Sometimes, when we hear the command to “love your neighbor,” we interpret that to simply mean we shouldn’t actively hate our neighbors. But loving your neighbor is a positive, rather than a negative statement. Galatians’ restatement of the Golden Rule tells us to do to others as we would want done to ourselves. It doesn’t read, “You shall not do to your neighbor as you wouldn’t want done to yourself.” Passive love is just tolerance, simply accepting who others are and what they do, but not having to really sacrifice or serve them. Love, however, requires action.
Service requires the surrender of our time, energy, attitude and efforts. Certainly, this can take the form of a week, year or lifetime missions program. But service can also be demonstrated by showing love to others in simple, everyday ways — talking to the person next to you in line, listening to that talkative coworker, taking the conversation with a friend a little deeper.
We have constant opportunities to love, but we may not recognize them when we engage technology over people or when we’re consumed with our own problems.
Every person matters and has a story. And as God’s representatives here on earth, we have a missional obligation to care about people.
So why don’t we engage others? I think there are a few bad reasons holding us back.
We Find it Exhausting.
Yes, relationship requires effort. Service, by definition, involves work. Serving others through love requires intentionality, helpfulness, kindness and surrender. That sounds like work!
But we can set goals. Begin by talking to people, whether strangers, acquaintances, friends or family. If strangers, be friendly and see where the conversation goes. If acquaintances, seek to show kindness. If friends, try to take a conversation a little deeper.
Additionally, listen to people. Many are eager to have someone hear their story. Listening is one of the most sacrificial acts a person can do because it demands energy, attention and love.
I have to address that, yes, people handle socializing in different ways. As an introvert, I feel like I am at a disadvantage at this whole “loving others” thing, especially when they’re people I don’t know well. It can be draining, but service usually is, and that’s not an excuse not to do it.
Find a way to engage others that works for you. Maybe it involves a meaningful conversation with a close friend. Perhaps it involves striking up conversation with strangers.
We Lack Motivation.
To be honest, I’m usually not in the mood to engage those around me. I just want to focus on myself.
We have the choice in every moment whether to be complacent or to engage others. We see in Galatians that “you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
In addition to obeying commands to serve and love our neighbors, we should seek to value others, as well. When we treat others as ourselves, we realize people have the same needs as us. Every person matters and has an unfinished story. To Christ, we are significant. We are to treat each other as He sees us.
It often takes a godly motivation to seek relationship with others. Invite God to use you in the little things.
We Fear Rejection.
I may try to strike up a conversation with somebody, and have them ignore me or shoot me down. Rejection hurts. But the very definition of vulnerability is capable of or susceptible to being wounded, which means it’s going to hurt. Vulnerability is necessary because love requires it. We have to be willing to face rejection in order to be vulnerable and humbly extend our love.
We Care About Ourselves Over Others.
Selfless action requires an intentional choice. In a famous commencement speech, David Foster Wallace said, “It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.”
I see my own selfishness in my apathy, cynicism, laziness and negativity. Through Christ, I’m finding freedom from this bitter way of viewing the world. I still will think this way, but He offers an alternative. Paul writes in Ephesians, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” Think with an eternal perspective that considers the significance of your attitudes and choices.
We’re Afraid to Fail.
I’m reluctant to challenge myself because I know I’ll have to keep up with it. It’s true, intentionality means consistency. I cannot invest into a person and expect to just walk away when the relationship gets deep. Love is a commitment that must be kept even when it is not easy and fun.
Arguably, a fear of inconsistency is the same as a fear of accountability. A person who knows you are a Christian should be able to expect you to consistently reflect Christ’s love.
Don’t be discouraged. If you’re like me, you’ll fail many times to be friendly and kind. Perfection isn’t expected of us. Obedience is, though. Look for ways to use your Kingdom perspective this week. You may find that you have many opportunities to serve God and demonstrate His love.