Why Does the Word of God Call Us to Love Our Neighbor?
There’s a Mexican legend that I love about a man named San Isidro. San Isidro was plowing his field under the hot sun, when, right in the middle of his work, an angel of the Lord came to him and said, “San Isidro, I need you to come with me. The Lord wants to see you.”
He looked at all he had left to do, and he looked at the angel, and he told the angel, “I don’t have time for this. I’m sorry.” He just kept working. The angel left, and a little while later he came back. “San Isidro, I need you to come with me. The Lord wants to see you. If you don’t come with me, the Lord will send wind.”
San Isidro looked at all he had to do and thought, “I’ve lived through a lot of wind. I don’t have time for this.” So he told the angel, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to keep on working.” The angel and San Isidro went back and forth a few times and each time the angel threatened something else: fire, drought, insects; but San Isidro was so overwhelmed by his work that he would not leave.
Finally, the angel said, “San Isidro, you must come with me. The Lord wants to speak to you. If you do not come, he will send you a bad neighbor.” At that moment, San Isidro immediately dropped his tools and said, “I will come. I can deal with wind, I can deal with a drought, but I cannot deal with a bad neighbor.”
It’s a funny little story, and it rings true. We all know the value of a neighbor who is loving and considerate, and the danger and difficulty of living with a bad neighbor. Do we ever stop to consider why loving our neighbors, where we live, where we work and our social settings is so important?
Why does the Word of God (over and over and over again) call us to love our neighbor?
The people of Israel end up in captivity, first to Egypt and then to Babylon. Jeremiah writes this right when the people are in Babylon as captives. They’re under tremendous stress, and this is the message God gives Jeremiah for his people:
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’” Jeremiah 29:4-7
God tells his people that there’s a purpose for this hard time they’re in. God says to his people, “While you are in exile, while you are being persecuted, while you are being treated badly, while you are being forced to eat different foods and live a different way, don’t get depressed. Don’t isolate.”
Instead, he commands, “Build houses and settle down.” He tells them, “Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Find wives for your sons. Have children. Increase in numbers.” Does any of this sound familiar to you? We see a little bit of Genesis here. This is the call God gave Adam and Eve: care for the garden and produce children.
God says, “Seek peace and prosperity for that city. Seek the good for that city.” At this point the people of Judah must be thinking, “What? God, did you forget who these people are? We are captives! They are our enemies!” He tells them to pray for their captors.
God designed us to love our neighbor, even in difficult circumstances. If the people of Judah did not flourish under the oppression of Babylon, they would cease to exist. They would think, “What’s the point of having children? We don’t want to subject our children to this difficulty.” They would reduce in numbers and cease to prosper, and eventually, to exist at all.
God cared about them, and he knew that loving your neighbor was the way for them to survive and thrive.
Isn’t that familiar? Matthew 5 says: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” The same thing Jeremiah spoke to the people of Judah on behalf of God is what Jesus calls us to do.
This wasn’t for a short time. The people of Judah were captive in Babylon for 70 years. Imagine living in a place that isn’t your home, where you feel like a captive, for an entire lifetime – and God says to stay there and be a good neighbor.
Jeremiah 29:11 says: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” 70 years after this promise was made, after a lifetime of oppression, the promise was fulfilled. God is saying, “There is a reason why I’m doing this, and where you are today. There is a purpose I have for you, and I promise I will come rescue you.”
God wants to restore the world through his people.
He wants to use us, where we live, work and play, to bring restoration to the world.
The Golden Rule comes from Leviticus 19:18. Other religions borrow from it, and they frame it negatively: “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.” But when we think of the Golden Rule negatively, we think that just leaving people alone is enough. But that’s not what God calls us to do.
Look what Leviticus says the Golden Rule is. It’s a positive statement: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” This is a command from God. To love my neighbor, leaving him or her, or them alone is not enough. Maybe we do have to get out of our comfort zone and actively love others.
Matthew 22 says: “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
By loving our neighbors well, we reflect Jesus. We’ve learned through neurological studies that you cannot achieve happiness simply by making that your goal. To arrive at happiness, we must love someone else more than ourselves.
John 13:34 says: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this…everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
We have a God who is a good neighbor and he came to be with us.
We are the bad neighbor, the messy ones, the inconsiderate ones, the selfish ones, but he came and dwelt with us.
In John 1:1 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:12-14
Using this wisdom from God’s Word, let’s love our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family. Let’s put down roots, plant gardens and be good neighbors. When we love each other well, we show the world our faith and how God has done so much for each of us.
How can we start being a good neighbor today?
How can you embrace your family, neighborhood, or the life circumstance God has you in right now?