“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” These are the words of Jesus from Matthew 5, verses 44 and 47.
Loving and sharing your faith in Jesus with your enemies is always going to be a struggle. However, Jesus’ command is crystal clear, so it’s not a question of if we’re supposed to love our enemies – it’s about how we do this.
Although the prospect of loving your enemies is difficult, it doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Jesus answers the question of ‘how’ later in Matthew 22, where he reminds us of the greatest commandment in all of scripture: to love God and love our neighbours. I realise the definition of ‘neighbour’ can be defined in many ways, but I do think that Jesus is talking about our actual neighbours. You know, the ones that live near to you. The ones you may not like very much because they’re too noisy or too inconsiderate or too…. well, you fill in the blank. Because I imagine there’s a neighbour who you can picture right now who does annoy you. You might even consider one of these neighbours your ‘enemy’.
So if we are called to love our actual neighbours, then we need develop a plan to love our neighbourhood. And if we’re going to love our neighbourhood, then we need to do this with our local church.
As Christians in the West, we often seem to think individualistically, especially when it comes to evangelism. But we can’t love our neighbours well in isolation. It then follows that it will be harder for us to love our neighbours if we’re not worshipping in a church that’s close to or in our neighbourhood.
Our ability to travel quickly and easily outside of our neighbourhood to another community for church has meant that we’re living fragmented Christian lives. We tend to choose churches with people that are like us and end up only spending time with ‘our own people’ – those from the same class, denomination or nationality as us; and we may well travel great distances to do so. We then travel back to the neighbourhood in which we live, and we may try to live out our Christian faith and even share our faith, but this is very difficult to do in seclusion without the support and accountability of other Christians.
A further challenge that many churches face is how to properly connect with their local neighbourhood. Paul famously said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19). The challenge is that the process of ‘becoming’ takes a lot of time. After 12 years, I have begun to look a little more like my neighbourhood, often having to repent of cultural and denominational idols – even the ones that I was unaware of – to better communicate the gospel to my neighbours.
So what does this mean? I’d like to encourage the Church that there is great strength in becoming narrower in geographical focus so that we better communicate the gospel. Try regularly knocking on the doors of neighbours to invite them to a variety of events that aren’t entirely religious in nature. This will help your church ‘to become’ like your neighbourhood.
Be creative and try to find practical ways to love and serve your area. This will help to break down barriers that often exist between churches and their local communities. I’d also encourage Christians to find local churches to worship in, even if it means great sacrifice.
It isn’t easy, but it’s wonderful to see “enemies” turn into actual trusted neighbours, whom you love.