Luke 10: 25–28 recounts a conversation between Jesus and a man asking how to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The man answers confidently, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” But that confidence deflates when he realizes the difficulty of fulfilling the righteous requirement to love his neighbor.
But there is very good news for anyone tempted to despair. Once we realize that Jesus is the perfect example of a good neighbor, as his children, we can follow him into neighbor love. Since Jesus has given us neighborly love, we can love our neighbors in response. But how do we do this?
There’s something special about the places God calls us to live. We experience divine appointments to steward the gospel when our lives intersect with others. In Love Your Church, author Tony Merida explains how this “fosters the belief that every person in our sphere of life matters, and it helps us remember that God has us living in this time and place in history, surrounded by particular image bearers he has sovereignly put in our path.”
As ambassadors of Jesus, we’re given the good news of salvation and the privilege to pass it on to our neighbors. I call it “good news stewardship.”
Three Kinds of Neighbors
Practicing good news stewardship in ordinary moments with familiar faces is taking part in the gospel “bearing fruit and increasing in the world” (Matt. 5:16, Col. 1:6). This incarnational movement is the heart of evangelism and discipleship as fruit-bearing seeds are continually sown and watered. As ambassadors of Jesus, we’re given the good news of salvation and the privilege to pass it on to our neighbors. I call it “good news stewardship.” Click To Tweet
After years of neighborhood ministry, I’ve seen such fruit with many neighbors, and I’ve come to think of my neighbors in three helpful categories:
1. Next-door neighbors (frequent by proximity): Anyone from the person sitting on your couch to the people in your one-block radius.
2. Nearby neighbors (frequent by routine): People in your “usual spots.” By living locally, you meet other locals.
3. Natural neighbors (frequent by intention): People beyond your neighborhood or locale. You see them frequently and share common ground through a gym, workplace, or hobby.
Having local and predictable routines increases the chance of developing friendships with strangers. We shouldn’t just know our neighbors; we need to love them. It takes time to develop from strangers to friends. Start by praying about the places you spend time and the relationships you hope to build there.
Loving our neighbors is often challenged by natural or cultural conditioning. We look past our neighbors like they blend into the scenery around us. We write them off as strangers we’ll probably never see again. We must fight this tendency or run the risk of remaining strangers. If we neglect to love our neighbors, they would never suspect that right next door was a messenger of God’s love and grace. Paul reminds us we are not incognito spies hiding God from the world but ambassadors for Christ through whom God makes his appeal to the world (2 Cor. 5:20).
From Strangers to Friends
As ambassadors, we get to introduce the gospel and invest in discipleship. Both are most successful within a trusting friendship. Our neighbors won’t just hear the good news, they’ll also see its fruit in our everyday lives. Here are four ways we can grow relationally with our neighbors.
1. Strangers: You’re a stranger until you start being present and familiar. Take a walk at the same time every day when other people are out walking. By crossing paths, you become a familiar face.
2. Acquaintances: Become acquaintances with others on a first-name basis. Next time you see someone on your walk, say hello and introduce yourself.
3. Friends: Move from a neutral context to personal hospitality. Invite the neighbors over for a backyard barbecue or game night.
4. Disciples: Within trusted friendships, we can continue investing time with gospel intentionality. Once your neighbors see the hospitality of the gospel, they will be more inclined to hear the message of it in their lives. We are not incognito spies hiding God from the world but ambassadors for Christ through whom God makes his appeal to the world. Click To Tweet
Here’s how these steps played out for me. I started taking evening walks around the neighborhood (frequent by proximity). I didn’t know anyone (stranger) but took notice of people I regularly saw (familiar faces). I finally stopped to introduce myself to a family I kept seeing (acquaintance). Adam invited me to his home for coffee (friend). We’ve been hanging out and reading the Bible together (disciple) for months.
As Christians, we’re called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make disciples of Jesus by his grace and for his glory. Author and pastor Jeff Vanderstelt says we get to “live our lives in such a way that demands a gospel explanation.” May the gospel be on display in all our interactions with our neighbors. God gave them to us and it’s our joy to bring them to him through our bold witness.