At jury duty this week, I got to see a whole lot of people I'd not encounter normally, yet all of them were in one form or another my "neighbors". They did not live in the exact same community as me. Yet, we had some things in common - we all lived in the areas where jurors were chosen! One of the prospective jurors shared how a rental home in her neighborhood was discovered to be robbed that morning. They actually noticed the garage door standing open on a totally vacant rental. What made this catch my interest more than anything was that this woman knew who to call to inform about the possible burglary! Admit it - most of us would be hard pressed to actually give the first and last names of our neighbors, much less knowing how to reach them in an emergency!
When I use the term "neighbor", what comes to mind is probably the person who lives next door, or at least in your immediate neighborhood. I have lots of "neighbors" - those who live in my immediate neighborhood - but I have very few "friends" in my neighborhood. They are more of acquaintances rather than friends. The difference is in the "closeness" we form in our hearts. When I call someone "friend", I am doing so because I associate with them frequently and their is an alliance formed which cannot be easily broken. Did you know there were a whole bunch of commands in the Bible which even deals with the way we treat our neighbors? Some tell us not to take their stuff, others warn us against becoming attached to those who will take us down wrong paths. One tells us something "about" our neighbors which I'd like to focus on this morning.
Don’t plot harm against your neighbor, for those who live nearby trust you. (Proverbs 3:29 NLT)
In the most literal sense, Solomon uses the term "neighbor" as those who live in our "neighborhood". These are not the close friends who we form alliances with, but those who we probably see as more of our acquaintances. The word to us is to take action on our part to avoid "plotting" against them because even our acquaintances "trust" us. Did you ever stop to consider this? Our "neighborhood" is filled with people who "trust" us. Now, I don't know about you, but "trust" is a strong word for me. It implies there is a reliance upon us. I don't have a homeowner's association in my neighborhood, but I imagine this is the basis of the founding of such a group - reliance upon each other to adhere to the agreed upon terms of the "neighborhood". I am sure many of us have heard stories of how these "associations" take on a life of their own, policing the neighborhood for the slightest infraction to the rules established. This is not likely what Solomon had in mind here.
The command is for you and I to not plot harm against our neighbor. To plot means to have some secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose (often evil) against someone. Most of us will immediately reply with a defensive, "I would NEVER do that..." Yet, if we were honest, we'd probably reconsider just how much "plotting" we actually do! Let me challenge you to think about this a little differently. Instead of just considering our neighbor as the guy next door, or down the street, let's begin to consider the various "neighborhoods" where we have "neighbors". Isn't our work environment a kind of "neighborhood"? We spend something like 8-9 hours a day, 5 days a week with these people - I think this brings us in close proximity with them frequently enough to consider these individuals our "neighbors". What about our other "frequented" places - like church, community agencies where we volunteer, or even our local pet shelter? Are these our neighbors? You bet!
So, we have more than ample opportunity to do a little "plotting" in these various neighbor encounters, don't we? I have to ask - have you ever been so annoyed by something someone was doing so as to form some kind of anger (regardless of how small that anger was) toward that individual? Perhaps they constantly fill their trash barrel to overflowing, causing parts and pieces to fly off and onto the roadway as the trash truck comes to pick it up. By the time you get home, the neighbor's "overflowing" trash is now blown into your yard. The first time you pick it up. By the thirteenth time, are you as willing to pick it up as you were the first? Probably not - because it begins to grate on you a little. Why? You see your neighbor's behavior as inconsiderate, lackadaisical or just plain rude. So, you begin to "plot" - not so much to do "evil" against them, but to point out their "fault" of being too over-zealous in filling their trash barrel! I have heard stories of people receiving letters from their associations about the door color not being "true" to the agreed upon color palette, or being "fined" for having the springtime weeds popping through their gravel in the front yard. Folks...I think we have missed the point!
The fact is, people trust us. We are living and breathing testimonies of God's grace, but we don't always display this grace, do we? We become so consumed with finding fault with our neighbor, we miss the point they are actually our "neighbors"! I wonder what a different place it would be if we actually began to consider how our neighbor's trust is impacted by our behavior. It is likely we might actually ask our neighbor with the overflowing trash barrel if they'd like to use the spare space in ours since their family seems to produce more trash than they can easily fit in their own. Or perhaps we might stop to find out if our neighbor has been away, feeling ill, or with some other demands which have kept them from being able to keep the weeds down in the front.
I wonder what our world would be like if we actually got to know our neighbors a little. Maybe we'd be less likely to "plot against" and more apt to "form alliances" if we took a little time to do so. Just sayin!