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Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

     From 1968 through 2001, an educational children's television series called “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood aired in the United States. The series was aimed primarily at preschool children ages 2 through 5, but the show has been determined as appropriate for all ages.   The message of the show was designed to reach the malleable minds of young children. It was intended to assist them in becoming competent, compassionate and caring adults.

     There’s no doubt that “neighbors” have existed since Genesis chapter four when the descendants of Adam and Eve spread out into communities as they continued to multiply. However, the word neighbor cannot be found in the Bible until Exodus 3:21-22 when the captive Jewish women were instructed to borrow from their “neighbor”, jewels of silver, gold, and raiment.   This was God’s plan to give “Israel favor in the sight of the Egyptians” and the spoiling of them. In this case, the Hebrew Word used is shâkên (shaw-kane’), meaning a resident, or inhabitant or fellow citizen. Another Hebrew Word used for neighbor in the Old Testament conveys the idea of: an associate, brother, companion, fellow, or friend.   In other passages, we find a word for neighbor that implies kinfolk, or those of close affinity.  

     As we move into the Gospels, neighbor first occurs in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:43. The Greek Word used by the Lord here is “plēsion” (play-see’-on), and conveys the idea of one close by, a countryman, friend, or fellowman.   Incidentally, this same word is used throughout the New Testament for neighbor.   Matthew 19:19 provides the second occurrence of this Word and is identified as part of the Ten Commandments. This was the Law under which both the Lord and the man asking the question lived.   As we contemplate the Lord’s Words here, we understand that we are to love our neighbors to the same degree we are to love ourselves.

     The first question then is: How much do we love ourselves?   Is our love for ourselves enough that we will seek to save our own souls? Perhaps this is the idea behind the Words of Jesus in Matthew 16:26 as the question of what man loves most is presented. Obviously, folks who are willing to “take something” in exchange for their souls are either indifferent, ignorant, or have a total lack of concern for the eternal abode of their own souls, not believing God’s Promises of destruction for the disobedient.  

     On the other hand, the evidence is abundant that some loved themselves and loved their souls enough to do as Commanded. The first case of this can be found in Acts 2:14-39 as Peter and the eleven were honored to preach the initial gospel sermon in the “last days” on the day of Pentecost, A.D. 33. Then in Acts 2:40 with “many other Words” given them by the Spirit, the Jews there were exhorted to “save yourselves”. We see how this was accomplished when in Acts 2:41-49, as those who “gladly received” the proclaimed Word of God were baptized into Christ, and were added to the church. So, those who love themselves and love God, will obey His Word.

       The same soul saving message which was delivered at Pentecost was also proclaimed by apostles and others, as moved by the Holy Spirit. As Paul was directed to write to the church at Rome, we see in Romans 1:16 the refusal to be ashamed of the gospel and the reason why. The gospel “is the power of God unto salvation” to all who believe.   James, the half-brother of the Lord was directed in James 1:21 to pen inspired Words to warn the brethren to “lay apart” evilness (even the appearance of such), and rather, “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” Note also that it’s not enough to “love God” in initial obedience, but that it is to be an on-going effort. This is why in Philippians 2:12, the Spirit had Paul tell those Christians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

     The second question is: How much do I love my neighbor?   Is his/her soul important to me?   And then, why should it be?   If we apply Matthew 19:19 as it should be applied, we should have the same love for our neighbor’s souls as for our own. If we strive to know, understand and follow the Word of God for the benefit and salvation of our own souls, and if we love our “neighbor” as ourselves, doesn’t it stand to reason that we should do all we can to help our neighbor also to be saved? I can see it no other way, and neither could the Lord.

     In John 14:21, while Jesus was on earth, He told His apostles: He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father.   Our obedience to God should not be solely to “save our own souls”, but because we love God, His Son, and His Word.   If we love God and His Word, we will do what He Commands, including take that soul saving message to our neighbors. Was this not the idea behind the Great Commission, given by Christ in Matthew 28:19-20?

     Now, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?   Allow me to help you see the love of God and the plan for which His Son willingly died on Calvary. Unless or until you obey God’s soul saving plan found in His Word, there’s no way you can “lay hold” on eternal life. If you love God, you’ll obey Him and help your neighbor be saved as well.

Dennis Strickland – Mooresville church of Christ

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