In our culture, I hear much lament for lack of love for neighbor and I hear criticisms of neighbors, and in this election year I hear a lot of personal attacks on neighbors by neighbors and all over neighborhoods.
And one of the more helpful documents I have read in recent years that has helped me with this significantly and has actually changed my mind on some things is (fake drumroll please) the Westminster Larger Catechism. Ok, before you roll your eyes and run off and write me off as some nutcase with antiquated taste in creeds and confessions, let me mention two things. The Larger Catechism isn’t even that well known among people who claim to adhere to it and secondly, just read these words from Q/A 144:
“The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them….”
How cool is that? In a culture intent on cutting people down to size and in a world dripping with cynicism at times, here’s some help on how to fight for your neighbor. In bullet point form, let’s look again:
- Preserving and promoting the good name of your neighbor
- A charitable esteem of our neighbors
- Rejoicing in the good name of our neighbors
- Covering their infirmities
- Defending their innocence
- Ready to receive a good report
- Unwilling to hear an evil report from gossip
So, if loving your neighbor is daunting and difficult, fight for your neighbor instead. If paying someone a compliment is hard, rejoice, then, when your neighbor succeeds. If your neighbor falls down, don’t kick them, but ‘cover their infirmities’ through defending them and refusing to add to their pain.
Not all catechism references are this exciting, but seriously, this is practical, contemporary, helpful stuff. And I rarely hear this stuff from pulpits or in Bible studies or in Christian music (if someone can find a song that tackles this subject well, please send it along).
But, this isn’t just a decent description of practical civility, it’s also a solid summary of friendship. My closest friends have worked to fight on my behalf, sometimes in spite of my shortcomings. Their grace only made me care for them more, but their grace also motivated me to want to do better. While it’s almost cliché to talk of changing the world, I do know this: fighting for our neighbors goes a lot further than beating them down. So, don’t just sit there, fight for your neighbor. My guess is, then, at some point they’ll return the favor. And over time, that pattern may change things for the better.