"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22 (NKJV)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Week 20: Love Your Neighbor

"The entire law is summed up in a single command. Love your neighbor as yourself." ~ Gal. 5:14

It's the halfway point of The James 1:22 Project, with twenty weeks down and twenty weeks to go. Let's get to last week's command---loving your neighbor.

Blessed Are the Merciful

I've been thinking a lot about the parable of the good Samaritan---Luke 10:25-37. A lawyer asks Jesus how a person should act who wants to find mercy at the judgment day. Jesus says that those who receive mercy will be those who loved God with everything and loved their neighbors as themselves. The lawyer asks, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus answers with the story of the good Samaritan. A man lies in a ditch, having been beaten and robbed. A priest and a Levite see the man but pass by without helping. They are religious men, but their religion is empty. They're all about ceremony at the temple, but they won't interrupt their lives to help somebody in need. The Samaritan, on the other hand, comes from a misguided religious tradition. His doctrine isn't sound. But, his heart is right. His faith is real. He has a heart of compassion, and he acts on it. The Samaritan is the one who is merciful, and he is the one who will receive mercy. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Matthew 5:7.

It's important to understand that this isn't salvation by works. We don't earn mercy by being merciful. Mercy is evidence of our faith and trust in God. Mercy is evidence of God working in our lives. Those who put their faith and trust in God will be merciful and will receive mercy.

Crossing the Lawn

I thought about making some grand gesture in response to this command. Logan, my seven-year old, suggested that we should invite everybody in the neighborhood to our house for my world famous grilled cheeseburgers. I seriously considered it. I think, however, that God's not calling me to a single big act, but rather calling me to a life that chooses relationships over my agenda and over my comfort.

If I would see my neighbor laying in a ditch beaten and bloodied, I'm sure that I would help him. My problem is that my neighbor might be laying in a ditch, and I wouldn't notice. I'm task oriented. I tend to go through life with my head down, thinking about the next item on my mental to-do list. God is convicting me that I need to slow down and look around. I need to cross the yard to my neighbor and start a conversation. Whatever my next project is, it can wait a few minutes. Maybe he's not in a ditch physically, but is in an emotional or spiritual ditch. How will I know, if I'm too busy to talk to him?

The other thing that often prevents me from observing this command is that I love my own comfort too much. For example, if somebody invites us over for dinner on a Sunday evening, my first instinct is to make excuses why I can't go. "It's been a hard week at work (or, it's going to be), and I need a quiet evening at home." "If we're out late tonight, then the boys will be tired and crabby tomorrow." "The game's on, and I haven't seen a ballgame since last week." "It's such a long drive to their house." Sometimes, by God's grace, I overcome those objections. I need to overcome them more often and more consistently choose relationships over my comfort.

Just a Beginning

This last week was about doing a few simple things. God gave me a few opportunities to choose relationship over agenda and comfort and then the Spirit nudged me the right direction. I did cross my lawn a couple times to start conversations with a neighbor. A Sunday evening dinner invitation came along at the last minute. I would usually find a way to get out of it, but I felt the Spirit nudge me to go for it. I also have some very dear friends with a daughter in the hospital, and I was blessed to visit them this week and be encouraged by their faithfulness. It is a Christian truism that if God commands us to do something, He will give us what we need to obey. I've always thought of that as having do with resources; God will give us the resources to obey Him. I think that's true. I'm realizing, however, that almost always when God commands something in His word He will also put before us opportunities to obey Him.

Answering the Call to a Life of Love, Mercy and Compassion

Choosing relationship over agenda and comfort is just a beginning. There is much more to this command. God is calling us to a life of love, mercy and compassion. Once again, I am convicted that I can't fulfill God's commands on my own but only by God's grace and mercy. I love the way John Piper answers the question, "How do we become a merciful people?"

"The mercy that God blesses is itself the blessing of God. It grows up like fruit in a broken heart and meek spirit and soul that hungers and thirsts for God to be merciful. Mercy comes from mercy. Our mercy for each other comes from God's mercy to us.

The key to becoming a merciful person is to become a broken person. You get the power to show mercy from the real feeling in your heart that you owe everything you are and have to sheer divine mercy. Therefore, if we want to become merciful people, it is imperative that we cultivate a view of God and ourselves that helps us to say with all our heart that every joy and virtue and distress of our lives is owing to the free and undeserved mercy of God."

I pray that God's mercy, His Word, and His Spirit would create in me a merciful heart.


  1. One single command...it's not an option...it can't be ignored...it must be obeyed. He never said it would be easy...but then neither was the cross!!!
    Hi. I came across your blog through another blog I follow and have signed up as a follower. When you’re free, please do visit me and let me know what you think of my blog and leave a comment. If you like, do follow as well. I am always open to great new people and interesting websites. Look forward to hearing from you.

  2. I have always had a difficult time building relationships with my neighbors, mostly because of comfort... but also because of not making the effort. Looking forward to next weeks post to see how you allow God to move in this command.

  3. It's probably not clear from my post, but this was last week's command. I was doing two posts per week for awhile, but I've cut back to one. God put some opportunties in my path---simple things like encounters with neighbors and an invite to dinner from the parents of one of Ethan's preschood friends.

  4. Great post, Nathan. I am so task-oriented, too. But, I do crave relationships. This is a good reminder that it's important to take the time to look around and see in what ways others are hurting and in need of an outstretched hand. I agree with you and love the quote from John Piper that our view of God completely affects the way in which we view the world around us. Thanks for sharing!