Loving Neighbors (2)
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19.9, 10
Getting some handles on love
If we’re going to love the way Jesus loved, we need to look to Jesus to see what such love entails. Jesus calls us to follow Him. He has given us His Spirit to form us into His own likeness (2 Cor. 3.12-18). As we look to Jesus to learn how we must love our neighbors, we may identify a set of disciplines that we can learn, practice, and improve. By focusing on Jesus in His incarnation, exaltation, and return we can develop a growing picture of the Lord of love that can guide us in loving the neighbors to whom God sends us each day.
We can learn which works can help us love our neighbors by following the example of Jesus and pursuing our relationships in the same way He did. Loving our neighbors begins by our becoming more proactive in love toward the people around us. As Jesus walked about seeking people to heal, help, and call, so we must approach the work of loving the neighbors in our Personal Mission Field.
Put another way, we must work at becoming seekers of others in the same way Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost and to make disciples of His followers.
Who are the seekers?
To love with the love of Jesus is to seek others, and not simply to wait around for them to find their way to you. The contemporary notion of a “seeker-friendly” church is a distortion of Biblical teaching about how the love of Jesus comes to the lost world. The Scriptures teach that, among the lost of this world, none are seeking God because none understand their need for Him (Ps. 53.1-3). Yet in our churches we throw out everything glorious in our Christian liturgical heritage, hoping to attract “seekers” by our contemporary, relaxed style and our non-threatening messages of “love”.
It’s instructive to note how, over the past half-generation of the rise of “seeker-friendliness” in our churches, the work of God’s people in proclaiming the Good News to their neighbors, co-workers, and friends has essentially dried up. We’ve decided to wait for the “seekers” to find their way to us; but what we’re finding is that few of our neighbors are joining our churches, and little in the way ofGood News is going out to our communities. And those who have managed to find their way to us have discovered a gospel that is so compromised and watered down that it can only be described as a kind of “near Christianity” rather than the Good News of the Kingdom.
God does not expect the world to seek Him, though all are commanded to do so. Jesus did not come to earth and wait for the world to find its way to Him. Instead, He came seeking us, and in the example of His seeking, we can learn what it means to love others as Jesus did, and to love them with the kind of initiating grace that softens, piques, and attracts people to the Lord.
The disciplines of seeking
Although the practice of seeking our neighbors with the love of Christ could doubtless take many forms, I want to mention four disciplines that, if we can master them, will help us to improve daily in following the example of our Lord Jesus. These disciplines outline the good works we can do to become more consistent and effective in loving our neighbors as seekers.
First, we must seek others with the love of Christ in prayer. If you have not yet mapped out your Personal Mission Field, to discover and fix in your mind the people to whom God is sending you week after week, this would be an excellent time to do so. Once you’ve identified the people you see each week, begin your day by praying for those you expect to see. Ask God to fill your heart with love for them, and to prepare you to initiate contact or a conversation with them as Jesus would if He were doing so through you. Pray daily for all the people in your Personal Mission Field you expect to meet, and pray again just before you see them. Look to God and His love for you, and He will give you the love you need for them.
Praying for the people you will see each day can lead to planning for the time you will actually seek them. What steps might you take to reach out to the people you will see that day with the love of Jesus? What will you bring up for conversation? How can you encourage or affirm them? The Law of God instructed the people of Israel always to be thinking about their neighbors, and by careful forethought, making sure they didn’t do anything to trouble or cause them to stumble (cf. Ex. 21.35, 36; Ex. 22.5, 6; Deut. 22.8). The writer of Hebrews calls on us to consider – think about in advance – how we can encourage the people we see each day (Heb. 10.24). By planning your time before you actually come to it, you can expect to know the wisdom of God in how you use your time, especially as you reach out to others, seeking them with the love of Jesus (Ps. 90.12).
Third, make a point to greet the people you see each day. Greet each one personally. Learn the names of the people in your Personal Mission Field, and use their names whenever you have the opportunity. Don’t wait for others to speak first. Greet people cheerily, as though you had some Good News to tell. Greet them sincerely, pausing to wait for their reply, and then replying as indicated. Think of Jesus greeting Nathaniel, the woman at the well, Zaccheus, and all the others. By initiating contact, Jesus showed interest in others, and people generally respond very well when they think someone cares enough to be interested in them.
Finally, try to engage the people around you each day in personal and meaningful ways. Take an interest in them as persons. Listen to what they reveal about themselves, their families, or their concerns, and add these to your times of prayer. Follow-up with them on matters of interest or concern. Comment positively on their work. At some point, once you’ve become more familiar with them, let them know that you pray for them, and encourage them to share requests with you. Be sure to follow-up on those requests as well. Look for opportunities to engage others in conversation, by asking them questions, commenting on some common interest, such as work, or seeking their opinion on a contemporary issue or situation. Such active engagement might create an open door for hospitality, so that you bring your neighbors into your own life and show them the love of Jesus on your turf.
Imagine yourself being sought in this way, say, by an elder or other shepherd in your church – to know that someone prays for you faithfully, considers and plans for ways to encourage you, greets you personally and cheerily, and listens to your needs, opinions, views, and ideas. Would that endear you to that leader?
Well, it will endear your neighbors to you as well, as you learn to seek them with the love of Jesus Christ.
1. How many different ways can you identify that Jesus was a “seeker” of people?
2. “God does not expect the world to seek Him, though all are commanded to do so. Instead, He came seeking us, and in the example of His seeking, we can learn what it means to love others as Jesus did, and to love them with the kind of initiating grace that softens, piques, and attracts people to the Lord.” What do we mean by “initiating grace”?
3. Review the four disciplines recommended to help us in seeking others. How might you see these working out in your own experience?
Next steps – Preparation, Transformation: Whom will you seek today with the love of Jesus? What specific steps of seeking will you take? Write your plan down, then commit it to the Lord in prayer. At the end of the day, review your work, and offer it to the Lord with thanksgiving.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.