It’s not a stranger, but the ones closest to you.
Welcome to “Inside The Cup Podcast” with Mike and Holly Walsh
Season 1: “How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”
Episode 6: “Who is My Neighbor?”
The way we typically think of our “neighbor” now, often leaves out the ones closest to us in life, our spouse, children, and family.
Mike and Holly discuss a fresh look at who our “neighbors” are, and walk through a very practical teaching from Dallas Willard to help us determine: “Who exactly are my neighbors?”
If it’s true we have a limited supply of love to work with, then it would be wise to put some intentional thought into determining who our neighbors are so we’re directing our resources accordingly.
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Who Is My Neighbor? | Episode 6, (05/19/22)
Season 1: How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Holly: Welcome back to Inside The Cup Podcast. Today we’re going to talk about: “Well, who’s our neighbor?”
Holly: Who is our neighbor? And a lot of times we think about all kinds of people as our neighbors, but we’ve hinted that really our first neighbor is those closest to you. If you’re married, your spouse, your kids, people under the same roof as you.
Mike: Yeah, people you live with, and that’s probably a different way of looking at “neighbor.” That might actually sound kind of strange or…or a different way of looking at it to think of these people as our neighbors, but the way that we discuss this today, those are going to end up being your closest neighbors.
Holly: That is our first neighbor, is our spouse, our kids, or maybe it’s a roommate, or your parents. Whoever you’re living with, your closest interactions, your intimate interactions.
Mike: The way we normally talk about neighbor in our society is, you know, people that live next to us. You know, like the house next door, those would be our neighbors.
Holly: Or people in your same community or neighborhood, or people you sit by at church that you might not even know their name.
Mike: Yeah, almost like you’re talking about a stranger when you talk about neighbor.
Mike: I guess we’re kind of suggesting something different here then, that neighbor would actually be the people closest to you. Not just some kind of stranger that you don’t know.
Holly: The “Good Samaritan”. This is a story that’s often used to support the idea that any stranger we encounter should be our neighbor.
Mike: Yeah, this is Jesus’s famous parable from Luke Chapter 10. And in context, you have an expert of the Law who comes up and asked Jesus how he…what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus asks him what his read on this is, and he says, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus answers back: “That’s correct. Do that and you’ll live.”
Holly: But it’s kind of funny because he doesn’t stop there. I mean, that could have been a great ending, like, “OK, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll go on my merry way.” But he doesn’t stop there.
Mike: Yeah, the text goes on to say that “he wanted to justify himself,” so he asked Jesus another question. “Well, who’s my neighbor then?”
Holly: And what did Jesus do? He gave a nice parable.
Mike: A parable, a way of teaching this individual person who asked him this question. The parable of the “Good Samaritan” is a teaching given specifically to this expert of the Law. So, in the story you have an injured man, and three people come up on this injured man. A priest, a Levite, and they both pass by, and then you have this Samaritan man who’s been called now the “Good Samaritan,” who actually stops and cares for this man. The way we often think about this story is that Jesus was telling us: “Any injured person we come upon in our day is our neighbor, and that we’re to love everybody, or any unsuspecting stranger that we come upon in our day.”
Holly: But Jesus never really said that. He didn’t say: “See, just like this “Good Samaritan,” you’re supposed to love everyone you run across that has a need. So go love everyone.” He didn’t say that.
Mike: Yeah, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor, not to love everybody. And we’ve sort of challenged that assumption a little bit already, that we actually don’t have the ability to love everybody, that that’s something that’s beyond human capacity.
Holly: So, how does Jesus answer the question from this expert of the Law on who is his neighbor?
Mike: So, Jesus asks him “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
Holly: Well, of course the answer was the “Good Samaritan.”
Mike: Yeah, the “Good Samaritan,” who is actually a loving, or a good person. And then Jesus tells the man to, “Go and do likewise,” really, going back to his initial inquiry on how to inherit eternal life: “love the Lord your God with all of your being, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Holly: The way we go about doing this, is to do likewise, become a loving person like the “Good Samaritan” in the parable.
Mike: The goal is to become like the “Good Samaritan,” a good or loving person. Then when we come upon an injured stranger, our natural response is to be loving, to act lovingly. That’s what naturally comes out of us, without thinking, is loving action. So, if it’s true that we do have limited resources to work with, we have limited supply of love that we draw in from God, we have limited supply of compassion. If that gets exhausted, our compassion stores, then we end up kind of worn out and burdened and unable to help others, then it would be wise to put some intentional thought into: “Who are our neighbors?” So that, we’re directing our resources accordingly.
Holly: And Jesus did this, I mean, really, when you think about him, he didn’t have hundreds of people that he was loving. I mean, he had 12 and then he actually had three that he was really spending significant time with. But I mean, it was pretty limited to 12 people, investing more time and resources into those twelve than he did the thousands of people that came upon him.
Mike: Yeah, your response to saying not everybody is your neighbor might be: “Well, that sounds kind of exclusive.” But if you look at it, Jesus showed that same exclusivity. He did give more time, and attention, and resources to his 12, and then inner three, compared with the crowds. So, let’s go through this exercise to make this very practical, we’re going to go through a teaching here on going through and deciding “Who is my neighbor?”
Holly: This teaching comes from a handout from a workshop that Dallas Willard taught years ago.
Mike: Yeah, the title of the workshop was: “How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.”
Holly: We will need to put in some intentional thought, and prayer, and discernment on who our neighbor is. It’s not something you decide, spur of the moment, “Oh, this person is my neighbor. I’m just going to start loving this person.”
Mike: Yeah, we don’t want to enter into this lightly. I mean, this is a pretty big thing if we’re deciding who our neighbors are, and who our neighbors aren’t. Because that’s where we’re going to be putting a large amount of our time and resource, investing into these people that we decide are our neighbors.
Holly: So, let’s start off.
Mike: So, the way that Dallas laid this out in his teaching is, you can think about three concentric circles. You know, a smaller inner circle, a middle circle that encompasses that smaller inner circle, and then a large outer circle that that the two inner circles are a part of. So, imagine these, or you could even draw it out on a piece of paper, these three concentric circles.
Holly: So, in the inner circle, the smallest circle, those are your most intimate relationships. The family members you live with should be in this circle.
Mike: You don’t have to pray about whether or not your spouse and your kids are your neighbors. They are, and they go in your first circle.
Holly: That’s an easy given, those are your neighbors. Those are people God has placed in your life to love.
Mike: As we go through this, those will turn out to be your closest neighbors who require the vast majority of your time and resources, but this should be a small number of people.
Holly: Then, there’s the middle circle, but still think small. Start with no more than ten. These are individuals that you’re relatively close to and who you share significant amount of time or experiences with. For example, this could be your coworker or a close friend, or maybe even extended family.
Mike: Yeah, or another family that you’re close with and you meet with often. This is something that is going to look a little bit different for each one of us. I mean, you get the question on, “OK, well, where does extended family go? Like, in-laws? Or cousins? Or aunts and uncles?” or whatever. “Where do you put these people?” And the answer is: there’s no real easy answer for that. It’s an individual basis. Everybody’s situation looks differently. And this is something that we would each enter into prayerfully, to discern with God on who’s in these different circles.
Holly: Yeah, like, if your sister lives four doors down and you see them on a weekly basis, that might be a little different than somebody else that has a sister or a brother that lives four hours away, and you see them twice a year.
Mike: For one person, a sister might be a second-circle neighbor, for one person, a sister might be a first-circle neighbor. So…
Holly: Even if they live 4-doors down.
Mike: So, you can’t really generalize it that tightly. This is just a very helpful framework, I think, on going about this exercise, but the details will look different for each of us.
Holly: And then there’s this outer circle. Those are individuals who you have a lesser degree of involvement with, but you have discerned that they belong on this list. This may end up being a larger list than the previous two circles, but start small and be very intentional about who these relationships are, as you’ll focus on them. Not as much as the inner circle, or the middle circle, but they’re still there.
Mike: Yeah, so these are more uninvolved relationships in general, in this third or outermost circle, but it’s not that you have to have a ton of people listed here. I mean, there might actually be plenty of people that you have for unattached relationships in your life, but what we’re doing here, again, is discerning some specific names that we jot down in these circles, and then we’ve decided that these are our neighbors, where we’re going to be trying to direct our resources accordingly. So go ahead and write out three concentric circles on a piece of paper. It doesn’t have to be circles, you could have three lists. You have an inner circle, a middle circle, and an outer circle. In the inner one, maybe have 6 to 8 spaces, and go ahead and write in people’s names. Actually put their names down so that you go through this exercise and make it concrete. In your second circle, maybe say you’ve got 8 to 10 spaces there, and list out some people’s names there. In this 2nd circle you can think if if you’re married, go through this second circle together as a couple because you might have some people together, if you know…If your family hangs out with another family, and you’ve discerned that that family is in your second circle, you may share those people in common with your spouse. Or maybe you’d have a couple people different on my list, compared to your list in your second circle. And then in your third, or outermost circle, maybe put down 8 to 10 names or so. And then really try to sit down and fill out this inner circle, middle circle, and outer circle with real names, so you can look at these lists and see: “These are who we’ve discerned are our neighbors in this season.”
Holly: I’m glad you mentioned seasons, Mike, because we are all in different seasons. It’s a different season when you have a bunch of young kids, versus if you have a bunch of kids that are off at college. That will look different. Or it’s a different season. If you’re a college student, that’s a different season, then when you’re a young married person. So we’re all in different seasons.
Mike: These lists aren’t set in stone. These can change over time. If different circumstances happen, if you move, or other people move away, or different seasons, these lists can change. And who’s on your list will change. I mean the example you gave, if you’re a college student, and you’re off at college, you’re list may look one way in this season. And then you graduate, and you move and start a job, and a new life somewhere else. It’s time to revisit who’s on your list, potentially.
Holly: Yeah, and…or if you just had a new baby, you’re…
Mike: You’ve got a new inner circle member.
Holly: You got a new inner circle member. And that inner circle is taking a lot of time.
Mike: Which is exactly why we need to be intentional with who is, and is not, in our second and third circles, so you’ve got the time and attention to give to that baby.
Holly: And not just loving all these strangers, which is a great thing, to serve and love other people in your community. But making sure that first our attention is focused on loving those closest to us.
Mike: The goal is to act lovingly to everyone, in all circumstances, but that’s a pretty advanced state. And if you think about it, if you’re doing loving actions or what looks like loving actions: giving money, or time, or assistance, or help, out to strangers, while your family’s getting shortchanged at home, there’s a problem there. Instead, we would be really doing the hard work of learning to love those closest to us at home, and then as that grows, and our character changes, and we become more of a loving person. Then, out of the overflow of that, we stumble upon a stranger or somebody in need, and we’ll be ready or prepared to help them. In the negative sense, that might actually help us realize that we’re giving too much time and attention away to a stranger, that we’re not really loving anyways, and that attention actually needs to be directed towards our family.
Holly: You’re focused and you’re intentional on loving those individuals that you’ve listed.
Music: Vlad Gluschenko — Travelling
License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en