10 July, 2014 Jonathan Prime
Whether we have a postcode others crave or a postcode others want to avoid, how does the Lord Jesus want us to think about where we live? Two vital answers are found in Acts 17 v. 24-31, in Paul’s speech to the Areopagus.
Answer 1: Where we live is no accident
“ ... and He [God] determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” (v. 26b)
Where we each live at this particular point in time is no accident. It is part of God’s sovereign providence both for us and for those next door. This is true of neighbours who are already Christians; it is true for those who are not yet Christians. It is true if we have lovely neighbours; it is true if we have difficult neighbours. It is true if our neighbours are religious; it is true if they are irreligious. It is true if they are long-term permanent residents; it is true if they are only there for a short period of time.
In Acts 17 Paul explains that “the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth, who does not live in temples made by human hands” (v. 24). Religious buildings or temples are not needed if people are to meet God. On the contrary, God puts those who have come to Him through the Lord Jesus next to those who have not yet come to know Him, that they might hear the Gospel and reach out to Him. ”God did this so that men would reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us." (v. 27)
This should transform the way we see where we live. Our address is a place from which our Lord Jesus wants us to reach out. It all starts with praying for our neighbours. If we do not know their names, we should pray daily for an encounter that will reveal their names. Then pray daily for further contact however brief at first. Pray for ways to serve them and be ready to allow them to serve you. Pray for opportunities to invite them into your home for coffee or a meal or to watch a game on TV etc.
Answer 2: Our neighbours are just like us.
It is so easy to make excuses: “Our neighbours are different from us in terms of age, education, occupation, class, race, etc. We don’t have much in common.” Really? Not according to Paul.
a) They are descended from the same ancestor: v. 26 – “From one man He [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth.”
b) They are equally dependent upon God for every breath and everything else: v. 25 – “He [God] Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”
c) God commands them to repent: v. 30 – “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.”
d) All are heading for the day when they will be judged by the Lord Jesus: v. 31 – “For He [God] has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Sometimes it is suggested that close relationships are needed in order to share the Gospel. That doesn’t tally with the record of Gospel spread in Acts: Philip shared the Gospel with the Ethiopian Eunuch at their God-appointed only meeting; the same was true of the Philippian jailer. As we start praying for our neighbours, we can and must trust God’s sovereignty in the opportunities that will come to speak of the Lord Jesus.
Fear is a real issue for many: fear of rejection, ridicule or hostility. According to 1 Peter 3 v. 14-15, the answer to fear is daily to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, always being prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. Genuine depth of relationship can only be experienced after someone has been born again into God’s family. We should pray, therefore, that God would give us opportunities to share the message of our Lord Jesus and His finished work on the cross, so that those we currently only think of as “neighbours” would become “brothers and sisters in Christ”.