Those who follow in the footsteps of Christ seek to align themselves with the mission of Christ. There are two wings on this bird, and both are necessary to fly well: (1) The followers of Christ will practice gospel messaging; and (2) the followers of Christ will practice gospel neighboring. The gospel, or course, is the good news announcement that a new emperor has ascended the throne—Jesus Christ, not Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:8-14; Phil 2:9-11). It’s the declaration of what God has freely done for his people in Christ (1 Cor 15:1-10a). In his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death, and those who believe in him now have their sins forgiven, and they receive a new life—not by righteous things they have done, but because of the finished work of Christ. In other words, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, who is making all things new in the restoration of the entire cosmos. That’s the good news, and messaging that news is part of the believer’s mission.
But gospel neighboring is the other wing, and it is vitally important, too. In fact, messaging the gospel without neighboring the gospel undercuts the credibility of the gospel (Jas 2:14-17). It’s empty words and hollow bluster. We become resounding gongs and clanging symbols (1 Cor 13:1). Moreover, Jesus said that next to loving God, loving our neighbor is the greatest commandment we could keep (Matt 22:34-40). To “love” our neighbors does not necessarily mean having warm, fuzzy feelings toward them. To “love” our neighbors means to regard them as valuable and important. However wretched certain people may be—and we all have a certain amount of wretchedness in us—they are still made in the image of God. They therefore have intrinsic worth, value, significance, and dignity, whether they’re living up to their lofty status or not.
Gospel neighboring also means serving those around us, whether they believe the gospel or not (Matt 5:43-47). It’s easy to be kind to those who are like us, but Jesus doesn’t let us get away with finding loopholes in the command to love our neighbor. The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) drives home the point. But how well do we actually know our neighbors? Mr. Rogers used to sing, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Do we even know? If so, how well do we know them? Gospel neighboring starts with getting to know the people who providentially surround us. But this challenge raises many questions. What if we don’t like our neighbors? What if our neighbors don’t like us? What if they’re loud, obnoxious, or annoying? What if they’re immoral, violent, or dangerous? What if I’m an introvert? What if I’m already insanely busy? We have many questions about how to do this well, and we’ll look at some of them over the course of this series. For now, we’re simply getting centered on our need to radiate the gospel.
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One thought on “Radiate, Part 2: Gospel Neighboring (Luke 10:25-37)”
I seem always to be thrust among challenging neighbors. In Trenton, we bought a beautiful home in a questionable neighborhood. One neighbor out and out hated us and viewed us with suspicion. I asked God for direction and found my way to a local church, where I soon headed the food pantry, helping to feed and cloth those most in need. The daughter of the hate-filled neighbor eventually invited me to her baby shower. And I became a sort of auntie to her older daughter. I was on the school call list and would drive her to the doctor when she needed it. Men would come by at all hours of the night and day asking for food or blankets. We did what we could and prayed for all.
Here in Reading, there are similar challenges. The Latino neighbors across the street have 15+ cars (no, I am not happy about the junk cars parked everywhere). My initial dismay turned to prayer and only 2 days ago, I was invited to hold the newest baby born to the family. I talk to them about God and prayer. (I think dad is a Jehovah’s Witness.) And I have invited them to church functions.
And when the boys (now young men) and their girl friends in the red house across the street wake me with shouting and noisy cars at 3:00 in the morning, I pray for their souls. God knows what’s going on there since their mother abandoned them and left them with their father. I know alcohol and drugs play a role. So I am not close to them, except in prayer.
I don’t get a whole lot of sleep, but at least when I am awakened, I know what I must do. I don’t always have the chance to talk with all of the neighbors. Some work the graveyard shift. But I talk to God on their behalf and ask Him to help me not to judge.
One of the things that has helped most is that my grandparents came over from Italy through Ellis Island. They were viewed with suspicion when they arrived with their large family of 10. My dad’s family also had 10 at one point. Eight survived. So I see my family in the Latino family. Yep! They are noisy and many. And that’s often how it is when there are many! People used to think we argued at a lot at our dinner table. But we were only talking animatedly and happily. Been judged, even when I was in grade school when an Irish parent said I was not welcome in her home because “Italians steal.” Heck, when my husband asked his surrogate parents about marrying me, they warned him against marrying an Italian because “Italians lie.” Are we having fun yet? So what! God loves me. I made it through.
These neighbors will make it, too, I pray!
Lest I leave you with the impression that I am the perfect neighbor, trust me, there are days I have wanted to firebomb these houses. It has been a struggle, but it’s getting easier. Every time I see a junker parked on my side of the road, I want to scream or tell them to move it away. I have visions of hiring a tow truck and having them hauled away in the middle of the night. There are nights I have had to run out to the street and ask the Latino family to turn down the music in their cars at 3:00 AM (that seems to be the special hour). They oblige, and all the while I hope they can’t see the steam coming out of my ears! And I have had to call the Township about a second Latino family that had unlawfully parked their cars on the lawn. They stopped. I also called about their untenable garbage situation. They cleaned up. I often wonder “Why me?” Well, I was once more than intolerant (and still struggle not to be). Now I am having to work to clean up my act!
Oh and then there’s that pastor and his family who live down the street here on Whitner Road… but we won’t go there! 😁
“My heart has no desire to stay / Where doubts arise and fears dismay; / Though some may well where these abound, / My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.”
~ Johnson Oatman, Jr., “I’m Pressing on the Upward Way,” 1898.