It’s not an easy thing to do, loving your neighbour.
Comedians and Musicians Richard Stilgoe and Peter Skellern back in 1999 sang a song called “Mrs Beamish” about a Church of England stereotype who at one point says “Ken tells us ‘Love Your Neighbour’, but Mrs Beamish sneers; ‘I only love my neighbour if I’ve known them thirty years'”. It’s an unfortunate, but often accurate stereotype in rigid religion.
For the most part I find it’s easier to love my neighbour when they stay away from me. I’m decidedly human in this respect, and it’s a part of me that God has been working on (when I let Him) for as long as I can remember.
The main reason for my struggle is I’m a bit short-tempered. Use of the word “volatile” would not be out of line. Mercifully I’m rarely in a position where I need to control myself physically these days and I’ve got the whole “walking away” part of an argument sorted – it’s the internal bit that shatters me.
Christ actively sought out conflict with Satan. Anywhere that this accuser could try to manipulate His family, Jesus took him on. Right through the Cross and the Tomb to the Resurrection. But He could do it from a position of Love, which no matter how much I want to is something I often struggle to do.
We are – in the Flesh – a stubborn and selfish species. Putting another person you love before yourself is often hard for us. Extending that to people we don’t even like is impossible without God’s help, and extremely difficult for many even with it.
Don’t get me wrong – I love people. Meet me at church or in the street and I’ll give you my time and any help I can.
My problem comes with people who are impatient or intolerant towards me. It’s where my temper comes in. It’s my constant struggle.
For the last couple of years I’ve been having to learn to control myself after an altercation the day I moved in to the house I’m about to move out of. I’d had to move boxes and furniture until around 4am to be out in time for the new occupants, and I’d taken my dogs to the new place as part of the first load. They were unsure of what was happening as my canine vocabulary is limited and their English is as well. As a result of a strange environment they were noisy while I was away from the house – calming down when I arrived with the next load of boxes and then starting again after I left to get the next lot.
I can understand and sympathise with my then-new neighbour not wanting to be kept awake until that time of day by barking dogs. I have no doubt I would have been more than a little grumpy about it myself if the situation had been reversed. Two neighbours were involved, one next door and one opposite. They took very different approaches to the situation and the resulting behaviour over the last two years has been very different accordingly. One came over the following day and knocked on the door, confronting me directly and allowing me to extend an apology. I tend not to be particularly close friends with people living on the same road as me, which I’ve never worked out why, but respect was established and we have been able to work out issues in the same direct approach during my time here.
The other was simply hostile at every possible chance. If my TV was a bit loud for his taste I could expect a note in my letterbox. If one of the dogs barked for ten seconds he’ll be out shouting at them and hurling abuse at me when I go to calm the dog down. Any and all attempts I’ve made at reaching a friendly border – like North and South Korea share for example – have been met with hostility and passive-aggressive behaviour that make the Koreans look friendly.
My “Old Nature”, my carnality takes hold very quickly. I have to fight hard to keep it in check. The carnal part of me longs to confront directly. My temper flares and I feel myself becoming less Dr Jeckyll and more Mr Hyde by the second (or Bruce Banner and the Hulk if that’s easier!)
I’ve got invitations waiting for confirmations. But I’m scared of myself.
What if I can’t control my temper when I’m preaching?
Of course, it’s an accusation. But it goes to my heart every day. If I can’t find a way to make peace with a man next door, how can I go somewhere else and tell others to do what I struggle with?
The accuser gets under my skin and I struggle.
Who is my neighbour?
It doesn’t matter what else I do, the accusations regarding my feelings keep coming up.
This individual is not just a guy living next door, he is my neighbour.
Love your neighbour as you love yourself is tough. Trying to maintain peace has meant avoiding all contact. And the enemy has an open door to walk in and crush my hopes as a result.
Not because I don’t like this person or because he doesn’t like me, but because I don’t do more to change how things are. The enemy has a field-day in my head.
The battle we must fight in seeking to love our neighbour, whether they literally live next door or not, is fought between our ears. This is the enemy’s ground, the home of our old nature, and the place we must be most disciplined with ourselves.
You may guess from this post that it’s a fight I often struggle with. There are many times most days where I have to choke myself back instead of choke the person in front of me. I have to remind myself constantly that this battle has been won, just like every other battle I fight, at Calvary. All I must do is submit to God, resist the enemy and then he will flee from me.
The problem is that harbouring a grudge, even for a short time, feels good. It feels empowering to picture yourself standing victorious over their defeated form.
It’s a lie we live with because it’s comfortable.
And it’s a lie we live with because the part that’s comfortable in holding that against others is the same part that looks at ourselves and cringes at our past, the way our old nature behaves and speaks. It’s comforting because we can fool ourselves into the “I’m better than they are” way of thinking trap.
There’s a reason Jesus said we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
Most of us have a part of ourselves we despise yet can’t surrender to God.
Usually it’s a part God intended to be used for His Glory – which is why it’s hard to release it. Somewhere in there we recognise that.
For me it’s very much my temper. I get angry easily, usually on behalf of others, but often when it’s something contrived in my own head. Cutting me off in traffic always triggers it – and I do mean always. It’s not “road-rage” exactly (although I have had my share of get-out-of-the-car confrontations, but never thrown a punch). It’s more the wound to my self-entitlement. The idea that it was my parking spot gets me regularly. Cutting me up in traffic – especially fast moving traffic – makes me feel like I’ll explode. The satisfaction I felt after being rammed by another car many years ago when the driver got out ready to fight me and backed down as I climbed out was intense. I’m six feet tall and at the time was a biker, but was driving a Volvo – not something you’d expect a six foot tall 230 pound biker in full leathers to climb out of. The satisfaction of watching the would-be attacker wither in front of me that day is only overwhelmed today by the regret I feel now that I took such satisfaction in intimidating another man instead of walking away.
I regularly fail to demonstrate love to my neighbour because it’s inconvenient, or they irritate me or some other excuse to stay in a bubble of self-centred carnality.
How about for 2016 we – you and I – agree to do three things:
Let’s focus on just these three things:
1) Loving God with everything we are and have
2) Forgiving ourselves for the old nature within us that’s washed clean by Christ and stop listening to it
3) Practise loving others as Christ loves us.