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October 28, 2015

Three Ways to Love Your Neighbor Through Your Work


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My brother-in-law works at the Caterpillar plant in South Texas. A few years ago, he took me on a tour of the assembly line. It was absolutely incredible to see these massive machines put together step-by-step.

It struck me how the employees on the assembly line were fulfilling Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  When they do their jobs well, even if it’s pushing a button or pulling a lever, the workers in the line make so many other people look good. From the guys down the line, who rely on previous steps in the assembly, to the vendors who sell the finished product, the assembly line workers fulfill God’s command to love their neighbor as they do their jobs with excellence.

I tell this story because I want you to grasp that your vocation is one of your best opportunities to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). Your work doesn’t just matter for you and your family, it matters for your neighbor.

Here are three ways that you can love your neighbor as yourself through your work:

Seek the Good of Your Neighbor’s Work (Exodus 20:15, 17)

In Matthew 22:40, Jesus proclaims that all the Law and the Prophets depend on the greatest commandments to love God and love neighbor. Love fulfills the law, and the law points us to how to love God and others through our work.

The law, in Exodus 20:15, says, “You shall not steal,” which refers to what your neighbor has acquired through their work. Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s,” which refers to how your neighbor works (oxen and donkeys were possessions that were key tools for how people worked in that day).

So, instead of stealing the fruit of our neighbor’s work, love calls us to protect and multiply the fruit of our neighbor’s labors. Instead of envying our neighbor’s work, love calls us to celebrate and support our neighbor’s labors. This begs us to ask ourselves, Are we using our vocations to help others flourish? Are we cheering for them when they do?  

When you break the cultural mold and seek the good of others in your vocation, your work will be a shining example of the care and character of Christ.

Serve the Stranger (Luke 10:25-37)

When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he’s actually quoting from Leviticus 19:18.  Look what is written just a few verses later in that chapter:

You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

Our neighbor is whoever the Lord brings into our path:

    • The custodian on the night shift, keeping the high school safe and sanitary, serving students who will never know his name
    • The stay-at-home mom, whose vocational life is given to prepare her children to serve and love people
  • The person who picks and analyzes bonds and stocks for your financial planner, the one who is doing your savings so much good

It is easy to be discouraged because you rarely see the fruit of your work. Be encouraged that you’re fulfilling the command to love your neighbor as yourself in the service of strangers – whomever the Lord puts in your path.

Love Your City (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

In Jeremiah 29, the people of God were in exile in Babylon. This was the capital of the country that had conquered Israel, captured God’s people, and removed them from their homeland. God told his people how to conduct themselves there:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (vv 5-7)

Even in this city that Israel does not want to live in, God wants them working there so they can bring his light and blessing to that city. We need to hear this when we don’t like the place where we are working – but until God directs otherwise, God has given you a vocation right there, bringing his light and blessing to your city, your neighbor, your co-worker, and even the stranger.  

So friend, aim for the city! When you use your work to seek the welfare of your city, who knows how many neighbors you will, in turn, love as yourself?

Lean on Jesus

Jesus Christ is the perfect worker. For only he has perfectly fulfilled, perfectly obeyed, every ounce of the command to work that we’ve seen in the pages of the Bible.  

If you don’t know Jesus, see how he has worked for you and loved you, even if you feel like a stranger, living far from him. Jesus loves you, even at the cost of his own life.

And if you do know Jesus, remember: You are alive in him and united to him, so you have the grace and power through his life to follow in his footsteps – loving your neighbor as yourself.

What are some other ways you can love your neighbor through work?

Tom Olson

Tom Olson is the campus pastor at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Barrington, Ill. He and his wife Kari have three children—Kettie, Tovie, and Tommy.
Tom Olson is the campus pastor at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Barrington, Ill. He and his wife Kari have three children—Kettie, Tovie, and Tommy.