Do You Really Love Your Neighbor?
Earlier this year the media bathed Cathy and Victor Vangelakos in a national glow after it was discovered the couple’s family was the sole tenant in a 32-floor condo in Fort Myers, Florida. The New Jersey family had purchased the condo as an investment, but the mortgage bust prevented other tenants from closing their deals on the newly constructed condo. The couple lamented in interviews that despite exclusive access to the pool, exercise room, and elevator, living without neighbors is lonely. The picture appearing in newspapers across the country showed the couple standing on their balcony like lone bees in a massive hive.
The irony of the Vangelakos’ plight is that Western culture encourages the kind of privacy and solitude that the family has inherited. Car commercials show lone drivers enjoying their car interiors as they navigate through a crazy world. Lottery ads show us a paradise world where we can quit our jobs, thumb our noses at our communities, and buy a lakeside mansion on a hill.
And those of us who will never win the lottery plant hedges along our properties because we have bought into the notion that, as Robert Frost said, “good fences make good neighbors.”
Yet we also live in a world where we are connected like never before. Facebook. Twitter. Email. Skype. But we experience them alone in our houses or standing in public with our phones flipped open, texting someone who isn’t with us. There’s safety in talking to someone who isn’t there or with whom you can end the conversation by clicking a “Log Out” button.
We live in a world where we can too easily log out. The late comedian George Carlin once said, “We've been all the way to the moon and back but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.”
This explains the popularity of books such as Cormac McCarthy’s best-selling novel The Road, the movie release for which is coming in November. There’s something oddly romantic about a man and his son journeying somewhere through a post-apocalyptic world, using their resourcefulness to eat and find shelter, hiding from everyone because even your neighbors could be your enemies. The story resonates in a post-9/11 world.
So how do we love our neighbors as ourselves in such a world? Deliberately and strategically. If we wake up every day and follow the current of our culture, we will isolate ourselves more and more. We need to put down our phones, step away from our computers, start sitting on our front porches again, knock on our neighbors’ doors just to say “Hi,” smile at strangers, block out time on our weekends and weeknights to volunteer in our communities. We need to find out what social agencies need our dollars and our time. We need to come out from behind our fences and take some risks in developing relationships on our streets and in our cities. In the words of Christian singer Chris Tomlin, “Greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.” We stand in church piously singing it. Are we doing it?
There’s a phrase in the Bible that is easily overlooked. It can be found in Matthew 22:35-39:
One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (NLT)
Did you catch it? The phrase is “A second is equally important.” I don’t know if you’ve every stopped on this phrase before, but consider its meaning. Loving your neighbor is as important as loving God. That’s mind-bending. Or put it another way. I have to love my neighbor as if he or she is God. I don’t know about you, but I fail miserably in this department. In Luke 10, an expert in religious law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded by telling those who were listening the parable of the Good Samaritan. Read the story in Luke 10:30-37. In typical Jesus storytelling fashion, it is the person who would be least likely to show Christian love who does it. Jesus ends the story with “Go and do the same” (Luke 10:37
In Ephesians 4, Paul gives us a more straightforward lesson on how to treat our neighbors:
Let’s end our time by listening to Chris Tomlin’s “God of This City.” When you’ve finished listening to the song, go and do the same.
“But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:20-32
Ron DeBoer is a writer and high school vice-principal living in the Waterloo region. He can be reached at email@example.com.