You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. Deuteronomy 5:21 NIV
Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Romans 13:10
We have a set of policies which proscribe the things which are unacceptable and to which I am accountable as Senior Pastor at St. John. They include financial constraints, staff and operational limits, and other Senior Pastor Limitations within which I am obligated to function, and for which I must answer if we are out of compliance to those standards. They are written purposefully in the negative.
The senior pastor shall not allow …
The senior pastor shall not require…
The senior pastor shall not fail to…
Some have thought that these policies ought to be written in the positive. The senior pastor shall… The senior pastor must…, etc. While it sounds nice, it’s really much more of a straightjacket than it might seem. To proscribe something means there are many things I am allowed to do. I can function however seems best as long as I don’t run afoul of the restricted behaviors.
So too, with God’s word. We are not to covet our neighbor’s wife, [husband], servants, etc., etc., etc. That means we are free to engage in other behaviors (which are not also proscribed in the 10 Commandments). There are many things we are free to do that do not involve coveting our neighbor’s spouse, or harming our neighbor.
The list is endless. We may and should help and befriend our neighbor. We should seek his or her good. We should encourage, love, protect, and bless our neighbor. There are a thousand ways to do those things as well.
Do not overlook, however, the key word in both of these passages: “neighbor.” That means the person next door. It means the person in need we see along the way to work, or coming home from the gym. It means we recognize that God has seen fit to provide blessings to our neighbors that may be better or more obviously good (I am not speaking here of one’s spouse!). Our neighbors may drive a better car, have a cooler home entertainment system, better backyard oasis, pool, vacation home, or 401k plan.
Our calling toward our neighbor is to do no harm, and more: we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Even that command may be obeyed in a multitude of ways. The key, in the end, is neighbor. We cannot love people in the abstract. Our love for our neighbor is an extension of God’s love for our neighbor. The way we treat our neighbor is a reflection of how we see God’s value and care toward our neighbor.
It’s really easy to befriend, care for, and bless people in far away places. That’s a good thing to do. But it is vital that we do not walk past and ignore our neighbor who is in need in order to get to someone far away. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. That might be reframed to say, “Love does not fail to care for one’s neighbor.” That’s what neighboring is all about.