What Is Love?

When we think of ways to impact our neighborhood, we should think about how to love our neighbors. But what is love?

How do you define love? Is it a feeling? An emotional response to a given stimulus? When your mouth is full of your favorite dessert, it is dripping down your chin, and your eyes are glazed with its satisfying effect, what are the words that often fill your mouth (even before the dessert is gone)? “Oh man, I love this ___________!” Or you’ve just enjoyed a romantic evening with your husband or wife, and you want to say something special to commemorate your time together, what is often a keyword you use to describe how you feel? “Sweetheart, I love you so much!”

Of course, the list is virtually endless. We love food, cars, houses, animals, clothes, technology, nature, God, and even some people (smile). But what does love really look like? How can we begin to wrap our mind around, not only what love means, but how it should be lived out in our daily life?

In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus said: “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” 

Volumes fill libraries discussing the implications of these words, but for our purposes, may I suggest one, specifically regarding loving our neighbor as we love ourselves? What might it look like if I truly took Jesus’ words to heart in regard to the people in my sphere of influence and sought to love them as I love myself?

How Do We Love Others?

In order to do this, let me offer a simple definition of love that guides me as I seek to accomplish this most significant end, understanding, of course, that love entails far more than what I’m suggesting. I just want to give us a starting point. Love means putting another person’s needs ahead of my own.

Isn’t that what Jesus did, not only as He laid down His life on the cross, but as He lived His life from day to day while He walked the pathways of this earth? Again, I understand I’m seeking to simplify a complex issue, but if we have to boil the needs of our neighbors down to one vital, irreplaceable need, what would it be? As I understand Jesus’ heart, the greatest need of every person on earth is for them to know Him, love Him, and serve Him.

So, the question that guides me in my love of my neighbor is this—how can I get to know them, love them, and serve them in such a way that they’ll see Jesus in me and be drawn to Him? Love isn’t something we feel. It’s something we do. Love bears fruit: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). In other words, love becomes visible when Christ’s Spirit is alive in us.

Love isn’t rocket science. It’s simply demonstrating in our relationships with others exactly what Jesus demonstrates in His love for us…sacrifice! If you’re going to love others, you’ve got to know up front—it’s going to cost you something! Yes, it will take time to love others, but I assure you, it’s worth every second.

How Do We Love Our Neighbors?

When the Lord began to stir my wife and me in regard to how to love our neighbors more effectively, he gave us a very scary idea—invite them into our home! Now, we’re retired, so what we did will look different for you if you’re working long hours or if you still have children at home. But please don’t negate the process. Allow the Lord to guide you down a different path than He led us. The key is to do something, beginning (but not ending) with prayer. The Lord will guide you every step, but you have to commit to following Him.

We started with the neighbors closest to us. They are literally next door and across the street. We’ve lived in our current residence for about a year and a half, so the first year was “getting to know you.”

When we were outside and saw one of our neighbors, we made an effort to engage them. Sometimes it was simply waving and smiling at them. We looked for small ways to serve them (e.g., picking up trash that had blown into their yard, pulling their empty trash cans to their garage, mowing their lawn when they were on vacation, inviting them out for ice cream or over for a cookout, and going to their child’s sports event).

When new neighbors move in, my wife will take them cookies or brownies as we introduce ourselves, leaving them with our contact information and getting theirs so we don’t forget their names. Something else I seek to do that may seem incidental, but I take great care of our property. I keep the lawn mowed and trimmed, the weeds pulled, the trim painted, and our cars washed. I want our house to be “inviting,” not a distraction or embarrassment to our neighbors. I want to be the neighbor I want my neighbor to be. The possibilities are limitless.

We have a small dog that we walk every morning and evening when it’s cool enough. It’s amazing how many people in your neighborhood learn who you are by recognizing your pet. Many of our neighbors have pets, so that naturally becomes a connection point. Our next-door neighbors love our Lola and watch her when we’re away. The point is build rapport with your neighbors and do what you can to express a willingness to serve their needs in Christ-honoring ways. If you are looking for simple ways to engage your neighborhood, check out 100 Ways to Engage Your Neighborhood.

It’s no accident you live where you live and have the neighbors you have. God hand-picked you to be your neighbor’s neighbor. Why did He do that? Time will tell, but one very obvious reason is you’re the best person He could think of to help them see Him most clearly. As His child, you bear His divine image, so the simplest way to love your neighbor is to be Jesus to them. Love them as if they were Jesus Himself. And when the time comes for you to explain your kindness and thoughtfulness, and it will, humbly speak of your love for Jesus and for all He’s done for you.

Ultimately, the Lord opened the door of opportunity for us to host a small neighborhood group in our home, which opened even more avenues into our neighborhood, but that’s another article. The Lord will lead you, so go ahead—love your neighbor!

For other ways to connect to your neighbors this summer, read Neighboring in the Summer: Shine or Shade. We look forward to hearing your stories of loving your neighbors.