How to Be a Holy Neighbor

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Jesus told us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, which naturally led to the question, “Who is our neighbor?” Jesus seems to answer this by suggesting “everyone.” With that being said, take a moment to think about your neighbors. Now, go through the list of characteristics you think make for a good neighbor—considerate, friendly, helpful, and the list could go on.

All of us want to have good neighbors living next door. Most of us want to be seen as being good neighbors. “Good” could mean being some of the things listed above or simply minding our own business as a way of encouraging individualism while also living it. We can get in and out of our homes without ever having to leave the garage and still be considered good neighbors. What if we have been called to be more than simply “good neighbors?” What if we have been called to be “holy neighbors” instead?

What’s the difference between a good neighbor and a holy neighbor? One is a cultural standard, the other a standard set by God. Most of the cultures we live in today are not encouraging or challenging us to be holy but they are expecting us to be good. Being “good” as a neighbor is a standard that can be met with little to no effort and no interaction at all, except for maybe the occasional smile and wave. Keeping my kids pets out of your yard could be just enough to make me a good neighbor.

Being a holy neighbor requires much more. God is calling holy neighbors to practice hospitality, practice social responsibility, and pursue the kingdom good. Hospitality is more than being polite, it is looking for ways to establish relationships, to move neighbors from being acquaintances to friends. We do this by inviting individuals into our homes and our lives.

For the first time in my life, I live in a neighborhood with a Homeowners’ Association (HOA). As a part of this HOA, all the residents of our neighborhood agree to abide by the covenant that has been established. Within this covenant are some guidelines of how I am to be a good neighbor. I cannot have a fence higher than 6ft, I cannot park a boat in the driveway for an extended period of time (FYI, I don’t own a boat), I must have 2 trees in my front yard, etc. My HOA covenant helps me be a good neighbor but does not require me to practice social responsibility. Nowhere in our covenant does it say I must recycle or practice financial stewardship by purchasing ethically manufactured products. Holy neighbors are those who practice social responsibility by being aware the decisions they make impact not just themselves but their neighbors as well.

So much of what it means to be a holy neighbor is about pursuing the good of God’s kingdom. There are times when the priorities of the kingdom might be in tension with what I want and it is in that moment I am faced with the decision to be a good neighbor or a holy neighbor. I can be self-focused and still be a good neighbor. I cannot be self-focused and be a holy neighbor. To be a holy neighbor is to sacrifice self-interest for the kingdom good.

The mission of holiness can only be lived within community. We must continually look for ways to have our church-lives bleed into our everyday-lives. Good neighbors respect property lines, holy neighbors look for ways to connect over the fence. May we look for ways to live in relationship with our neighbors, to live lives of social responsibility, and to pursue ways to live with kingdom priorities.

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Matt Lipan is the Lead Pastor at Gateway Community Church, a new United Methodist congregation in Indianapolis, IN. He received his M.Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary with an emphasis in Leadership. Matt’s blog, In The Neighborhood of Holy, is like a casual walk through the neighborhood exploring the places where faith + culture intersect. Look for conversations on music, leadership, culture, Wesleyan theology, discipleship, church, and everything in-between.

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