Neighboring without an Agenda

Recently I heard Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, the authors of The Art of Neighboring, being interviewed on the radio. The Art of Neighboring is a great book about how to get to know and how to love your neighbors. One of the things that really struck me in this interview (which you can listen to here) was their discussion of loving without an agenda. They argue that Christians need to learn to love their neighbors without the agenda of evangelizing them. I know this sounds crazy considering this is a post about living life on mission and our mission is to share the gospel, but this is an important discussion to have if we are going to take the next step and serve our neighbors.

71UNlWPKcXL._SL1500_In The Art of Neighboring, Jay and Dave explain that we shouldn’t have an ulterior motive, but instead an ultimate motive. They write,

The ulterior motive in good neighboring must never be to share the gospel. But the ultimate motive is just that— to share the story of Jesus and his impact on our lives. There’s a big difference. The “agenda” we need to drop is the well-meaning tendency to be friends with people for the sole purpose of converting them to our faith. Many so desperately want to move people forward spiritually that they push them according to their timetable, not according to how God is working in them. It’s tempting to offer friendship with strings attached.1

When we approach the call to love and serve our neighbors, many of us believe that the only reason (ulterior motive) is to share the Gospel. In other words, the only reason you serve them is to convert them to Christianity. What Jay and Dave are arguing is that we love and serve our neighbors in order to love and serve our neighbors. The agenda is to love them no matter what. Ultimately this means that our lives and eventually our mouths share the story of Jesus whether they convert or not.

This is definitely a fine line to walk and hard to explain other than saying, we love and serve in order to love and serve and not to convert. We love because we follow Jesus and he told us to love our neighbor. In fact, he tells us to love and do good without asking for anything in return.

Listen, what’s the big deal if you love people who already love you? Even scoundrels do that much! So what if you do good to those who do good to you? Even scoundrels do that much! So what if you lend to people who are likely to repay you? Even scoundrels lend to scoundrels if they think they’ll be fully repaid. If you want to be extraordinary—love your enemies! Do good without restraint! Lend with abandon! Don’t expect anything in return! 2

The key is loving and serving without asking anything in return. I love this translation of Jesus’ words, “Do good without restraint.” Jesus loved everyone and served everyone without restraint. We are called to love and serve even if we never get the chance to share the gospel. I truly believe that genuine love will lead to people asking why we love and that allows us to share our story, but even if it doesn’t we still are told to love them.

When my parents moved to the Chicago suburbs, they were able to develop a great relationship with their neighbors. While my parents loved their neighbors and wanted them to know Jesus, my dad said that his goal was just to be the best neighbor possible. When we have this attitude, our witness will be stronger. It says that we really do love our neighbors and that we don’t see them as just another person to be won over.

This week I want to challenge you to figure out how to be the best neighbor possible. What kind of things can you do to love and serve your neighbor without asking for anything in return?

[1] Pathak, Jay; Runyon, Dave (2012-08-01). The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside your Door (Kindle Locations 1093-1097). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 [2] The Voice Bible Copyright © 2012 Thomas Nelson, Inc. The Voice™ translation © 2012 Ecclesia Bible Society. Lk 6:32–35.

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