Here in America, we’re used to neighborhood associations, city ordinances, and various rules and boundaries that bring a sense of order in our communities. It doesn’t seem that difficult to show my neighbors love by obeying the rules my homeowners’ association has put in place. And, hopefully my neighbors will do the same in return.
Living overseas, on the other hand, proved to be quite different.
As a missionary in Southeast Asia, I lived on a small compound with my Lao landlord and his family. In total, there were seven homes, nineteen adults, ten kids, five SUVs, countless motorbikes, two roosters, and a pack of dogs. I loved interacting with my neighbors, doing my best to communicate in their heart language. Part of the reason I moved to Southeast Asia was to hopefully build good relationships with my neighbors and engage in community with them.
However, they were prone to hosting loud parties till 2 a.m. and beginning construction work (right outside my bedroom window!) at 5:30 a.m. If that didn’t wake me up, my landlord’s dogs wore high-pitched goat bells that rang their tune morning, noon, and night. Such was life in my host country. I was a foreigner. And I had to do my best to overlook these and other annoyances—but it was hard.
Recently, as my church was studying in the book of James, Lead Pastor Mark Vroegop exhorted us to “love [our] neighbor,” a command from James 2:8. As he explained, we must love our neighbor as God commanded because “true obedience prioritizes love.” So, what does loving my neighbor look like?
Loving My Neighbors in Southeast Asia
My patience was tested to the max some days with my Lao neighbors. After many sleepless nights, I desperately wanted to complain to my landlord. However, all I could think about was what God was asking of me and why he called me overseas in the first place: to love like Jesus and build bridges to those who needed to hear the gospel. In other words, I needed to love my neighbors more than myself.
I cannot explain it apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in me, but I was determined to love my neighbors no matter what—because I was more concerned about sharing the gospel with them than the fact that their dogs kept stealing my shoes. I didn’t want anything to hinder the relationship I was trying to build with my neighbors. I just wanted them to know Jesus.
Loving My Neighbors in the U.S.
But, for some reason, I struggle to eagerly embrace that same mindset and spirit of loving my neighbors here in the States. And when I say “neighbors,” I’m not just referring to the people who live on either side of my home or across the street. I’m also referring to friends, co-workers, church members, and my family.
When someone hurts me, I have a hard time showing love in return. When someone hurts a person I love, I have a hard time showing love in return. When someone is inconsiderate, I have a hard time showing love in return. When someone is selfish, I have a hard time showing love in return. When someone is difficult to deal with, I have a hard time showing love in return.
I could keep going, but you get the idea.
3 Reminders That Help
If Christians are supposed to reflect the love of Christ to the world, I often do a poor job.
Sometimes, I have to fight hard to love people. And I can’t do it on my own. I need the Holy Spirit to help me love others. I need to remember:
1.“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19)
If Christ’s love abounded in mercy and forgiveness over my sins (and irritable flaws), I should be compelled to extend the same love, mercy, and forgiveness to others.
2. I should be so compelled to “know God and make Him known” (John 17:3)
If I have been transformed by the power of the gospel, then my heart should long to share Christ’s love to others through love. As image-bearers of God, we should be more concerned about people’s holiness and eternal destiny than how hard it might be to love them.
3. The world will know we are Christians by our love for one another (John 13:35)
Do unsaved people around you see you loving your brothers and sisters in Christ as a result of your actions and words? What about the way you show love on social media? Are your Facebook posts marked by love or words of hate and division?
A Message from Jesus on Loving When it’s Hard
Loving others is hard—but it doesn’t have to be when we are leaning into the Spirit to help us. And we have been commissioned to love like Jesus to a hurting and dying world.
Let me leave you with an exhortation from Peter to the Church:
Above all, maintain constant love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, let it be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, let it be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Pet. 4:8-11).