If I’m planning a trip, I consult my GPS or a road map. When attempting to impress guests with my culinary expertise, I consult cookbooks. Needing medical advice? I search Google or contact a doctor. So, wouldn’t it follow, if I had a question about the should and shouldn’t in life, I’d consult God’s Word?
Trouble is, many of us jump in the car, grab the pots and pans, shove that ache and pain to the back burner, and act without thinking. And we all know what happens next—we get hopelessly lost, make a yucky meal, or develop a dreaded disease. And we do the same thing with people—shun relationships of every nature or description without a thought about God’s commandment to His people in approximately 32 A.D.:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV).
One of the first skills I learned in writing a story was to SHOW—NOT TELL. Which begs the question, how are people going to know what Christians look and act like if we don’t show them? And if we ignore, snub, or push them away what image of Christ will they see?
Humans love to colonize:
We cloister folks around us who are just like we are. So, we often gather in groups of mini me’s, run inside the local place of worship, and bolt the doors behind us, sounds like the Tower of Babel all over again, doesn’t it? We know God wasn’t pleased with those people. So why do we think He’d be pleased with Christians having only Christian friends? He confused their language and sent them off to do as He commanded—Be fruitful. Multiply. And fill the earth. But what have we all done since that time? Re-cloistered, repeated, and regrouped.
Does He have a purpose and a plan for us to accomplish in the short 70 to 100 years He granted you and me here on planet earth? Yep, the same thing—Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth—with the family of God. And Jesus amplified the Father’s fruitful and multiplying instructions:
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind.
- “Study to show thyself approved unto God. Rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”
- “Go and make disciples.”
Those are our marching orders! But in the hurry and scurry of daily life, we often leave His commands languishing on the shelf, or else we attempt to dodge the issue by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Surely God, you can’t mean I’m to be friends with… you fill in the blank.
So, who is my Neighbor?
Roget’s Thesaurus defines the noun neighbor as a friend: acquaintance, intimate friend, confidant friend, familiar friend, faithful friend, inseparable friend, teammate, roommate, schoolmate, partner, workmate, colleague, casual acquaintance. In simple language, anyone with whom you interact. I don’t have time for all those people. Between my family, my job, and my church, there’s no time left for me, much less a bunch ‘a folks and their messy lives. If we’re honest, sometimes Christians’ lives are just as messy as those outside the body of believers. But those outside the body don’t have the hope Jesus freely gave us.
Let me share an account I read this morning, about a friend of the prophet Jeremiah. His name is Baruch and he was a helper of the prophet during turbulent times in Judah. Around 605 B.C. God heard Baruch whining, “Ah, woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am weary with my groaning and have found no rest” (Jeremiah 45:3 NIV). Have you ever felt like that? I have, and Baruch’s words leaped off the page and stabbed my heart. No less than 24 hours earlier, I had been sobbing my poor-me’s to God, complaining about being tired. And goodness, my sorrow is certainly warranted, or so I thought. But God sent word back to Baruch through Jeremiah. “But, are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold I will give your life to you as booty in all the places where you may go” (Jeremiah 45:5 NIV). And I had to stop, take a deep breath, and repeat God’s question to Baruch to myself… Am I seeking great things for myself? And I had to confess, “Yes, Lord. I am guilty.” And I rattled off my list of priorities. Priorities which have kept me from tending to the people God has often placed in my path. Prioritizing my urgent over God’s important.
The full truth of God’s Words broke through the thickness of my understanding, and God has given me the same thing He gave Baruch—my life to me as booty, through the blood and mercy and grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, in all the places where I may go.
And sweet friend, if you’re a born-again believer, He’s given you that same gift. The gift of mercy, grace, and life—eternal life in Jesus. He orders our steps. He brings people in and out of our lives, to whom we can demonstrate what Jesus followers look and act like. Or people who teach us, rebuke us, and help us to grow up in Jesus. But most of all, people who don’t have a clue, but need to hear the Good News of the gospel. And who will they listen to? Strangers or friends? You know the answer–friends who have something they know they need.
I cringe when I consider how many of those opportunities I’ve missed. Missed because I was too tired or too busy seeking great things for myself. How many friendships have I brushed aside because the people in question weren’t believers… weren’t like me… but needed Jesus? And I missed the blessing God would have poured out on both of us.
Scripture is clear:
“And it happened that as He was reclining at the table in the house, behold many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is your Teacher eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners?’ But when He heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matthew 9:10-13 NIV).
Perhaps, like those Scribes and Pharisees, sometimes our pride and arrogance have blinded us to the fact that we are all sinners—some lost, some saved—but all sinners. Paul tells us, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved… How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13, 15 NIV).