Lynn Cory pulls from the archives a few words from Dallas Willard on neighboring.
Neighborhood Initiative has been raised up in our time by the Spirit of God to address the special conditions of our cities. One way of putting that is to say that our cities have, in a manner of speaking, outgrown neighbors. It is hard today to know who our neighbors are and how we are to approach them and be with them. The key to understanding the teaching of Jesus still remains: Loving our neighbor as ourselves in the power of God. When you think about what that means, you realize that if that were done, almost every problem that we have in our cities would be solved. All we have to do is to simply follow Jesus’ words.
Of course, loving God with all our hearts, soul, mind, and strength comes first. Without that, you can’t love your neighbor as yourself. You have to have the resources, the insight to do that, and that comes from our love of God and our devotion of every aspect of our being to His work that He’s doing in our world. God is present in our cities. He is there as the great God who created the world and our cities and everything in them. And now He’s inducting us and bringing us into His work as we learn in His presence to love our neighbor as our self.
If we are going to bring Christ to our world, our cities and our neighbors, then we do it in our own person: skin on skin contact, face to face relationships with others in which we manifest a love that is beyond human possibility and yet is within human actuality because God makes it so.
It is the churches alone that can make neighbor-love real in the power of God, but we must intend to do that. We have now quite a long history where failure to intend to do that has resulted in the kind of isolation that you often see even between Christians who are attending the same church. They’re not really neighbors because they’re not really involved in life with one another. Jesus, on the night before He was betrayed, says, “A new commandment I give you that you love one another…” (John 13:34) Now that part of the commandment was not new. The part of the commandment that was new was what came next: “…as I have loved you.” And then Jesus goes on to say that the mark of His disciples is not that they have ripping good worship services or fantastic programs even for feeding the poor, as important as those may be. His mark was that the people in fellowship love one another, and that’s what we need to cultivate. And that’s the matrix out of which a community of neighbor-love then grows.
I also want to mention one thing about the moral problems in our society. The moral problems are rooted in character, and character is rooted in either the connection that we have with God or the disconnection. When we’re out here trying to run our lives on our own in disconnection from God, that’s where everything falls apart.
So my word today is: We have the solution to the human problem —the problem that’s been there since Genesis, the third chapter. We have the solution to that. And we have to stand and present this solution in an incarnational form where it flows out from our fellow-ships, through our fellowships, but out from our fellowships through the natural connections that people have in their lives in their world. If we do that, we will see the wonderful results that have been seen in the past as the people of Christ have stood as His disciples in this world, assuming the responsibility of love for their neighbors.
– Dallas Willard
Professor of Philosophy, University of Southern California
From Neighborhood Initiative and the Love of God