How to Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself

Abstract photo of four little houses next to each otherI love my neighbor Trent. Not that I don’t like my other neighbors, but Trent is the one I’ve gotten to know the most.

I would say something like “neighborly love has gone to the dogs these days,” but the truth is that I never knew what it was like before.

I do think most folks probably don’t know their neighbors, but I can tell you that I’m grateful for mine.

Trent isn’t one of those suit-and-tie, “pillar of community” fellows who runs for office and organizes community events. Still, a lot of people know him as a kind and reliable guy who gets things done. In fact, if you were to ask how to love thy neighbor as thyself, I might very well point to Trent.

Straight to the Point

As an ignorant and often idealistic suburban Christian, I often ask myself dumb questions about scripture like the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40). How do you love your neighbor as yourself?

Of course, Jesus wasn’t talking only about literal neighbors next door. It is applicable, though, and I’ve wondered what a relationship looks like in such a context. My neighbor has answered that question for me, so now I’ll share it with you.

In actuality the context of a literal house-to-house neighbor relationship isn’t incredibly different from how you should treat anyone else. Decently, with respect and kindness. Generosity in speech and deed. Intimately, like family if possible. And with much care.

Being There

Photo of a man fishing on a beach with a boy sitting near himI’ve known Trent since I was… I dunno, eleven or so. He might deny it, but he’s pretty good with kids overall even though he seems like he isn’t much for childishness. Maybe he’s a little crass at times, but hey, so are a middle schooler‘s classmates.

When I was younger I never got close enough to Trent to see him as a father figure or a role model. But I’ve watched him spend time with a neighborhood kid who wanders around looking for attention. Teaching the kid to fish, actually going fishing together.

I realize that “father figure” is a mighty term with a potentially heavy burden. But if fishing with an adult man is the closest thing you’ve got to a decent fatherly relationship, it’ll do.

One might not realize it, but such a seemingly small gesture is memorable and cherished well into adulthood. Especially when a young boy’s life is lacking in such things.

Acts of Service

Trent is a working man. A hardworking hardware guy who knows his way around tools and machines and the like. A trait that I’m envious of and lacking in skill. And while I have in many cases the determination and the desire to do some things, I usually lack the tools and know-how.

Decent advice isn’t always easy to come by, but when I ask Trent for do-it-yourself knowledge I often get more than I bargained for. I mean, in a good way. What usually starts as normal conversation has turned into fixing my HVAC system twice, cutting down two trees, and leeching off his generator power when the electric goes out in an ice storm.

From stuff like that to smaller and simpler things like lending me a drill or a wrench, Trent’s got my back to the point of guilt. I want to pay him back. I’d like to be able to do something for him once awhile. I’d like to get some cool, nifty gift for the man who has every tool already.

Expecting Nothing in Return

Photo of an open handBut I’m just starting out. My wife and I are just breaking even in the books. I don’t know how to fix much of anything he can’t handle himself.

He’s not wealthy by American standards, but he’s got a career and a business on the side. He doesn’t seem to mind, though. He’s a generous man with the gift of service.

I try not to bother him with things like that. I would have paid for a technician to come and change that capacitor in my condenser, but to Trent it was no big deal. Even though he helps out with more than I deserve, I don’t want to burden him. I don’t want to “use” him. And when he does help, I aim to express profound gratitude and appreciation.

I’m not sure he knows how much of a blessing he’s been to have as a neighbor. I’ll always remember how he helps us out. Other than saying thanks a lot or maybe buying him some beer, I’m not really sure how to let him know. In any case he helps cuz he’s a good guy, and he’s never made me feel bad about it. And that’s pretty incredible.

It Doesn’t Require Piety

Trent might not be the churchgoing guy who’s really into outreach committees and Sunday school slacks. I’m not either. Does that really matter? Helping people out in blue jeans can be just as spiritual as church services. Much more so, in fact, in many cases.

We’ve had a few conversations about religion but Trent certainly doesn’t consider himself to be pastoral or overly righteous. He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s a sinful and imperfect person like everyone else. It certainly takes one to know one! Maybe that’s why we get along so well.

If we’re always worrying about leaving a good impression for God on our neighbors when we help out, we’re missing the point. If we’re only loving our neighbor to serve God, it’s dishonest and even blasphemous.

But when we genuinely have a heart for other people, that is Christ’s love whether it is acknowledged or not. When we take action on that love for others, God is served and His love is shown in the process.

I think Trent is a bit more theological than he realizes. Or as we say here in in the south, “his mamma taught him good.”

Humbleness is a Gift

If you talk to Trent about what I’ve said here, he’d probably downplay the whole thing. He’s not one to brag. In fact, he might not want people to know because he doesn’t want to be bothered by them! Haha… joking. Sort of.

He hated that box elder tree and wanted it gone for himself, sure. The other tree was a scourge on his property as well as mine, too. And maybe it wasn’t such a big deal for me to use that generator if I bought some gas for it. Weed whacking overgrowth in the front of my house without even telling me? Well, he hates weeds and they annoy him.

I’m sure there are reasons why his aid is practical and no big deal. After all, he hasn’t given us a thousand dollars or anything like that. Actually, he sort of has (in labor costs). Still, don’t let him deny that he’s helped us out a lot. And from the kindness of his heart.

It Shows God’s Love

This is the part where I get to wrap up this example into a super preachy point. Like I said before, these kinds of things add up to show God’s love. Little things? Doesn’t matter. God shows up in the little things, and often in a big way. Everything we can do for each other is little in comparison to God’s blessings and gifts, anyway.

I mentioned before how I wish I could thank Trent or pay him back in some way. In fact, I feel sort of helplessly indebted to him. This might seem weird, but it sort of reminds me how there’s no way I can pay God back for what He did for us through Christ. He takes care of us because he loves us, and there is nothing us powerless beings can do to earn it.

Don’t worry, I’m not trying to compare my neighbor with Jesus Christ. He’s not perfect and neither am I. I don’t owe Trent my life and my soul. But throughout life we are given tiny pictures of a greater reality, and loving your neighbor as yourself can paint some of those tiny pictures.

Thanks a lot, Trent. And Happy Birthday! 🙂

Thanks for reading. Did you enjoy Trent’s inadvertent tips for being a good neighbor? If my post helped to answer a question or blessed you in any way, make sure to let me know by commenting below.






2 thoughts on “How to Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself”

  1. What I see is a good man, charitable, kind, and a beer drinker. This is the best writing I’ve seen you do. People, like Trent, are definitely “God’s chosen” with a gift for service. I wish there was some like that from my childhood. Go Trent!

    • “…charitable, kind, and a beer drinker.” Haha! Yeah, that’s about right. I definitely think he has the spiritual gift of service, but he might not realize it! Either way, he’s a great guy.

      Thanks for your comment and kind words!


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