ACCORDING TO JESUS, WHO IS OUR NEIGHBOR?
As followers of Jesus, we know we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Yet there are major misconceptions in Christianity regarding neighbors. Our American culture causes many of God’s people to consider non-neighbors as their own neighbors. This error brings unwarranted pangs of guilt, shame and self condemnation. Thus, many Christians concern themselves with troubles of the world Jesus does not count worthy of their attention. This focus diminishes participation in service Jesus counts as ministry of the first order.
Speaking of Himself when the end comes, Jesus made this very plain. Jesus taught His disciples who to serve shortly before His crucifixion (Mt 26:2). His teaching was prompted by their question. “Tell us when this will be; and what will be the sign of your Coming and of the Close of the Age” (Mt 24:3b WNT)?
Laying the ground for their understanding and ours, Jesus answered that question beginning at Mt 24:26: The Return of the Son of Man. Then, with a kingdom parable: The lesson of the Fig Tree. He followed with an exhortation, Be Ready at Any Hour Mt 24:26-51. In Matthew 25, He continued with 2 more kingdom parables: The Parable of the Ten Virgins and The Parable of the Talents. With that perspective of eternal life in mind, we come to His concluding answer.
When the Son of Man comes in His glory
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then will He sit upon His glorious throne, and all the nations will be gathered into His presence. And He will separate them from one another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and will make the sheep stand at His right hand, and the goats at His left.
‘Then the King will say to those at His right, ”Come, my Father’s blessed ones, receive your inheritance of the Kingdom which has been divinely intended for you ever since the creation of the world. For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was homeless, you gave me a welcome; For when I was ill-clad, you clothed me; when I was sick, you visited me; when I was in prison, you came to see me.”’When, Lord,’ the righteous will reply, ‘did we see Thee hungry, and feed Thee; or thirsty, and give Thee drink? When did we see Thee homeless, and give Thee a welcome? or ill-clad, and clothe Thee? When did we see Thee sick or in prison, and come to see Thee?’ But the King will answer them, ”In solemn truth I tell you that in so far as you rendered such services to one of the humblest of these my brethren, you rendered them to myself.’
‘Then will He say to those at His left, ”Begone from me, with the curse resting upon you, into the Fire of the Ages, which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels. For when I was hungry, you gave me nothing to eat; when thirsty, you gave me nothing to drink; when homeless, you gave me no welcome; ill-clad, you clothed me not; sick or in prison, you visited me not.’ ‘Then will they also answer, ”Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or homeless or ill-clad or sick or in prison, and not come to serve Thee?’ ‘But he will reply, ”In solemn truth I tell you that in so far as you withheld such services from one of the humblest of these, you withheld them from me.’ ‘And these shall go away into the Punishment of the Ages, but the righteous into the Life of the Ages.’ Mt 25:31-46 WNT
From that, we can see Jesus our King was speaking of His brethren as neighbors we are to serve.
In King James language, neighbors are our brethren. Meaning, brothers and sisters in the Lord. Our brethren are fellow citizens of the kingdom (Eph 2:19). “It is God who has delivered us out of the dominion of darkness, and has transferred us into the Kingdom of His dearly-loved Son, in whom we have our redemption—the forgiveness of our sins” (Col 1:13-14 WNT). They are joint members in the body of Christ and primarily those we know. Or, an occasional stranger in need, that we recognize as a fellow citizen.
We are Jesus’ brethren, brothers or sisters, for God has adopted us as sons (Eph 1:5). So, we look forward to the Life of the Ages.
The Spirit Himself bears witness, along with our own spirits, to the fact that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs too—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ; if indeed we are sharers in Christ’s sufferings, in order that we may also be sharers in His glory. Ro 8:16-17 WNT
God has created us in Christ Jesus to do good works and live in them.
For we are God’s own handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works which He has predestined us to practice. Eph 1:10 WNT
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. Gal 5:13 KJV
What good is it, my brethren, if a man professes to have faith, and yet his actions do not correspond? Can such faith save him? Suppose a Christian brother or sister is poorly clad or lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourselves warm and well fed,’ and yet you do not give them what they need; what is the use of that? So also faith, if it is unaccompanied by obedience, has no life in it—so long as it stands alone. Nay, some one will say, ‘You have faith, I have actions: prove to me your faith apart from corresponding actions and I will prove mine to you by my actions. James 2:14-18 WNT
Christ appointed leaders to equip us for the work of serving His brethren
And He Himself appointed some to be Apostles, some to be Prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers, in order fully to equip His people for the work of serving—for the building up of Christ’s body—till we all of us arrive at oneness in faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and at mature manhood and the stature of full-grown men in Christ.
So we shall no longer be babes nor shall we resemble mariners tossed on the waves and carried about with every changing wind of doctrine according to men’s cleverness and unscrupulous cunning, making use of every shifting device to mislead. But we shall lovingly hold to the truth, and shall in all respects grow up into union with Him who is our Head, even Christ. Dependent on Him, the whole body—its various parts closely fitting and firmly adhering to one another—grows by the aid of every contributory link, with power proportioned to the need of each individual part, so as to build itself up in a spirit of love. Eph 4:11-16 WNT
What we do for our brothers and sisters we do in person.
Giving or sending money to a third party to do it for us has no part in what Jesus leads us to do. We do it ourselves and Jesus counts it as done unto Him.
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Mt 25:40 KJV
WNT Weymouth New Testament