About seven years ago, I was in the Charlotte, NC airport after teaching at our Proverbs 31 She Speaks Conference when two women introduced themselves to me. They had attended the conference and we were all headed back to our homes in Michigan. Little did I know that one of those women would not only be at the conference again another year in a speaker group I was coaching, but she would also turn out to be one of my very closest friends and dear prayer sister.
I’ve asked that friend, Cindy Bultema, to share from her new Bible Study, Live Full Walk Free: Set Apart in a Sin-Soaked World. It is a journey through 1 Corinthians touching on themes of identity, unity, purpose, and purity. Cindy equips us to live for God in a sin-soaked world and handle each situation with grace. Here’s Cindy with a sneak peek at one of my favorite chapters, showing us how to scatter Christ’s love and kindness everywhere we go—even in our neighborhood.
How Do We Love Our Neighbors Who Live Differently Than Us?
One of my favorite TV shows to watch as a family is the ABC program What Would You Do? The show uses hidden cameras and actors to recreate awkward scenarios—what I like to call “sticky situations” —and then captures the reactions and responses of everyday people nearby.
I don’t know about you, but I find myself in sticky situations all the time, especially trying to live out my faith in the midst of our confused, anything-goes culture.
- My unmarried, non-church-going neighbors are living together. Should I have them over for dinner?
- An agnostic acquaintance drinks like a fish, but we share a love for Pinterest and DIY. Am I somehow saying her drinking is okay if I invite her over to chat about our latest projects?
- The women in my neighborhood book club sometimes want to read R-rated books. I’m uncomfortable with a few of the book selections. Should I quit my current book club and join a Christians-only club?
That last question? Really sticky stuff—I’m talking gum in your child’s hair sticky. No wonder we’d rather avoid “sticky situations” of this sort—it’s going to be awkward and uncomfortable.
The church members in ancient Corinth had similar questions about how to handle “sticky situations” in their sin-marinated culture. They were living smack dab in the center of a city known for its sexual immorality, indulgence, and idolatry (think modern day Las Vegas). These early Christ followers were confused about what to do with their neighbors who lived differently than they did. “Can I join in on the bad behavior, or must I completely distance myself from such scandalous sinners?,” they wondered.
I love how the Apostle Paul clarifies in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 MSG. Paul writes,
“I wrote you in my earlier letter that you shouldn’t make yourselves at home among the sexually promiscuous. I didn’t mean that you should have nothing at all to do with outsiders of that sort. Or with crooks, whether blue- or white-collar. Or with spiritual phonies, for that matter. You’d have to leave the world entirely to do that!”
How could one live in sin-soaked ancient Corinth and not be around sinners? You’d have to take the next boat out of their impure port city. Good thing Paul set the record straight! Because when it comes to loving our neighbors who are far from God, we need to follow Christ’s example. And the Truth is this: Jesus loves the lost!
People’s behavior did not stop Jesus from interacting with them. He ate with those who were “outside” the church. He spent time with those who did not agree with him. He demonstrated tenderness and spoke truth from a place of love and compassion.
And He invites us to do the same. If you are a Christ follower, you—yes, YOU— have been personally invited to join Jesus’ search and rescue mission to find his precious missing sheep (John 20:21). You’ve been handpicked to scatter Christ’s love and kindness everywhere you go—even in your neighborhood.
So how do we do this? How do we love our neighbors who live differently than us?
Three simple reminders:
- We should follow what Jesus would do in sticky situations, by seeing our neighbor from God’s perspective.
We don’t have to agree with our neighbor’s choices to be kind, and we don’t have to compromise our values in order to demonstrate compassion.
Instead, let’s show genuine care and concern for our non-churched neighbors by: offering a listening ear, extending an invitation to coffee, or by helping relieve a burden.
- Remember, we do not have a responsibility to judge them or convince them why their choices are immoral.
In fact, the Bible says that we are not to judge those who do not yet know Christ. Instead, who will judge them? God will.
But I’m afraid we often pick up God’s Word, and use it—not as the living, breathing, life-changing, Word of God— but as a “shaming stick” and we hurt people with it. (“You had how many beers with your burger? Shame on you!”)
Sweet friend, we will exhaust ourselves if we try to set everyone straight, and quite frankly, it’s just not our job to judge. Our calling is to love (see 1 Corinthians 16:14). Because the Truth from Romans 3:23 is that we all fall short, we all sin. Including me, including you.
Let’s not judge our neighbors because they sin differently than we do.
- If we are going to be Christ’s example in our sin-soaked world, after we put down our shaming sticks, we must put on “glasses of grace” and go into our neighborhood and affirm:
- You are seen.
- You have value.
- You are loved.
It’s from a place of unconditional love and grace that those who live differently may ask about the source of your kindness.
Take a moment to think about how you would want your neighbor to respond if they disagreed with your choices? Wouldn’t you rather have a caring arm around your shoulder than a shaming stick wagged in your direction? I sure would.
If you’ve ever wondered how to best respond to those neighbors “outside” the church, listen to these four simple but truth-filled words to help you respond with glasses of grace. (It’s also a sneak peek into session 3 of my Live Full Walk Free teaching DVD):
Sweet friends, when was the last time you shared a meal with a non-churched neighbor?
Remember, we can accept others as a person—a dearly loved, created in the image of our Holy God person—without accepting their lifestyle or their choices. It is possible.
It’s time we put down our shaming sticks and put on our glasses of grace.
Let’s remind our neighbors and that woman in the mirror too, that: God is for you!
Cue the confetti. :-)
With nearly 20 years of ministry experience, Cindy Bultema is a popular women’s speaker, author, and Bible teacher. She lives in Michigan with her husband and their four kids. Most days you can find Cindy walking her beagle Rocky, attending one of her boys’ hockey games, or serving hot lunch at her kids’ school.
For a FREE chapter of Live Full Walk Free, a printable set of A-Z scripture cards and other resources, visit Cindy’s blog.
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Cindy is giving away two copies of her Live Full Walk Free Bible Study book and teaching DVD sets. To enter, please leave a comment letting us know your thoughts on loving neighbors who live differently than us. I’ll pick two winners at random and post them here on Monday.
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