A Good Neighbour — Morning Devotions – Hope 103.2

A Good Neighbour — Morning Devotions

Studies show we have lost the old sense of community. More than ever we need to heed Jesus' command to love others as ourselves.

Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.

By Chris WittsThursday 6 Jan 2022Morning Devotions with Chris WittsDevotionsReading Time: 4 minutes

I do like reading any material from social researcher Hugh Mackay, a remarkable Australian with a deep social conscience. I have heard him speak myself some years ago, and was very impressed.

He seems able to pick up what is happening in our society. In a paper from January 2017 when he spoke at the University of NSW, Hugh Mackay said that while we are a prosperous nation, we have a disconnect with our neighbour.

His study shows we are troubled. Twenty percent of Australians experience some form of mental illness, and 700,000 children live in poverty, while 100,000 Australians are homeless. These are disturbing figures and need to be looked at. Respect has fallen for leaders, and we feel a high level of cynicism.

A worrying trend

But there was something else Hugh Mackay said: we have a deep loss of community. In other words, local neighbourhoods do not function as they used to. Years ago, kids could play safely on the streets, and mum and dad didn’t worry about their welfare. Everyone looked out for one another. Today that’s not the case in most places. Another piece of research showed that only one in three of us trust our neighbours. That’s a startling revelation. What has happened? Does that mean 65% of our neighbours are not to be trusted? I don’t think so. I think it means we have not taken the time to make a connection with our neighbours. Possibly because we don’t care enough, or we are too busy with our own lives. But not to trust them? Are we living in fear of each other?

Hugh Mackay says that when the health of our neighbourhood suffers, we all suffer. We don’t feel safe or at peace, so we keep to ourselves. We move house about once every six years, so there is not the chance to build a lifelong friendship or connection with our neighbours. Too often we retreat into our own world, our own issues, and ignore others. I think it means: I don’t need you. I can be perfectly happy with you across the road, and me here. Just keep a safe distance. But is that the best way to live? If there is a bushfire in a town or suburb, neighbours do rally around and help. Think of floods in our nation. Neighbours do drop everything to help out. But at other times, we retreat into our homes, minding our own business.

But I want to be fair. Many people do have a sense of care and empathy. It’s like being in a crowded train. You’re sitting there, and a heavily pregnant woman comes in. There’s nowhere for her to sit. No-one looks up. They keep reading their smartphones. You feel guilty, and get up to offer her your seat. Why? Because you care. We may look with horror at the newspaper photo of a dead Syrian child in September 2015, washed up by the Turkish ocean. What a tragic photo. But it moved many in our world to tears.

Jesus calls us to love others

In the island of Mayotte off the coast of East Africa, people like to say mañka uluñu uluñu uluñu, which means: ‘what makes a person is other people’. And that cuts across the notion of it’s all about me: my comfort, my prosperity, my wellbeing. No, the Africans have it right.

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And the Bible has clear teaching as well, that we are to love our neighbour. In Philippians 2:4 (ESV), God’s Word says, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Can we take that teaching seriously? You don’t have to do big things to help others. A friendly word to your neighbours or strangers is often all that is needed. It’s a recognition that they matter. You don’t know what’s going on in their life at present. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You may never know what results come of your actions. But if you do nothing, there will be no results”. To help another person has nothing to do with making you happy—it’s about having enough grace and empathy to help another human being.

Jesus lived his life caring for others. In fact, so great was his love that He died on the cross for us. He didn’t have to—but his love and concern for people was such He allowed himself to be murdered. He sacrificed his own life. We are called to love people and be sensitive to their feelings. Jesus said, “’Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important… But there is a second… ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-40 – The Message)