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Neighbors (Photo credit: davepatten)

God invites us into His epic saga where a collective body of mankind passes from spiritual death to life one life at a time. In this adventure, He gives us relationships.

Everyone has neighbors, and everyone is a neighbor to everyone else. Neighbors include spouses and family, friends and acquaintances, co-workers and classmates, and even strangers we’ve never met. Some are kind, some are hostile, and some are indifferent.

Because this body of neighbors is lost and broken, we’ve all been hurt and we all hurt others to one degree or another. Collectively, we’re the walking wounded because we’re like children with live grenades. We don’t understand how to lovingly exercise the power of free thought, will, and behavior.

Without joining God’s adventure, perhaps the best we can manage of life is to get whatever we can without too much damage to self and neighbors. The worst we can do is to inflict as much harm on as many people as possible, including ourselves. Either way, it’s no way to live.

The Healing Connection

Multitudes of the walking wounded have experienced nothing but rejection or abuse at the hands of others. They’ve never experienced any sense of belonging, of love, or so much as a whiff of community in any body of neighbors. People thus deprived simply shrivel and die inside.

As neighbors, you and I are designed to be connected, not detached from one other. Yet it isn’t good to depend primarily on one another. This might surprise some readers.

Using a body analogy, many Christians teach that God designed us specifically to be dependent on one another. They’ll explain that the kidneys, for example, depend on the lungs, and the lungs depend on the stomach, and so on. In conclusion, they’ll say, “Imagine if kidneys and lungs didn’t do their jobs. In the same way, God wants us to depend on each other.”

It sounds good until you realize that a thriving body depends primarily on each part’s connection to the brain, not between its parts. So, the kidneys don’t do their job because of the lungs, but because of the brain.

Likewise, thriving neighbor relationships rely on connection to Christ. Even when it’s established for only one of the persons, it’s no longer vital to be “treated right” by the other. For example, if you insult, judge, or reject me, I’m not devastated and therefore feel no need to retaliate. I can wish you good will because my well-being doesn’t depend on you.

If I’m extremely well-practiced in this, (which I’m not yet) as the original Christians were, nothing you can do to me will harm me, including murder. My well-being simply doesn’t depend on you, and doesn’t even depend on me remaining in my physical body. This independence is Jesus’ “secret” behind turning the other cheek, praying for enemies, and blessing those who curse you. In other words, neighbor love.

But it’s rarely taught to today’s Christians. Instead, we attempt turning-the-other-cheek behavior simply because “the Bible says so,” neither understanding the sequence behind it nor building up the independent, Christ-like strength to do it. The blind lead the blind right into a minefield.

As strange as it sounds, you can’t love your neighbors until you get free of them. This doesn’t mean to reject neighbors or be indifferent to their needs. It simply means that in surrendering to God, we rely less and less on people nurturing us. Although He may bring nurturing people into our lives (and some who make life difficult), dependence on God puts us in a better position to foster and serve relationships without abusing people or falling victim to them.

Practice: Re-establish Connection to the Head

Study the two instructive commands that Jesus gave, which, according to him, summarize God’s primary message of eternal life. (1.) Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul. (2.) Love your neighbor as yourself.

Then ask God to help you understand it. First, ponder whether the message of love might still be primary, or whether Jesus put it on the back burner or abolished it altogether. Consider what love might have to do with abundant life and well-being with God, now and always.

Second, note that these two commands address the relationship between mankind and God, and that mankind can be understood as “yourself” and everyone else—“neighbor.” Command #1 covers God and self; command #2 covers self and everyone else.

Third, note the sequence of building love as Jesus presented it. To love your neighbor as yourself assumes that one already loves one’s self—not in a prideful, human way, but in a healthy, Godly way. Self-love is a pre-requisite for neighbor love. To use a house analogy, Christ is the foundation, self is the walls, and neighbors are the roof.

Now, compare this sequence to the popular JOY acronym that you may have been taught: Jesus, Others, You, in that order. Which would seem to put you in a position of strength, good will, staying power, and joy? Which might likely build exhaustion or resentment over time?

To me, Jesus’  order is much wiser because it motivates human nature to work with God, as opposed to keeping human nature always at odds with His ways.