Like a Good Neighbor?

By Mark A. Taylor

Neighbor is one of those words supposed to evoke warm nostalgia. The quietest children’s TV star, Fred Rogers, gently invited viewers, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” And a national insurance company seeks to seem close and personal with “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!”

But my first thoughts aren’t always positive when I hear the word neighbor.

I remember the frat house atmosphere across the street from where we lived 30 years ago—the loud music, the girls coming and going with their clothes in plastic garbage sacks, my mailbox knocked over by someone too drunk to see it when he backed out of that driveway.

I remember the dog pacing the backyard next door just under our dining room window at that house. It barked all day long, and its owner did nothing to stop it.

I remember a dozen dogs, in that neighborhood and two more since then—dirtying our yard because their owners refused to use leashes or fences, nipping at our heels while we mowed the lawn. The puppy behind us, an adorable animal, circles his yard barking whenever his owners let him out. The last time each day is usually about 30 minutes after we’ve gone to bed.

These are the neighbors whose swimming pool, installed after we moved in a few years ago, is about 50 feet from our back door. Soon they added stereo speakers just above it. We figure they’re pretty high quality, because even with our door closed and air conditioner running, we still hear their pulsing bass notes.

We have tried at least to be pleasant to all these neighbors, but I’ve been thinking about the Bible’s command “Love your neighbor as yourself” as we prepared this issue. I remember a sermon by Dale McCann decades ago: “Love is active. It seeks out the best for the person loved. If you love your neighbor, you’ll find ways to help him.”

It’s not enough not to hate a neighbor. It’s not enough just to show him no harm. As the motto on an old poster once put it, “Love is something you do.”

“He who despises his neighbor sins,” says the proverb, “but blessed is he who is kind to the needy” (14:21). It’s easier to see the needs of neighbors farther away like those featured in two articles this week. It’s more difficult to let God use me in the lives of neighbors nearby, like those described in our lead article. “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up,” Paul wrote the Romans (15:2). It’s a goal I’m still learning how to achieve.

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