Planning to Love Our Neighbor
In my previous post, I noted that we want to be a church that serves the city of Kalamazoo, not by simply showing acts of love, but by developing a loving heart towards our neighbor which will manifest itself in acts of love. As we ended I challenged us to pray, perceive, and plan for how we would tangibly show kindness to those around us. In this post, I want to help fill out the last step a little more, especially as we think about how to love our neighbor in light of the Coronavirus and the continuing stay-at-home orders.
Obstacles to Our Love
But first, a brief theological perspective on what keeps us from carrying out this love that we wish to display. When we think about growing in our love for others and being more mindful of finding ways to serve them, it is important to remember that the biggest barrier to this growth is our own pride. When we are consumed with thinking solely about ourselves, our needs, our desires, our ambitions, and the like, there is not much room to then think about the needs of others. As Paul Tripp has said in many places, when we put ourselves first other people simply become a vehicle or a roadblock to having our needs met. So in each relationship you have, it is helpful to ask if you are using this person for your own ends or are taking this God-given opportunity to love them well.
When this self-reflection and self-deprecation gets hard I find it helpful to look at Paul’s charge in Philippians 2: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” He then looks to the humility, suffering, and service of Christ as the means of empowering this life of humility. In Jesus, we have both an example of the deepest expression of humility we will ever know, as well as a vision of one so highly exalted that it forces our gaze off of ourselves to him. So if you want to learn to love your neighbor, love your Lord. If you want to serve, walk in the footsteps of your savior.
Moving toward Love
So you’ve done the heart work of praying for humility and praying to rightly see your neighbors as men and women made in the image of God, what now? What follows is certainly not an exhaustive list of ways for you to love and serve your neighbor. This is why being a part of a church body is so great. We are all in contexts and circumstances that allow us to put these things into practice in ways that one person couldn’t think of on their own. But, this is a list that might be a helpful place to start if you are short on ideas.
Reach Out – Most people you know (especially if they aren’t part of a church) are starved for human interaction. A simple text or phone call asking how someone is doing will go a long way. When you reach out, ask if there are any needs that they have and if you can be praying for them. (Make sure you pray and follow up on those prayer requests).
Be Proactive – Most people will be hesitant to offer up needs that they have even when they have real needs. So rather than waiting for them to volunteer ways for you to help, volunteer your services. You’re going to the grocery store and are going to get them some staples so they don’t have to venture out. You know that they had to make the jump to working from home with rambunctious kids so you got them some activity books or a small toy to help keep them busy. If they’re a medical worker who is working long hours, mow their lawn for them so they can get an extra hour of rest. Again, the key is just being mindful of what needs others might have and planning to help meet those needs.
Bear Witness – Don’t be shy about sharing your motivation for this service. Jesus said in John 10:25 “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.” Likewise the works that the apostles did in the book of Acts bear witness that their testimony about God’s messiah is true. In a similar way, our good works and acts of love for our neighbor testify to the truth of the gospel that we are proclaiming.
As Christians, we have been given much: endless grave, exceeding mercy, and infinite love. We are compelled by these gifts to turn our affections not just back towards our savior but to our neighbor as well. These are the two greatest commandments. While we must always strive to grow in the former, we dishonor God and his grace when we neglect the latter. Rather, let us seek to put the gospel on display as we love our neighbor.