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neighboring houses January 22 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today's Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Genesis 25:1-6; 1 Chronicles 1:32-34; Genesis 25:19-26; Genesis 25:7-11; Genesis 26:1-35

Peace with our Neighbors

Loud noise, not respecting property rights, and even pranks make it difficult to love our neighbors. They may be inconsiderate, mean, or selfish. We might even experience problems with them just because we are Christians or because they are jealous. Some Christians have been especially blessed by God in their families. Not that any family is perfect, but perhaps Mom and Dad are committed to each other for life, all their children are Christians and respectable citizens, have married well, and now their grandchildren are also being blessed. Maybe they also have been blessed by God in business. Because of their industriousness, discipline, and ingenuity they succeed. Perhaps they now own much land and property. When Christians enjoy God’s blessings, their neighbors may become envious and cause trouble. How do they (or we) live peaceably with our neighbors?

After the death of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, he gets remarried and has six more children, although he is an old man. God is blessing Abraham as he promised (Genesis 15:4-6; 17:1-7). This man of faith lives peacefully in the land, but his small family is increasing greatly in size and becoming a large tribe of people. In fact, they are becoming so large, their neighbors fear they will be overtaken.

Sometimes perceived threats can make neighbors nervous. For instance, suppose a rich religious group moves into the neighborhood and starts buying many homes. Would we fear they might take over the neighborhood and force their beliefs upon us? It is only natural to protect what is ours. That protection can bring us into contention with our neighbors. This is what happens between Isaac, Abraham’s chosen son, and the people in Gerar, a city southwest in the land of Canaan (the land of the Philistines), near the Mediterranean Sea—they fear Abraham's family will take over their land. How can we live peacefully with our neighbors?

Living peacefully with our neighbors starts with trust. We need to be genuine Christians (more...) and trust God to take care of us. It is because of God’s grace and his promise to Abraham that Isaac is blessed. If we are blessed, we need to be humble, thankful, and faithfully serve the LORD. Isaac doesn't need to fear his neighbors because God is with him, protecting him. We shouldn't either.

Truth and transparency are also helpful in establishing peace with our neighbors. Isaac is deceptive—he doesn't fully trust God. As in Abraham's time, there is another famine in the land of Canaan. Because of it, Isaac seeks more fertile soil; however, the LORD tells Isaac not to go down to Egypt. So like his father he goes to live in Gerar in the land of the Philistines. There, Isaac copies Abraham’s shrewd behavior—he fears his neighbors might kill him and take his pretty wife and possessions, so he deceives them. He tells them his wife Rebekah is his sister. Like his father, Isaac’s lie gets him into trouble with his neighbors. Lying is a bad way to begin relationships. It makes people angry, and then they don’t trust you. Only because of the grace of God is Isaac protected from his neighbors.

How do we handle contentious neighbors? How would we respond if a neighbor contested the borders of our property or cut down a beautiful tree we planted because he claimed its branches overhung his property? Or, what would we do if our neighbor parked in our space in front of our house, even if the space was actually owned by the city? Would we have fights with him? Would we take him to court?

Look at what happened to Isaac:

Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the LORD blessed him. The man became rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy. He had so many flocks and herds and servants that the Philistines envied him. So all the wells that his father's servants had dug in the time of his father Abraham, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth, (Genesis 26:12-15, NIV).

Three times Isaac tries to reopen the wells but is opposed by the Philistines. They are afraid of him because his family is growing to a great size, and they see Isaac's God is blessing him abundantly. They want distance between their nation and this new large nation cropping up in their backyard; they do not want to face them in a battle some day.

What does Isaac do? He does not fight them. Instead, he moves on until he digs a well which they don't contest, although this is far south of his original dwelling. Are we to give in to injustices? Not necessarily, but why not lay the ground work for good neighbor relations? Just because our neighbor is contentious does not mean we have to be. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1, NIV). If issues fester and come to a head, could we give in and bring healing? Why not rather be hurt or treated unjustly than hurt our testimony for Christ? 2Timothy 2:24 says, “…the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (NIV).

Taking our cue from Isaac and his problems with Abimelech, if things cannot be worked out reasonably, it may be best to give up some space. Sometimes it is better to move than to live in contention with our neighbor, but first let's try to love our neighbor unconditionally. Let's pray about this. God cares for us and our neighbors.

The LORD wants Isaac to settle in Gerar for a time during the famine (eventually, this will be part of Israel's inheritance). Perhaps Isaac is to be a good testimony of God to his neighbor while in Gerar. Let's ask him for a loving heart toward our neighbors. Let's ask the LORD how we may minister to them. Let's ask for peaceful resolutions. Perhaps the LORD will give us a place of peace without moving.

Lessons to Live By

  • Living peacefully with our neighbors starts with trust. We need to be genuine Christians (more...) and trust God to take care of us.
  • We need to be humble and thankful for the LORD's grace in our lives and faithfully serve him.
  • Lying is a bad way to begin relationships. Let's live truthfully and try to live at peace with our neighbors.
  • Just because a neighbor is contentious, does not mean we have to be. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1, NIV).
  • Sometimes it is better to move than to live in contention with our neighbors, but first let's try to love them unconditionally. Perhaps we can provide a positive testimony of God to our neighbors and not have to move.

Focus Verse

2 Timothy 2:24 (NIV) “…the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.”

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A Look Ahead: Even though Isaac succeeds in obtaining peace with his neighbors, he experiences turmoil in his home because of favoritism and over-zealous ambitions. What are the dangers of favoritism and Over-Zealous Ambitions? Find out in our Next Lesson.

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