If you have missed earlier posts in this series, “Truth & Love: Communicating Gospel Truth In Speech & Action,” you can find them here: (Series Posts).
Today’s post is from Jeremiah Montgomery, one of the pastors at Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Vandalia, OH. He is previously a foreign missionary in the OPC and former OPC church planter in State College, PA. Here’s Jeremiah:
Do you want to love your neighbor?
If you want to do it, connecting with people really isn’t all that difficult.
Think about it. Every morning you go to school or to work, where you naturally interact with classmates or coworkers. You stop at the gas station, the store, or the coffee shop on the way to or from work. You take your kids to various extracurricular events. In the course of all these activities, how many people do you see?
This is a loaded question. On one hand, you could take it simply as a request for numbers: with what quantity of humans did you come into physical proximity? But on the other hand, you could take it as an inquiry about how many people you noticed: how many persons did you actually see?
Several years ago, my friend Eric Hausler said some things in this regard that poked a hole in my heart, and changed forever how I think about connecting with people. Let me share those with you.
First, Eric pointed out what I’ve already been illustrating above: most of us don’t need more new contacts. Rather, we just need to learn to leverage our many existing contacts. Like strands in a spiderweb, our lives are already tightly interwoven with the lives of many others. We should not be like the lawyer who tested Jesus with the question, “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29). As Jesus pointed out in his parable, your neighbor is whomever God brings across your path – or vice-versa.
Second, Eric laid his finger on what I know was the real problem for me – and which I suspect is the real problem for others as well: we need to learn to see people not as landscape or as machines, but as souls. As Christians, we believe that every living person has an everlasting soul. But do we live like this is true? Do we see people this way? When we go about our daily lives, do we remember that each person we encounter is on a trajectory that will extend into eternity? C.S. Lewis said it best: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
The truth is, we usually don’t see people as we ought to see them. Most of the people we encounter throughout our days simply fade into the background of our routine – we threat them as landscape. If we must interact with them, such as the clerk at Kroger or the Amazon return desk in Kohl’s, then we regard them as little better than machines: we give them our items to be scanned, we pay as needed, and they hand us a receipt. Conversation is minimal; eye contact optional.
We rationalize all this behavior because we’re “in a hurry” or we “need to get home to the family.” Well, there’s no doubt that family is important, and it’s true that many of us make ourselves very busy. But is that the real reason we treat people like landscape or machines? Be honest: even on your most relaxed days, do you take the time to notice, acknowledge, and converse with the people you meet in a meaningful way? For most of us, the answer is no. The reason for our behavior, then, is not that we are too busy.
Friends, do you know what our real problem is? We are such utter, ugly little narcissists. We make little time for others because, frankly, we don’t think them worth our time. My spouse, my children, my family and my friends – all these are good investments that bring a return. But the kid at the sandwich counter, the elderly minority woman at the checkout, the delivery guy bringing me packages every week, or even my next door neighbor? These are not worth the cost. Time is money, and my time is precious.
It was again Lewis who so acutely pierced the veil of this conceit. More than half a century ago, imagining a senior demon advising a protégé on how to destroy the soul of a Christian, he wrote: “You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own’. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.”
Our time is precious, but it isn’t ours. “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s,” (Rom. 14:7-8). Christians are live for Jesus, doing the things he commands us to do. And many times the New Testament commands us: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mat. 19:19, 22:37-39; Mk. 12:28-31; Lk. 10:26-28; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jas. 2:8). Was Jesus wrong about this? Do we know better than him what is the best use of our time? Do we need to apologize to him for ever thinking it was ours to begin with?
The gospel shows us a better way than unneighborly narcissism. Remind yourself that Jesus noticed you. Remember that Jesus sees you not as landscape or as a machine, but as a soul: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Ps. 139:16-17). As you see the goodness of the Lord who upholds the universe (how’s that for busy?) making time for you, you will grow to see the goodness of making time for others. Preach the gospel to yourself.
Once you want to love your neighbor, connecting with them really isn’t all that hard. Read the name tags of the clerk at the store, and greet them by their names. Instead of scowling at somebody’s tattoos, ask them about what they mean; I have had so many interesting conversations begin in this way! Take a walk around your neighborhood, greeting your neighbors by name as you see them out walking their dogs. If you don’t yet know their names, pause and introduce yourself. Later, write down any details that you learned so that you can remember the next time. (I am personally very bad with remembering names, so I use an app on my mobile phone to write down my neighbors’ names, addresses, and any other significant information they share with me.) If you see your neighbor sitting in his garage or driveway drinking a beer, consider inviting yourself to join him – and offer to bring the beer yourself next time. Give your telephone number to your elderly neighbors, in case they or their children every need to contact you. How difficult is any of this?
In our current social moment, how many of our neighbors are living in profound fear? How much more opportunity is there, therefore, to shine by simply taking notice of them – treating them not as potential threats, but as real persons? What if this the reason God sent us COVID-19: to rouse us from our self-centeredness, and to help us see our neighbors in fresh – and eternal – perspective?
 C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1949).
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperOne, 2015).