshiped together, we prayed together and we loved together. After the service, we helped the pastor serve some bread and milk to each of the men. It was such an incredible experience to be together in church. We felt the Holy Spirit so strongly that day because we “loved our neighbors as ourselves” The congregation ask us to take some group photos of all of us together. Once we got home, we sent copies to the church so they could remember us as we remember them in our prayers.

Who is your neighbor that needs the love of Christ today? What can you do different today to love all your neighbors with Christ’s love? LOVE THY NEIGHBOR, any and all neighbors as Christ commanded us and let’s make them all welcome in our homes and in our churches.

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