The Mission of Loving Neighbors
We are in between series right now. We just finished Isaiah and will start a new one on Easter next week. Today I wanted to talk about our mission as a church and use a familiar passage to talk about what we are trying to do.
We want to help people find the peace that is in Jesus Christ. Most people found that peace in the midst of tumultuous times where you learned you could not trust the things you were trusting in and could not live for what you were living for. There are probably people who helped you and went the extra mile. I believe that is what our mission is. To come alongside people and help them. Be there through the ups and downs. I want to look at a passage that reminds us how to do that. This is the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Turn to Luke 10:25-37.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37 NIV)
There are a few questions this passage answers:
- Who is your Neighbor?
This passage starts with a lawyer seeking to test Jesus. He does not have the friendliest of intentions. He asks what to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus questions him on what the law says, and this expert in the law gives a brilliant answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 ESV). Many brilliant minds could not reduce the law to such a simple answer. This man may have heard Jesus teach. The man had no problem with theology. He knows what he is to do and why. The greatest distance for truth to travel is the 18 inches from your head to heart.
He knows we are to love neighbors. He knows it is a reflection of what we think about God. But who is my neighbor.
“Trying to justify himself” also means a less than sincere response and shows he was trying to give good reasons for things he had done. Justify means to “make right” as if there are no faults. He is trying to justify his actions. He has not done what he is supposed to and trying to make it right.
Who is my neighbor???
Similar issue in Matt 5:43 when Jesus taught on loving your enemies. Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” There it is clear the people thought it was OK to hate your enemy. The person of a different nationality clearly isn’t your neighbor so you don’t need to love him. The person of a different religion who lives next door couldn’t possibly be your neighbor. Jesus doesn’t allow you to define you neighbor so it is easy and convenient.
Priests and Levites, the religious leaders are the foil in the story. As those who teach God’s word you think they would abide by the law to love their neighbor and help the man who is hurt. They do not. Both go by, ignoring the man and his needs.
Surprisingly, a Samaritan is the hero of the story. There is a long standing dislike between Jews and Samaritans.
The mutual hatred of Jews and the Samaritans is evident in such passages as John 4:9 where it is said Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, not even over a drink of water. The Jewish kingdom was divided after Solomon’s reign. The 10 northern tribes of Israel formed a nation known as Israel or Samaria. In 722 Samaria fell to the Assyrians and the leading citizens were exiled and dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire. Non-Jewish people were then brought into Samaria. Intermarriage resulted and the rebels became “half-breeds” in the eyes of the southern kingdom. After the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, the Samaritans sought at first to participate in the rebuilding of the temple. Their assistance was rejected. The Samaritans later built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. The Jews attacked and destroyed it in 128 BC. So great was the Jewish and Samaritan hostility that Jesus’ opponents could think of nothing worse to say of him than he is a Samaritan and demon possessed (John 8:48). Notice the lawyer won’t even admit the Samaritan was a neighbor to the man. When asked which proved to be a neighbor he says, “The one who showed mercy.” Easier to say the Samaritan.
By deliberately choosing an outsider to be the hero it indicates that being a neighbor transcends race, religion. This expert in the law is being shown up by one he would consider an enemy. And the story reinforces that.
Our neighbor is anyone we come across. It’s the person next door. It’s the person in the office. It is the person of the other political party, the person of the other religion, the person with the other view on masks, mandates, the person that dresses differently, talks differently, looks different. That is our neighbor. That is who we are to love.
- How do we love our Neighbor?
Jesus expands the definition of neighbor and then he expands what it means to love our neighbor. Go the extra mile.
Love your neighbor, but Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself. I saw my neighbor and waved. Showed him the love of Christ. Did I love him “as yourself.”
The Samaritan treats the stranger more like a brother or friend, like he would want to be treated. He treats him as he would want to be treated. That’s how we are to love others.
He stops for the man. It says he felt compassion for the man – to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence, to be moved with compassion. It was not a theoretical love. It was a deep inward compulsion. This is the difference between the Samaritan and the priest and Levite. They all saw the man but only the Samaritan feels anything for him.
Self-righteous people don’t love well. They see people and think, “should have planned better.” Know there are robbers on this road, should have prepared. Only the Samaritan has compassion. Only the Samaritan looks and says, “apart from the grace of God there I go.”
It’s the Samaritan who looks more like Jesus than the ministers. We are told Jesus when met by a woman who had lost a son,
When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said, “Don’t cry.” (Luk 7:13 CSB)
After telling this story, Jesus tells the lawyer to go and do likewise. Here is the standard of what it means to love your neighbor. That is how you are to love. How does your justification feel now! You might think you don’t need to love others.
- Train Ourselves to See the Needs of Others
Every day we are discipled by the world to only think about ourselves. That is the message trumpeted loud and clear in all the commercials we see, all the movies. “You do you.” “Be who you are.” “Follow your heart, and my heart ain’t taking me to the man in the ditch.”
We are trained to be selfish. That is our default setting. Black hole. For when a star collapses inward at the end of its life cycle. It can then grow by absorbing other mass. The pull inward becomes so strong that not even light can escape the massive pull of gravity. We can become black holes. So focused on ourselves and what we need. No concern for others. No awareness of their needs. We become critical of others. Seek to put them down to make ourselves better. Just protect my own comfort. Spiral of sadness, depression, loneliness. Life is found in giving; not in taking. Jesus teaches us to be others focused.
It is very easy to become useless for God’s kingdom. We just keep saying no to anything that is not easy or convenient. yes to the things that make our lives so busy.
We need to train ourselves to see the needs in our community. We may not live in an area where we see people lying on the side of the road, unable to get up or provide for their basic needs. I’m not saying there are no financial needs, but I am saying that we live in an area where affluence allows people to put a little extra duct tape over their problems. People can buy expensive facades.
We also need to look below the surface. Do you see the hurts around you? We live in an area where there just are not many people laying on the side of the road helpless. We do not live in an area where many people are starving for food and provision. We live in an area that people have great facades. You have to get below the surface.
In our area the greater struggles lie hidden beneath the surface. People are lonely, angry, anxious, worn out, spread too thin, depressed, hopeless.
Iceberg. Over 87 percent of an ice berg lies below the surface.
Ask questions: slow down and ask how are you doing? Be willing to hear. what are you grateful for? What is stressing you out? Probe people. Ask how they are doing. Jesus asked questions. First disciples were following him and he asked, “What do you want?” That is a powerful question.
It can be intimidating because you don’t know what to say. Pray for them. Ask a friend later what you could say or do for them. I’m convinced many times that people need to know others care and are there, more than they need the detailed plan of all the right things they need to do. Plans are great. Love is greater.
Slow down and look at people. Get to know them. Have some margin in your life that lets you do that. So busy we don’t have time to slow down. Might just be good for you. Give. Help others. Jesus worked others in. He works you in to his busy schedule. Don’t ask him for help and be unwilling to help another. You’re mad he hasn’t heard your prayer and you haven’t heard what he is calling you to do.
Just be with people. Your kids need you more than they need your advice. They need a relationship. Just enjoy being married. Just spend time with people without trying to fix everything in their life. That will come. And pray that it does. But it’s really the difference in genuinely loving someone and you wanting them to be who you think they need to be in that moment.
Know life is busy. Is Jesus in charge of the business?
- Move Toward the Mess.
The Samaritan moved toward the one with the need. When you move toward people you can better assess the situation. Move away and say I didn’t see anything.
Isn’t this what Jesus did. Countless times he moved toward people. I mean even right now in this passage this expert in the law isn’t trying to build a friendship but rather is testing Jesus and trying to justify himself rather than learn what Jesus has to say. And Jesus is working with him. He isn’t running or saying, I just need to hang out with my bros.
It’s counter intuitive to interrupt your life to help someone else. Our flesh recoils from awkward situations, we don’t want to be near people struggling and cut deep by life. Moving to the opposite side of the road is enticing. We need to see the power of going towards the hurting and the lost.
The Marines advertise and boast about going toward danger. An advertisement from their website says this,
MOST PEOPLE HEAR THE SOUNDS OF CHAOS
AND RUN IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION
BUT THERE ARE A FEW
WHO LISTEN INTENTLY FOR THESE SOUNDS
NOT IN THE HOPES OF HEARING THEM
BUT TO HELP RID THE WORLD OF THEM.
THEY ARE THE FIRST TO MOVE
TOWARD THE SOUNDS OF
THEY ARE THE FIRST TO MOVE
TOWARD THE SOUNDS OF CHAOS
The few, the proud, the Marines.
Don’t you love the bold heroism that’s unafraid. Isn’t that who the Samaritan was. Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to.
We all want to help others. We all want to influence others. Jesus frees us from the rat race of life and self-preservation and leads to the path of life. It requires putting others first and loving them as we do ourselves. This is what Christianity has been known for.
Helping people is what set the early Christians apart. There would be famines and plagues and Christians went to help people. They didn’t pass by on the other side.
The service of the early church was such that the pagan emperor Julian saw people turning to Jesus and he became concerned. Let me read this quote. Now Julian considered the Roman gods to be what should be worshipped and Christianity therefore was atheism. He said,
Why do we not observe that it is their [the Christians’] benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [unbelief of the pagan gods]? For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well,
The early Christians were taking care of not only their own people but the other people. Some saw and wanted to follow who they were following. Julian saw and hated it.
We also need to see the needs around us. Change a tire, pick someone up. Eat lunch with someone.
One way Christians need to do this is being willing to cross the street and be with those who have different values. Be with those who are not as mature. Where life is messy.
We live in a time of social polarization. Political. Social. Religious. It means right now when you go into the community or even as people come in the door here. Take four people: two may have a rich experience in the church, Bible, etc and the other two have virtually none. We need to go to the other side to help them know God’s word. Don’t sit with arms folded waiting for people to come to you.
~There is a lot of hurt in the world that can only be healed by Jesus. And people need to know how he saves us from everything that is wrong in the world.
We are encouraging a push to invite people to Easter. I’m not doing this to get a crowd in here. If I really wanted that, we would do a concert, get a band, we could get a crowd. We are doing this because people are hurting and struggling and need to know God’s plan for their lives.
Let’s be the church, the people God calls us to be. Let’s push and encourage one another. Let’s look for the hurting in our midst and pray for them, talk with them.
If we want to be a people that is impacting the community we need to be willing to be available. We need to be willing to be at meetings, to sit with people and get to know them. It may mean at times being willing to ask for help. It may take being willing to give of our time. Small groups don’t work if you are not there. Church doesn’t work if you are not there. Collectively owning that.
The church is the organization Jesus told us to commit to. A group of believers who are trying to make Jesus known in the world.
Let’s stop for others because Jesus stopped for us. He saw all of our sin and knew how to deal with it. He saw all of our hopelessness and knew how to give assurance. He saw our aimlessness and gave us direction. He slowed down and had compassion on us, and he calls us to do the same for others.
Let’s invite people to church. If we believe the gospel is the solution to all of our problems then no matter what their problem they are going to be helped here. Get in the habit of inviting others. Whatever their problem.
A friend of mine was once inviting someone to church and that person said they needed to work and couldn’t take time off to go to church. My friend looked and said, “There were two lumberjacks that got paid for cutting down trees. One cut down 70 and worked 7 days a week. Another cut down 80 trees and worked 6 days a week. Do you know how the one was able to cut down 80 trees in only six days? You have to take time off to sharpen your saw. Coming to my church is like sharpening your saw.
- How does the lawyer try to justify himself? How do you try to justify yourself? How does Jesus justify us?
- What in this parable most challenges you to love others? Who can you be a better neighbor to?
- How does the gospel motivate you to compassionately love others?