When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment in the law is, He said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38, ESV). He then proceeds to share that the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV).
Luke records an account of a man who, hearing the commandment to love his neighbor, asks Jesus to clarify who exactly He means when He says “neighbor.” Jesus goes on to tell what we know as the story of the good Samaritan, the point of which is that our neighbor is anyone in need, no matter the circumstances (Luke 10:25-37).
In their book The Art of Neighboring, authors Pathak and Runyon suggest that many of us have misapplied this teaching of Jesus. While it is true that Jesus is calling us to love everyone, too many of us have turned that sentiment into a general feel-good statement, and the result is that we don’t actually love any individual people in a specific, sacrificial way.
One way to tell how well we are obeying the second greatest commandment is to look at our relationships with our actual, physical neighbors – the people who live next to and across from us. Do we know their names? Do we pray for them? Do we have them in our homes? Do we have more than surface-level conversations with them? Do we look for and take advantage of opportunities to talk about Jesus with them?
I know I have a lot of room to grow in loving my neighbors as I love myself, and I imagine most of us would say the same. The good news for parents is that you have a huge advantage in getting to know and love your neighbors – your children!
Kids have a great ability to break down people’s defenses and to open lines of communication. The command to love your neighbors is one command of God that can be easier to obey with your kids than without. Here are a few ways that children can help us know and love our neighbors:
Starting Conversations. I find it’s easier to start a conversation with someone at the neighborhood restaurant if our kids are playing together. I’ve also found many people start conversations with me when my kids are with me, simply asking how old they are and where they go to school.
Meeting New Neighbors. While anyone can bake cookies and knock on a neighbor’s door to say “welcome,” something about having a child with you makes this act less intimidating.
Spending Time Together. If you meet neighbors with kids the same age, it’s easy to make plans to get together at a neighborhood park, to go on a walk together, or have a playdate at one of your houses.
These are just a few ways that kids are an asset in taking the first step toward knowing and loving our neighbors. My church, The Austin Stone Community Church, created a whole list of ideas on involving your kids in loving your neighbor. Click here to download this PDF. I pray that it is helpful for you and your family.
19 Simple Ways To Help Your Kids Be On Mission To Your Neighbors