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26

Loving our Neighbors as Friends

by
Scott Benson

Ask God to speak as you interact with today's Scripture and devotional.

“… An expert in religious law tried to trap him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” — Matthew 22:35-39 (NLT)
(Jesus said) “The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He's a glutton and drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners.’” — Matthew 11:19 (NLT)
“When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. ‘Zacchaeus!’ he said. ‘Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.’ Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. ‘He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,’ they grumbled. Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!’ Jesus responded, ‘Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.'” — Luke 19:5-10 (NLT)

Loving our neighbors is a really big deal to God. It’s so important that God’s Word tells us to love your neighbor as yourself eight times, starting in Leviticus 19:18. And it doesn’t appear to be a casual suggestion; it’s a command. When Jesus was asked to identify the most important commandment, He paired up loving our neighbors with loving God and then declared, there is no commandment greater than these (Mark 12:31). Dave and Jon Ferguson observe, “loving our neighbors isn’t always easy.… Maybe that is why God made it a command. He knew we’d struggle. He knew if He didn’t make it a command, we’d treat it as optional. So God insisted that we find the time, make the sacrifice, and be intentional about loving our neighbors.” (Dave Ferguson and Jon Ferguson, B.L.E.S.S.: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World, p. xx)

Observing how Jesus loved His neighbors in the Gospels, Dave and Jon identified five simple ways He blessed and befriended people. Based on the rhythm of those five practices, they created an acrostic: “B.L.E.S.S.” This week our Daily Reflections will invite you to explore each of the elements in B.L.E.S.S. 

Here’s an overview: 

  • Begin with Prayer — Prayer helps us discover who and how to bless someone.
  • Listen to the Needs of Others — Ask questions and be aware
  • Eat a Meal with Your Neighbors — Food fosters friendship.
  • Serve Others — Look for ways to be a servant.
  • Share Your Stories — When we befriend people, they want to hear our stories of faith.


It’s fascinating to note that Jesus had a nickname: friend of tax collectors and other sinners. It was a label the religious leaders used in referencing the sketchy crowd Jesus hung out with such as tax collectors like Zacchaeus. And when we explore the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, we soon discover it was just another episode in His mission to seek and save the lost: 

Take a look at how this story starts off. It may seem like an insignificant detail, but don't miss it. Luke 19:1 tells us that “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.” Notice in that first line that Jesus was ‘passing through’ Jericho. He was headed somewhere else. So spending time with Zacchaeus wasn’t something he planned weeks in advance. But the opportunity to bless Zacchaeus presented itself as Jesus was passing through and living life. And what we could easily miss is that Jesus chose to stop and spend time with the man that most people hated. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and tax collectors made their living by ripping people off! But even so, Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for a meal which, in that day, was a clear act of friendship. And Jesus’ act of blessing so moved Zacchaeus that he immediately promised to give away almost everything he owned. Zacchaeus found salvation (Ferguson, p. 21-22).

Barna Group conducted a survey asking people what they value most in a person with whom they would talk about spiritual matters. Here are the top three practices with commentary by Dave and Jon Ferguson:

1. Listen without judgment. Listening is one of the purest acts of love! What our neighbors want is for someone to lean in and just listen... They desire to have another person absorb their questions and stories ... so they can process their feelings and experiences in relationship. The sad news is that two-thirds of the people surveyed said they had no one in their life who would listen to them without judgment. None. This reflects the sad truth that Christians are known more for talking than listening. 

2. Allow them to draw their own conclusions. Your friends and neighbors are not projects; they are people. They are looking for someone who will not force a conclusion on them but will trust them to have their own spiritual journey.... This is where both God and our friends want us to get out of the way. If the Gospel is true and someone is sincerely searching for truth, it will prove itself. We need to trust God to do His part and trust those around us to journey just like we did. Our friends want us to love, listen, and interact with them, but let God draw them in.... Be a friend to your neighbors and trust God to do the rest.

3. Confidence in sharing your own perspective. After you have listened to your friend — once you have given them space to come to their own conclusions, it's then and only then that the people around us are interested in our confidently sharing our own perspective. They want to know our stories and hear our experiences ... about the difference the love of God and the life of Jesus have made for you.... Your story is the best evidence you can offer anyone. Your story cannot be irrelevant. If you have a strong relationship with the person you’re sharing with, your story will be seen as empirical evidence. 

People are looking for friends. The research confirms it. What else would you call someone who listens without judgment, offers you wise counsel that helps you make your own decision, and loves you no matter what? That's a friend! (Ferguson, p. 9-11)

reflect

Answer the questions below and write down any other thoughts and prayers to God in your Life in Rhythm journal.

  1. Review the five practices of B.L.E.S.S. Which practices are easier for you? Which are more challenging? How do you need the Spirit’s help to grow in those challenging areas?
  2. Review the three practices that people value most in a friend when talking about spiritual matters. Which of the three practices is most challenging for you? How do you need the Spirit’s help to grow in that challenging area? 
  3. What holds you back or makes you hesitant to love your neighbors like Jesus did with Zacchaeus? 
  4. Think about one neighbor you know in your neighborhood, workplace or someone who is a friend. Ask the Spirit to grow your heart for that person; to give you more sensitivity to their needs and spiritual questions. Ask Him to remind you to pray for that person every day this week.

Go deeper (optional)

Every day you'll have an opportunity to "go deeper" into God's Word by practicing the REAP study method. Read the following scripture and use your journal and the REAP method to unpack the following scripture and apply it to your life.

Galatians 5:13-17
Learn more about reap