“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13-14).
Love Thy Neighbor – sounds easy enough, right?
Many of us have grown up hearing about the importance of loving our neighbors. The apostle Paul went so far as to instruct the Christians at Galatia that the entire law could be summed up in this priority.
That seems pretty straightforward — but somewhere along the line it becomes easy to pigeonhole the people around us into rigid categories. “He’s a (insert the political party you don’t like).” “She’s a (insert the behavior you don’t condone).” I wonder if we (I?) don’t frequently use perceived differences as a way to excuse apathy, selfishness, and the tendency to be proud and judgmental? It raises the question explored in Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon’s recent book The Art of Neighboring when they asked; “what if Jesus meant that we should love our actual neighbors?” Ouch.
Over the past year, Faith Church has had the opportunity to be the recipients of that kind of neighborly love in ways that have been delicious and surprising – demonstrating the beauty of the God who gave the instruction in the first place. Some of our neighbors have shown powerful love by standing up for us.
Learning by Example in Neighborly Love
Construction was recently completed at Faith West, our new community center and student housing complex near the entrance to Purdue University. Not everybody is thrilled that our church developed a prominent piece of property at the entrance to a major university. Consequently, a handful of critics have raised several objections and complaints.
What has been delightfully refreshing is the way some of our immediate neighbors have come to our defense. One such example is Gale Charlotte, a community and neighborhood leader who lives near Faith West. She recently wrote a blog entitled “Help Me Understand…Really” in which she challenged her audience about the possibility that some of Faith’s critics might not be showing the kind of tolerance toward us that they should. In her article she proclaimed, “I am a woman and an ‘out’ lesbian, and they have never once treated me any differently than they have my neighbors.” Wow.
Gale did not have to do that. Her post is really quite courageous, as was the public statement she made last summer supporting Faith West in front of hundreds of West Lafayette citizens during the final approval phase of our project. But she chose to love us—in this case by giving us the benefit of the doubt—because we were her neighbors.
To be honest, I have found all of this to be quite convicting. Far too often I put people in neat categories. I do that to counselees. I do that to church members and people in our community. I do that to practically everyone. And that is very unloving.
Learning to be Sharpened by Love
In front of Faith West we have placed a sculpture based on Proverbs 27:17 – “Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens his friend.” I am learning that that kind of sharpening can come from a variety of places.
In the future, I want to be more like my neighbor Gale. I want to learn to let love motivate me to discard labels and categories and take the time to get to know people as individuals. I want to stand up and give others the benefit of the doubt.
I think that will make me a better counselor, a better pastor, a better husband and father. And I know it could make me a better neighbor.