We often think of neighbors as those with whom we interact at our own convenience. That is because our understanding of what it means to be a neighbor has been impaired by the fall.
From the beginning, model neighborliness involved companionship. God saw Adam’s loneliness and created Eve as a neighbor (Gen. 2:18–25). Certainly, being created male and female was partly for procreation, but companionship in a godly society was primary and lasts forever, unlike procreation. The relationship that we generally value the most, marriage, will cease, while that of God’s children living as neighbors will last forever and will be more fulfilling than marriage (Luke 20:27–36).
The pre-fall neighborly relationship, with its unity, transparency, and intimacy, was marred by sin (Gen. 3:12, 16) but is rectified by Christ, who fixes our relationship with God and each other. He lays down His life for us, His self-centered neighbors, and calls us to imitate Him by seeking to be good neighbors, which is so fundamental that one cannot claim to be a child of God while failing as a neighbor (1 John 3:14–18; 4:20–21).
Christ is the model of the perfect neighbor. Dwelling in perfect communion with God, He is the incarnation of perfect love. As He withholds nothing good from others, He shows us how to withhold nothing good from our neighbors.
Through true neighborly love, God restores society as we love the neighbors God places in our lives, whether relative, friend, stranger, or enemy. Scripture commands us to take special care of those in our family and church, but this does not mean we should be neighbors only to our loved ones. Just as one who speaks truth only to loved ones cannot claim to be truthful, one who loves only his loved ones while being indifferent or lukewarm to others truly loves no one. Such love is pagan love, which falls short of godly neighborly love (Matt. 5:43–48).
Although the manifestation of being a neighbor varies depending on God-ordained earthly relationships, the heart posture of being a neighbor ought to be the same. Loving the neighbors in your family or church is not in conflict with loving other neighbors God places in your life. The Good Samaritan treated the stranger just as he would his loved ones. The situation didn’t make him a good neighbor but only revealed what he was. Being a neighbor goes beyond doing things for neighbors. In heaven, neighbors will not rescue each other from robbers or other problems. But we will live in perfect fellowship with one another, giving and receiving in the blessed presence of God. The richness of a neighborly relationship lies in the complete giving of oneself and receiving of the other in a perfect union.
To be neighbors is to image God Himself in His love for others. We will be perfected not merely as individuals but also as a community that loves God, united in love with each other and with our Creator.