Loving difficult neighbours isn’t optional Sometimes we disconnect from neighbours because they are rude. Loud music. Parking in the wrong spot. Smoking around our kids. Using our lawn as their dog’s daily bathroom. Parenting in ways we would not. Donning a political yard sign or bumper sticker we despise.

Matters of Faith

Much like family, we don’t choose our neighbours. Depending on the situation, this can be delightful or dreadful.

But even when it is dreadful, Jesus commands us to love our neighbours. 

Imagine standing before God with this logic: “Yes Lord, they were made in your image and starved for gospel hope, but their dog’s barking always woke us up at 2 a.m., so we shut them out.” 

As Christians, evaluating how likable, similar, relatable, or moral our neighbours are is the wrong place to start. Whatever differences we inevitably encounter, the gospel compels us to lean closer, not step back.

Let’s consider five reasons we excuse ourselves from loving our neighbours, begging God to bring conviction that begets obedience (Ps. 139:23–24; James 1:22–25).

1. My neighbours are inconsiderate

Sometimes we disconnect from neighbours because they are rude. Loud music. Parking in the wrong spot. Smoking around our kids. Using our lawn as their dog’s daily bathroom. Parenting in ways we would not. Donning a political yard sign or bumper sticker we despise.

Cancel culture insists that if someone bothers you, ditch them. Conversely, the way of Jesus is willing to forgive offense (John 8:1–11), model purity (1 Pet. 2:12), and engage relationally with sinners (John 4:1–42). When we behold Christ’s prayer of forgiveness for his executioners, uttered from the cross, our pettiness vaporises. As sinners daily pardoned from immense guilt (1 Tim. 1:15), how could we stubbornly withhold forgiveness from others (Eph. 4:32; Matt. 18:21–35)?

2. My neighbours are not my primary ministry

Maybe you spend a lot of hours each week ministering to others. By the time you get home, you want rest, not more relationships to maintain. 

Home should be a haven, but our geography (where we live) is linked with God’s sovereignty (his wise arrangement of people and places). God put you where you are (Acts 17:26). There are people who need to hear the gospel from your lips and experience it through your service.

Let us not be hermits where God calls us to be heralds.

3. My neighbours are different from me Differences divide. We herd based on religion, background, lifestyle, interests, personality, race, politics, and social status. It helps us feel safe, understood, in control.

Though many justify neighbour-avoidance based on differences, the real issue is not some impassable chasm of incompatibility; it is our own discomfort, pride, and fear. As we huddle within the bounds of familiarity, we are robbed of serving those who do not look or think like we do.

Jesus ignored the homogeneous social rules of his day, dining with both religious elites (Luke 14:1) and also scandalous sinners (Mark 2:15). His inner circle of disciples included a zealot (traditionally violent towards Rome), and a tax collector (traitorously allied with Rome). Following Jesus will seat you at tables that make you squirm.

4. My neighbours want to be left alone

In the modern world, privacy is an inviolable right. Love has been cheapened into little more than leaving people alone, staying out of their way, and respecting their space.

Of course, there are ways of approaching neighbours that are intrusive. 

Each person or family must be pursued thoughtfully, with both sensitivity and also boldness. We shouldn’t be surprised, or miffed, when we hear nothing back after delivering cookies to a new neighbour.

Be patient. Seize the small opportunities of interaction God provides. Keep inviting.

5. My neighbours are hostile

How should God’s people respond when neighbours pose a legitimate threat to their safety, whether physically or emotionally? 

Jesus’s command to love our enemies is one of his most well-known and, I suspect, oft-ignored imperatives. But what are we to do when personal interaction with an “enemy” is no longer wise?

If a neighbour threatens us, we may need to call the police, file a report, install a motion light or alarm system, or, worst case, move to a new neighbourhood. 

What should we pray for? Pray that God will intervene and stop their evil behaviour. Pray for justice. But also pray for their salvation, that God’s kindness rescues them from darkness (Col. 1:13). 

If we refuse to pursue those closest to us (literally), who then will we love? As we risk and wrestle to love difficult neighbours, God goes with us (Matt. 28:20), graciously providing the words and wisdom we need. – TGC

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