How do we know if we are taking the second most important command in the Bible seriously? We take Jesus’ command to love our neighbor seriously by taking it literally.
The term Jesus used for “neighbor” means nearest one. So, who lives nearest to you right now? Your immediate family deserves your best love, but who lives nearest to your house or apartment?
If you walk outside your front door, could you name every person who lives within sight? Is it fair to say that if we are going to love our neighbors we need to know them first? Here are a few ways Janet and I try to live out the second Great Commandment in our Nashville neighborhood:
1. Pray for them by name.
It will help you to talk to God about your neighbor before you talk to your neighbor about God. Add their names to your personal prayer list immediately after you meet them.
2. Stop and say hello.
When Jesus spoke to a sinful Samaritan woman at the public water well, his disciples were uncomfortable. No respectable rabbi should be seen talking to such a naughty neighbor! They all had a lot to unlearn.
Immediately after his conversation with this woman, Jesus told his disciples, “Open your eyes and look at the fields, because they are ready for harvest.” (John 4:35)
A friend of God will also be a friend of sinners.
3. Meet a tangible need.
In Luke’s version of the Great Commandment conversation, the scribe asked, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). He seemed to be looking for a loophole. The parable of the Good Samaritan was Jesus’ response to his question – and ours. Have you ever identified with the dismissive priest or Levite in that parable? I sure have!
Sometimes loving our neighbors is as simple as meeting a need. It could be mowing a neighbor’s lawn or taking out their trash. A couple in our small group recently assisted an elderly neighbor whose husband died by rallying other neighbors to do the same.
4. Give a holiday gift.
When Janet and I delivered some poinsettias to our nearest neighbors last December, one of those neighbors surprised me the next day with a pen he made for me from a fallen cherry tree in our yard. This one minute video explains why this was such a special gift from my neighbor.
“The goodwill of a neighbor is often more important than the love of a brother.” – Ambrose
5. Throw a party in your yard.
Last month, Janet and I threw a simple s’mores party in our backyard and it was a hit! We went door to door inviting people from every house we could see from our front door. Seven families showed up, most of whom had never met each other. (Fortunately, no kids fell in the fire pit!)
6. Host a reception in your home.
Matthew famously did this with his IRS co-workers, and Jesus was right in the middle of them. We have not done this yet, but we have plans to.
“When it comes to sharing the Gospel, Southern Baptists should do whatever they can to reach lovingly into the lives of people who don’t know Jesus, even if that process is uncomfortable.” – J.D. Greear, SBC President
7. Invite them to your church or group.
These outreach ideas are not written in sequential order, but I suggest that you invest in your neighbors before you invite them to your church or group. Holidays have proven to be the most effective times to bring people to church.
8. Share the Gospel.
Southern Baptists recently started a simple evangelism initiative called “Who’s Your One?” The idea is to identify a specific person to pray for and share the Gospel with. My “one” lives within a frisbee throw of my front door, and my heart grows each time I pray for him or talk to him.
Not everyone will answer the call to love our unsaved and unchurched neighbors. A recent Lifeway study found that 61% of evangelical Christians admit that they have not told someone about Jesus in the previous six months.
I don’t think it is possible to love the Lord without loving the lost. Great Commandment pastors and leaders will literally love their neighbors between Sundays, as well as lead their churches to do the same.