“Love your neighbour as yourself.”
The second greatest commandment. Half of the sum of the law.
The hardest neighbours to love are those who are always right in front of you. Sometimes it is easier to love a stranger. Try loving your wife. Your husband. Your kids. Your family. Your church. Your friends. Your next-door neighbours.
The hardest neighbours to love are those who are always right in front of you.This is where fights occur. Love is hard in close proximity.
This is where fights occur. Love is hard in close proximity.
When You Know too Much…
The problem with close proximity is knowledge. Intimate knowledge. When you live with people, you get to know them really well. The problem with knowing people well is that we are all sinners. We often aren’t very nice and it doesn’t get better the closer you get.
The other problem is that we typically don’t change very quickly. The Spirit of God is able and willing to change His people through the power of the Word. But sanctification is a word used to describe the Christian’s life. There is a lot of sanctification to do and there will still be more to do in 20, 30, 40 years. In God’s wisdom, change takes time.
This means that, as you get to know people really well, you will find that you get to know their sins really well. You will see them sin in the same ways over and over again. And then some more.
The good news is: knowing your neighbours’ sins helps you love them.
Consider 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. I’ve put all the aspects of love that relate specifically to this concept in bold.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
At least one third of the ways Paul describes love are related to dealing patiently with other people’s failures. 6 out of 16 by my count. Patient. Not irritable. Not resentful. Bearing all things. Enduring all things. Never ending.
…You Can Love Better
Knowing your neighbours’ sins helps you love them in at least two ways:
1. It means you can be ready to cover their sins
Knowing your neighbours’ sins helps you prepare yourself for encountering those sins. You can be ready. You can anticipate.
This is the principle behind 1 Peter 4:8 “Love covers a multitude of sins.” When you are in close relationship with someone, God expects that there will be a multitude of sins that need to get covered. This is not simple. It takes work.
Knowing your neighbours’ sins helps you prepare yourself. If you know one of your neighbours struggles with the sin of grumpiness you can expect them to be grumpy and be ready to cover that sin.
Knowing you neighbours’ areas of common failure helps too. We respond in anger and frustration when we expect one thing but another thing happens. I am most frustrated with traffic jams when I expected it to be a smooth trip. If I know there will be traffic, it is much easier to not get angry.
The odd thing is that despite our knowledge of our own (lengthy) struggles with sin, we expect our neighbours to change overnight. “I can’t believe you did that again!”
If you know one of your neighbours struggles with the sin of grumpiness you can expect them to be grumpy and be ready to cover that sin. The chances are, when you next see them they may have a bit of grumpiness about them. But you are ready. You are prepared. You won’t be caught by surprise.
You can see the arrows of sin coming at you. Get your shield of love and forgiveness ready.
2. It means you can be specific in stirring them up to good works
This idea does not mean we “rejoice in wrong-doing.” This does not mean we don’t deal with sin. In fact, it helps us deal with sin better.
We are commanded to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). This implies knowing each other well enough to be able to promote love and good works. There is some specific knowledge required to obey this command.
Knowing your neighbours’ sins helps here as well.
Think about a friend, fellow church member or someone in your family who you know struggles with a particular sin (it’s hard I know). Now pray for them that God would give them victory in that area. Pray specifically, applying scripture to their struggle:
- Perhaps you know that they struggle with lust. Pray that they would “present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom 12:1).
- Perhaps you know that they struggle with doubts. Pray that they would “hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering” (Heb 10:23) and that they would see clearly the faithfulness of he who called us. Pray that they would see that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Praying for them will do the most good as it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). It is God who changes hearts and minds. Plus, God tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power” (Jam 5:16). But there may be other ways you can love them specifically in this area.
Depending on your relationship and circumstance you might be able to speak with them about their particular struggle at a time when they are not in the midst of it. You might be able to pray with them about it or share passages throughout the week to encourage them and promote good works in their life. But start with prayer.
This is specific love.
This is love in close proximity.
This is the love with which God loves us.
One of the remarkable things about the gospel is that God the Holy Spirit comes to live in the hearts of believers. In doing this he brings himself close to our sin. If we see our neighbours’ sins, the Holy Spirit sees ours more. He sees sin in your heart that you don’t even know is there. And yet, in this close proximity, he loves you.