You won’t drive through many major intersections in my hometown of Austin, TX, without passing a guy with a sign saying that he’s homeless and will work for food. Most of them say “God Bless” at the bottom. We all respond to that guy differently. Some people make sure their doors are locked. Some people look away. Some suddenly need to pay great attention to changing the station on the car stereo. A few roll down the window and contribute.
But most of us drive past. We think many things.
“He would just use the money for beer.”
“He’s probably not even homeless.”
“I read an article on how much money you can make begging.”
“If he really wants to work for food, then he should get a job.”
One night I was in downtown Memphis with a friend, and a guy came up to us telling a story about how his wife was pregnant, and they were traveling across the country, and their car broke down, and they just need some money to take the bus to her parents, so they’ll be closer to the hospital, etc. I had a couple of dollars and gave it to him. My friend looked at me like I was crazy. She said, “You know that was all a lie, right?” At the moment, I replied. “Yeah, but it was a good story.” But God was doing something much more complicated in my heart.
The thing is… I don’t think God is up in heaven saying, “I can’t believe you just gave money to that guy who said he was in need! What were you thinking? Couldn’t you tell he was lying?” I think God is using those moments to shape me, much more than affecting that possibly homeless guy.
And so, I thought I started to understand more about “Love your neighbor.” God’s command didn’t have nearly as much to do with my neighbor as it had to do with me. This was not God’s only opportunity to provide aid for this man. This was His chosen plan to grow me in both affection and action.
And so I thought I had figured it out. Loving my neighbor wasn’t nearly as much about him, as it was about me. But that was only part of the story.
Over the last few years, God has been teaching me about the Bible and about life. A major lesson was that the Bible isn’t about me, it’s about Him. It does apply to me sometimes, but He is the star. And life is the same. My life is not about me, it’s about Him. And so, I began to wrestle to understand and apply these commands, “Love your neighbor” (Matt. 22:39), “Love your enemy” (Matt. 5:44), “Love your wives” (ph. 5:26), “Love one another” (1 John 3:23). And it finally started to make sense. God asked me to love everyone, not to make it difficult to obey, but because He is love. He cannot set a standard less than His character. Loving my neighbor wasn’t just about my neighbor. And it wasn’t even just about me. It was primarily about God. He is love. And when I love, I am reflecting His image.
So I can’t just pick and choose who I love. God’s character does not change depending on who I happen to be in a conversation with. I don’t know that God is nearly as concerned with the truth of the sign held by the alleged homeless, the supposed poor, as He is with His glory and character being reflected just for a moment at that intersection. Through the kindness of one of His children, the glory of God brightens the darkness underneath that downtown bridge.
And that’s at least part of the story behind the song “Love Your Neighbor”. Heck, I didn’t even get to the second verse. Well, you’ll have to wait for the record.