Love of my neighbor

Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  In the paragraph before, he lists the “fruit” of the sinful nature; he pulls no punches in that list– the sinful nature is ugly.  But these words concerning the characteristics of our new nature, in Christ, flowing from the work of the Spirit in our lives, are beautiful. And I take it that he’s not talking about feelings that come and go based on circumstance.  He’s talking about enduring love, joy in the face of suffering, peace that abides, patience that is selfless, kindness that does not seek personal reward, faithfulness that lasts.  These things are not easy and do not come naturally to us… at least to me.  I read this list and then I need to read Romans 7:7ff to remind myself that even Paul did not do these things perfectly.  It’s a high standard.

My neighbor is an incredible woman!  She checks on me and my kids at least once a week, always has time to chat, is always ready to lend me something if I need it; and we simply cannot interact with her without receiving from her some kind of gift (a green fruit and kale slushy, a piece of candy, a picture, kisses from her dogs). She is one of the most generous people I have ever known. Love and kindness flow so naturally out of her; she is good… I mean deeply, genuinely good.

She is not a church-goer.  She knows of Jesus and his mother, Mary.  She believes in angels. I have also heard her speak of karma.  If she has not surrendered herself wholly to Christ, how is it that such beautiful fruit of the Spirit can flow from her?  Now, I’m not saying she’s perfect. I’m sure she has her moments of selfishness and unkindness, but I am stunned by her character. I am shocked by her Christ-likeness! I’m drawn to her because of her beautiful spirit, and yet I do not know that she is an orthodox Christian.  What is going on here, that she can reflect the Love and Generosity of God so closely when so many of us (“church Christians”) struggle to do so?

Echoes of the image of God in her?  Is Jesus at work in her life apart from a church family, somehow, in some mysterious way? Why does my love, why does my generosity fall so short, so often?  Why is it that sometimes, as Christians, we get caught up in “holding each other accountable” rather than loving each other generously, with grace?  I am blessed and humbled by the love of my neighbor.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mike
    Mar 24, 2008 @ 14:56:46

    Funny how no one has wanted to touch this one.

    Sorry I got so far behind on reading your blog. This post is awesome. And there are no easy answers to it. Part of me says that the answer is just that some cats got it and some cats ain’t. But that’s unsatisfying, I know.

    I mean, you know me, and how I live, and how that’s different, in lots of ways from most interpretations of “orthodoxy,” but you also know that my faith–which is mostly orthodox–still informs my life(style) greatly.

    It’s just how it is, as unsatisfying as that may be. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Or put more popularly, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” And that’s the thing. We miss the mark–and the point–when we judge each other: We’re saying simply what we already know, or should already know–we’re human, we screw up, and we don’t bear as much fruit as we might like. But we can’t assume that we have or should have the market cornered on that fruit, either.

    God is not limited by our concepts of God. The Spirit works in and through all people; how can the situation be otherwise? All people are in God’s image, and God is Love; how can people help but reflect that Love to varying degrees?

    Your neighbor sounds like an awesome lady! And we know God is awesome. It sounds like you’re mostly, here, in awe of God reflected in a place you might not have expected. I think God loves to surprise us!


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