Love Your Neighbor: The Call of the Jericho Road (Matthew Sermon 114 of 151)
February 21, 2010 | Andy Davis
The Law of God, Brotherly Love, Good Works, Love of God
There are some journeys that we take in life, some roads that we can get on that just change our lives. They are memorable roads. I think about one in particular, the Karakoram highway, I saw with my own eyes in 1987, in the northwest frontier province of Pakistan and on into China. The most spectacular stretch of scenery I've ever seen in my life, the Karakoram mountains, the second highest mountain range in the world just like another world, it was. Mountains over 20,000 feet high and the Indus River flowing beside the highway, just cobalt blue and just kind of eerie as though we were on another planet. And just I thought about the beauty of this world and it made me yearn for the new heaven, the new earth, the home of righteousness, and how beautiful it was.
And though I foolishly rode on the top of the van on the luggage rack, I wouldn't trade it for the world, I really wouldn't. I'll never forget that. They would not let you do it here, they'd pull you down, and arrest you or something, but over there they don't care if you die or not, they really don't. So you can ride up there, and the scenery was incredible.
But I remember a year before that, another mission trip, I was on a different highway, a different road, a different trip I took it was in the streets of Mombasa, and we were there at the end of the last week of a 10-week mission trip, and we were there, it was in a resort area and we were having a final time together, a time of prayer and Bible study. It was a beautiful area, but some of us took a ride into the poorer area of Mombasa and just to see what the city was like and to pray for the people.
And I remember distinctly that ride as well, very, very unforgettable ride. We were in this air conditioned, expensive minivan and surrounded by poverty that I had never seen. This was my first trip out of the country, summer of '86. And I just felt like it was somehow a symbol of the way that I could live my life in this world, a sinful way. A way in which I'm enclosed by luxury and comfort and security and air conditioning and all that, and out there is all this poverty and suffering. And I just resolved before the Lord, I didn't wanna live that kind of life. I didn't wanna stay in that air conditioned, safe, secure bubble when there's all these suffering people outside.
I had another ride a number of years later, through Port-au-Prince, along the Cité Soleil and it's a different highway there. And my guess is, now probably they're clearing it with rubble; they have to have that highway, so maybe it's been cleared by now, I don't know. But I will never forget just the view of, without question, the greatest poverty I've ever seen in my life, a tent city there in which half-clothed children come out and stoop down and scoop up muddy water out of puddles and put them in bottles and screw the top on and then run back into the city there, and I wonder what they're gonna do with that water. And just a vision there of poverty. And again, something calling out to me at least to pray if not to minister more securely. When I heard the news of the earthquake in Haiti, I immediately thought of the Cité Soleil and all of the misery and suffering there is there.
So this morning, we're going to look down, I think a very dangerous road. And we're gonna call it the Jericho Road; we're gonna look down the Jericho Road. It's a road of self-sacrifice, a road of being searched by the law of God, so that we can find out what's in our hearts. Tim Keller said of the Jericho Road, “The road to Jericho is steep and dangerous, so dangerous in fact that people have called it the ‘Bloody Way.’ Jerusalem rests at 3,000 feet above sea level, but Jericho, only 17 miles away, is actually 1,000 feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. So the road between the towns descends sharply through mountainous territory full of crags and caves allowing thieves to hide and strike and escape with great ease. Traveling the Jericho Road in those days was much like walking through a dark alley in the worst part of a modern city except that it was many miles to the nearest street light.”
So you get the picture of a very dangerous road. But that Jericho Road is not dangerous merely because there are brigands on it who could jump out at you and assault you and take your precious possessions. Jesus meant a different kind of danger. Or I might say a different kind of challenge. It's dangerous for us to consider because here on the Jericho Road, the Lord Jesus confronts us with our own selfishness. Here on the Jericho Road, the Lord Jesus confronts us and asks, “Will you really love your neighbor as yourself? Will we love our neighbors as ourselves or will we just love ourselves? Will we spend ourselves on behalf of others, or will we pass by in safety wasting the opportunities for good works that God has given us?”
Now, this Jericho Road, I contend, can happen any time, any place. It can happen in your own homes, when your spouse demands more of you at that moment than you feel you wanna give. That's the Jericho Road. The Jericho Road can happen in your neighborhood when you find out that your neighbor has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, what will you do? Are you gonna minister or not? Jericho Road can happen as you stand in line at Walmart and there's a father and a son having a conversation, the son wants to buy something, the father who's now unemployed can't afford. And they have that conversation. I don't know what to do about that situation. I'm just saying I'm feeling confronted at that moment by the needs around us. It can happen at a stop light, when someone stands there with a hand-painted sign and tries to catch your eye and tries to get money from you.
It can happen at church when you see a newcomer standing alone at the end of worship service and you don't know them, and you feel within yourself a desire not to go talk to somebody you don't know, but instead you just stay with what's safe and easy. That's the Jericho Road. It searches us all the time. It has to do with interactions with other human beings, any human being, any time, any place, who has a need that you might be able to meet. And therefore it's dangerous for us; it challenges us because if we learn to walk the walk of the priest or the Levite in the parable, it becomes a very easy habit pattern to follow, and you probably know what I'm talking about. You look. You see. You look away. You pass by on the other side of the road. It's a very easy habit to get into, and all of us have that habit pattern within us, and so Jesus told this story to challenge us.
Everyday we're surrounded by people with needs and sometimes those needs are overwhelming. And the relentless call of Jesus in the law, this is law for us, the relentless call of Jesus Christ every moment of the day is that we should pour out ourselves, our time, our effort, our resources in benefiting others, caring for others.
So last week, we began to look at this study, this topic. What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? And today, we seek even more clarity.
The Two Great Commandments
Context: Final Week of Jesus’ Life
So we're continuing really our series of Matthew, but we're going sideways over to Luke to try to understand this second greatest commandment. Our context in Matthew is the final week of Jesus's life. He's in a bunch of conflicts with his enemies. They're testing him; they're searching him.
And this lawyer comes up and asks which is the greatest commandment in the law. As you remember, Jesus gives this very orthodox somewhat predictable answer. “Now Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
If I can just stop and say these things are not for me, as a Christian, just commands. They are in fact promises. I always think of that, someday it's gonna be true of me in Christ. Amen. Isn't that glorious to just think about that? I don't think we can ever think about it too much, but I don't think we can ever be convicted by it too much either while we're in this life. So it has to have both that and that aspect of work in us. So we will be both convicted and we will be hopeful as we know that the Lord is by his spirit going to fulfill these things in us.
Last Week: The Commandments are Intertwined
So last week, I made the case that these two commandments are absolutely intertwined. You can't pick and choose between them; they are not equal commands. There is a first and greatest command and the second that's like it, but they are absolutely intertwined. I said that you cannot love your neighbor, if you don't first love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you would love your neighbor more than you love God, you would be making your neighbor an idol and you can't do that. God must take top priority in your lives
And so it is really not possible to have non-Christian fulfillment of this second great command. It can't be done. You have to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength in order to love your neighbor in such a way that God is pleased. However, it's not enough to just love God, is it?
It's clear that Jesus inserted the second commandment because it is vital for us to understand it, they're intertwined. And so, in 1 John 4:20 it says, “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and yet hates his brother, he is a liar; for anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” And there are many other such verses. You cannot pick and choose. We must both love God and our neighbor.
What Does it Mean to Love Your Neighbor As Yourself?
Last week, I gave this definition of what it means to love your neighbor: Love is cheerful sacrifice for the benefit of another person and for the glory of God. And so we said last time that love has both an internal heart aspect and an external physical or bodily or active aspect. There is that heart affection, which is essential to the love; we must genuinely from the heart, love. And then there is that sacrificial service that results in beneficial action. And so it must be cheerful, it must come from the heart, out of a connection, a love that we have a movement in the heart. But it must not end there, it must go out into sacrificial service.
And the more sacrifice there is we can say the greater the love is. John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this that he laid down his life for his friends.” So we measure love by sacrifice. The more it pinches at you, the more it costs you something, the more inconvenient it is, the more expensive it is, if you give it cheerfully as an act of worship to God, now that's what God is talking about; that is love for the neighbor. So there are those two aspects; there is the heart attraction, and then there's moving out in beneficial sacrificial service.
So Christ was our example. I zeroed in on one verse in particular. Mark 1:41, which I cited last week. This is just review. But there “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Filled with compassion. Jesus reached out his hand touched the man, ‘I am willing,’ he said, ‘Be clean.’”
So there is a very good picture of the two parts of love I'm talking about. Filled with a movement of compassion, my heart is knit toward you. I am in your situation; your pain has become my pain. Filled with that compassion, Jesus reaches out his hand and heals him. And so this is the sacrificial service of Christ.
Now, I want to bring up and ask this one question then. In the words of the command, what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? To love your neighbor as yourself. Does this teach the prior need for some kind of comfortable feeling of self-esteem before we can actually do anything for anybody else? Does it give us a command that we ought to be loving ourselves. And then having loved ourselves, we are then to love our neighbor out of the overflow of our self-love? You can kinda tell where I'm heading with this, but I'm going ahead and couching the terms. Is that what it teaches? Or does it in effect, teach you, you already do love yourself, now love your neighbor like you're loving yourself.
And so, I tell you that you hear a lot of this these days, you can't love anyone else until you love yourself, this kind of self-esteem. So first, you need to love yourself, then you'll be fit and ready to love your neighbor as yourself.
In my opinion, I think people suffer and struggle with self-esteem because they're being disobedient to the commands of God. It's true of all of us. If you're struggling with your self-image it's generally because in your conscience, you have a sense that something's not right. And so therefore it doesn't make much sense to say, “I can't obey these commands of God, until I feel better about myself.” Friends, that is a quick downward spiral.
I don't think that's what it's teaching here; grammatically in the Greek, it asserts that we really do already love ourselves. This is the measure of love. There's no command here; you cannot find a command to love yourself here. Rather it's assumed that you already do love yourself. And so, in effect, Jesus is saying that you should seek the highest, the greatest good for your neighbor, the way you seek the greatest good for yourself. In effect, Jesus is basically saying “You shall seek the good of your neighbor, just as you naturally seek your own good. Nourish and cherish your needy neighbor, just as you by nature nourish and cherish yourself.”
Now, a key verse on understanding it this way is Ephesians Chapter 5 which talks about the husband's responsibility to love his wife. And you know in Ephesians 5:28-29, it says, “In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself; after all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it.” So what Paul is saying is, you do love yourself. You do look after your own needs, husbands. You do care for your physical needs; do the same for your wife. That's what it's saying there.
I think that we can take that concept and extend it generally to the second greatest commandment. So every act of kindness and care you show to your own body, and you've shown many this week; you don't even recognize how many different ways you minister to your body. I mean, if you're uncomfortable, you shift around in your seat. I see some of you doing that from time to time.
If you have an itch, you'll do what it takes to scratch it. As I've talked about before, I get those right between my shoulder blades. You know what I'm talking about? Right in the center, right between, it is almost at my age, physically impossible to reach it. At least not without a trauma of pain on my shoulder, alright. And I found that my shoulder amazingly is willing to sacrifice for that part of skin in the center between my shoulder blades; it's amazing the things that my shoulder's willing to do for that little piece of skin that's having some strange tingling. And so, you reach back there. Well, anyway, I'm not gonna demonstrate but you know what I'm talking about. You do love yourself dear friends.
If you're cold, you get a sweater, you get a blanket, you put it on, you change the thermostat. If you're hungry, you go make yourself something to eat. If you're craving some attention, you go get some attention. If you want some encouragement you fish for it.
And I'm not saying all these are appropriate ways that we love ourselves. I'm just telling you, you love yourself. I would say you relentlessly love yourself. We actually discussed even the cases of suicide. And John Piper in his book from one of the things he writes about that he says even somebody who's committing suicide is seeking something for him or herself. A release from the pain, that kind of thing. And actually I find it to be an exceptionally selfish mindset without hardly any thought at all about the ramifications of those that are left behind, So I'm saying it's just a natural law. You're going to do good to yourself, you're gonna love yourself, you're gonna care for yourself. Do the same for your neighbor.
I think that's what Jesus is saying. Think about your neighbor's needs just as you think about your own. And so in Philippians 2:4, it says “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” The non-Christian, the natural state, is to be fanatical about looking after your own interests. The Christian adds to this, the interests of others. It says in Philippians 2:21, “Everyone looks out for his own interests,” this is that kind of Darwinian, dog-eats-dog, “look out for number one” mentality that I think has made this world such a miserable place to live in. Jesus has shown us a better way; he's shown us a way of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, denying yourself and your own needs, so that somebody else's needs can be met.
And so a loving Christian then learns to see others' needs as if they were his own. He looks at urban poverty and says, “What would it be like if I lived there? What would I need?” He's looking at unemployed people and saying, “What can I do?” Matthew talked to me this morning about Jobs for Life. Listen, it's a tremendous ministry and we have as many as 11 or more students that are getting ready for this, we need some. We need some ladies that will be willing to help. But they just... You look at that and you say, “What would it be like if I lived in that situation?” There's an expansion of vision that happens when you genuinely love. Stepping out of your own comfort zone and your self-satisfaction and taking on the misery of others.
As a Christian you look at the lostness of co-workers and you say, “What would it be like for me if I were without hope and without God in this world?” And how joyful would it be if somebody would be a messenger of the Gospel to come to me? A Christian, a loving Christian looks at total strangers in public places, in terms of what needs do you have that I can meet? Can I hold the door for you? Can I let you go first in the check out line? Can I give you the last empty seat on an airplane and wait for the next flight even? Can I stop in the rain and help you change a flat tire? These are just mentalities of Christians. This is what it means, horizontally, to love your neighbor as yourself.
Heart Affection Described: 1 Corinthians 13
Basic Concept: Without Love, Sacrifice is Worthless
Now, last time I said there are two great texts to look at these two aspects of love, alright? There's that heart affection aspect that without that heart affection it isn't genuinely loving in the sight of God. It's hypocrisy, really. It's just an outward show, so there has to be something from the heart and I said, 1 Corinthians 13 describes it better than any other passage in the Bible.
Just by way of review, the basic concept is, you can have tremendous sacrifice, but you can do it without love, and it will be nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:3. “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames but have not love, I gain nothing.” But I tell you, you look at a verse, like that. And you realize just how relentless Jesus is for us. I don't know hardly anybody that would really even do it, but it could be that somebody could do it and Jesus would still say, “I have this against you,” isn't that amazing when you think about it?
He's standing over all of us and saying “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Hence my statement earlier how sweet it is for us as Christians to look at it, not just as commands, but promises. Oh God, do this in me, it's impossible for me to reach so high in my life.
Was Jesus delighted to give himself, to surrender his body? You know he really was. For the joy that was set before him he did it. Not the thing itself, not the process, that was miserable. But for what he got out of it, he was delighted to die for you and me. That's a beautiful thing.
Love is a Heart State Described in Detail Here
And so you've got to have that internal heart state of delight, that joy, that connection that happens between you and the person, described in this way: “Love is patient, love is kind, doesn't envy, it doesn't boast, it's not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it's not rude, it's not self-seeking, it does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
So this is the heart condition that we discussed last time. But we also said it's not enough to just feel those feelings for somebody. It's gotta move out. It's gotta move out. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. We've got these hands that are given to serve, so we move out and we've got to act.
Sacrificial Action Described: Luke 10
And I think the best passage for describing that lifestyle, sacrificial love for neighbor, is this parable. It seemed to be in Jesus' mind. He wants to describe how you love your neighbor as yourself. That's why he told this story. And so, look at Luke 10, if you're not already there, just take a minute and look at Luke 10:25-37.
Context: Earlier in Jesus’ Life, Same Question
Now the context here of Luke 10 is earlier in Jesus' life. It's the same issue, however. It's the same question. He's just dealing with it again, but just earlier. And this time the lawyer that he's talking to, it says is seeking to justify himself. The Lord comes and asks him the question, which is the greatest commandments and all that? And he says, “Well, what do you think?” And puts it back on Jesus. And he gives a perfect answer. This is a guy who's gonna do well in a theology exam, both beginning and end he gets the right answers all the time.
The Effort at Self Justification
But Jesus, I think, at that point then says, “You have answered correctly, do this and live.” And then turns and talks to somebody else, kinda leaves him in the lurch at that moment, looking perhaps a little embarrassed. I think we already knew that, didn't we? So, he seeks, it says, “to justify himself.” You ought to just freeze your eyes right on that. Look on that text as if it were a mirror. I don't think there's one of us sinners here that doesn't seek in some way to justify ourselves when it comes to the second command. Or I could use another word, to excuse ourselves from service. “I don't need to take care of that person for the following reasons, I already worked this out. I've got the theology all worked out. I know why I don't need to do that because this person is this kind of person and they did this…” And you don't have to do it.
And so this lawyer sought to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Basically what he's saying is, “Please tell me that what I have done already is already enough. I'm already in. I'm already there based on what I've done. Tell me that. Tell me, I'm already fine. Please don't even tell me that I'm doing well, keep doing... I don't even wanna hear that. I wanna hear that I've already achieved. I'm already there.”
So he sought to justify himself. What a warning it is. We think we don't need to love our neighbor if he is what we call undeserving poor. What do we mean by undeserving poor? Well, somebody whose poverty is because of their own sin. Friends, who's left after a while? I mean, who's left? We're gonna look at somebody and say we're only gonna give to the deserving poor. The ones that really, really deserve our attention. Do you not realize how arrogant that sounds to God?
Did we deserve to be saved by Jesus? He didn't use that with us, but we excuse. Here's an able-bodied man who should be out working for himself, and I'm not gonna give him a penny. I'm not saying we ought to give him money, but I'm saying we ought not to turn away from him. I'm saying there ought to be some ministry. We think we don't need to love our neighbor as ourselves if he's a stranger or possibly dangerous or will involve us deeper than we want to be involved. Well, that may be the case, but that's more of a searching of our own hearts. We tend to draw the boundary lines around who we should love so tightly that it excuses most of our unloving relationships. I'll say more on this at the end.
Two Key Questions the Parable Answers
There are two key questions that this parable answers. What are these two key questions? Number one, is what is the question the lawyer asks, who is my neighbor? So simply put, who should we love? The parable's told to give us the answer to that question, “Who is my neighbor?” And he tells the parable as an answer to that question.
But secondly, I think it also answers, “How should we love him?” It gives us a display of how we should love our neighbor.
The Parable Related
So you understand the story, there's this deadly, dangerous Jericho Road, and there are five different people in the tale. First is the victim, and I think it's key to note that we know absolutely nothing about him. I mean nothing. What do we know about this guy? We know he's on the Jericho Road and he got attacked; that's all we know about him. We don't know if he's Jewish. We don't know if he's Samaritan, might be Roman. We don't know anything about him. We don't know if he's rich, if he's poor, if he's old, if he's young. We don't know anything about this individual. And I think it's very striking because again, this is the question that Jesus is seeking to answer.
Who is my neighbor? Answer: This guy. Who is it? Well, what do we know about him? You don't need to know anything about him except that he has a need. It's an individual, a human being, in need. So basically, Jesus is saying, “Your neighbor is anyone in need.”
Then you've got the robbers. We don't know many things about them either, except that they're exceptionally selfish individuals who are willing to break the laws of God and man to take from this individual what they think is best. Basically, their motto would be something like this, “What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine if I can take it from you.” And there are some people that live like that.
But then you've got the priest, and then you've got the Levite; they're the same guy, so I'm gonna have them be the same guy. Is that okay? The priest and the Levite are the same guy, just times two. So who are they? Well, their motto would be something like this, “What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours. Have a good day. Live and let live. I don't wanna get involved.”
And what's so striking about both the priest and the Levite is they see the individual lying there by the side of the road. “He saw him and passed by on the other side.” “He saw him and passed by on the other side,” it's very significant. The good Samaritan, he sees him and ministers. So, this sight is so important. Take them into you with your eyes. Look at him. Look at him. These are individuals that are choosing to be willfully ignorant. I don't wanna know much more than I already know. I already know more than I wanna know.
And so they pass by. Why did they pass by on the other side, why not like walk right by him? Well, it's a little uncomfortable. I wanna put as much distance between us and the misery and the suffering as we can. Hence that air conditioned bubble that was in me in Mombasa. There's this, “I want a gap, a safe space.”
And, you know, it's amazing how we can actually carve out a lifestyle in which you hardly ever see any suffering people. It's actually easy to do. And by the way, I think some of the worst, most terrifying sins that there are in life are those sins of omission, the things that you ought to do and don't do. That's how these folks did, the priest and Levite, they're on some holy mission, I guess. I don't know. They're going to Jerusalem; they're gonna do something for God, but they don't do clearly what God wants them to do.
And so those sins of omission are just scary, aren't they really. Because it says in Matthew 25, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will gather all the nations before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” And he's going to put the sheep on his right, and the goats on his left. And then after commending the sheep, he says to the goats, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me. I was sick and in prison, and you did not look after me.”
They didn't do anything. They just didn't do what they should have done. “‘Now when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger needing clothes or sick or in prison and not help you?’ ‘Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did not do for me.’” What would it be like to see a replay of our lives and see all of the possible ministries we could have had if only we'd been more attentive? And therefore, you ought to be pleading for open eyes as a result of this sermon. Just say, “God give me grace, give me eyesight to see opportunities I've been missing. I've gotten in the habit of passing by. I don't wanna keep doing that. Give me a new eyesight here.” I'm praying it for myself too.
And then you have the innkeeper. His motto is, “What's mine is yours if you'll pay me for it.” So there's an individual who is willing to help if he gets something beneficial in this life out of it. He's a mercenary.
And then there's the good Samaritan basically, “What's mine is yours if you need it. If you need it, I'll give it to you.” So Jesus, I think specifically chose a Samaritan because he was trying to offend. I don't know what it is, is that what he's doing? I don't know, maybe the parables are that way, but Jesus is trying to get you to listen. And by choosing the Samaritan, who they would have despised, as the good guy in the story, it just shows Jesus' nature.
Look what he does. Look what he does. He stops his own life. He invests himself fully. He gives of his time, he even spends the whole night caring for the man. The man's well-being has become his whole focus. He set aside his own agenda. We don't know where he was going, or what he was doing, but that's done now at least for the night. He gives of his money, pays silver coins to the innkeeper for whatever costs there may be, and he promises to come back later to finish his care and see that he's fully recovered. That's how he sacrifices, that's what he does, that's what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
The Summary Command
And so at the end of that then Jesus sums it all up. “‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’” Like I said, he's good at the right answers; he's a good right answer giver. And so he was like, “Oh, the one who had mercy.” Right you are. “Go and do likewise,” said Jesus. You know these things. You'll be blessed if you do them. That's in effect what he's saying. Go and do likewise. This, I think, is a categorical command from our Savior to us to love our neighbor like this. Go and do likewise.
The Questions Answered
Well, it leaves all kinds of questions still in our hearts, but He does answer the two questions. Remember I said there are two questions. Alright, who is my neighbor? Anyone in need, providentially, anybody who crosses your path, anybody you know about, anybody in need. He's a human being, he's in need of something, providentially in my life, I see him.
By the way, do you not see how that self-esteem interpretation just doesn't fit? Imagine as he's going along the side of the road there's the good Samaritan and he sees the man there and he kinda sits down next to him as the man is bleeding there. Says, “I want you to know I really would like to help, but I've just really been feeling gloomy about myself recently. I've been struggling with my self-esteem. I haven't really liked myself very much. I don't feel good in public settings, and I'm just not well put together right now, wish I could help.” He gets up and walks off.
I have a hard time fitting it into the parable. It's like there's this need and guess what happens? Out go questions of self-esteem. They're just out. Here's a guy with a need. Let's go for it. Guess what? When you live your life like that, all of a sudden, you realize it's been years since you've worried about how you were about yourself. You're just happy, productive, fruitful and energetically serving Christ and healthy, really, really healthy and happy. I already said that didn't I? But anyway, happy and healthy and well put together. You're not asking, “Can I really do this?” And so I think that kind of answers it, who is my neighbor? Any needy person at all. And what does it mean to love him as myself? Sacrificial acts of service.
Provocative Questions Remaining
But there are still some questions remaining, aren't there? Is mercy ministry necessary or essential to the Christian life? Like, can I not do this and still go to heaven? Let's realize the original question is, “What must I do to get eternal life?” in Luke 10; that was the original context. Jesus in effect is saying, “Do this.” Is this teaching works salvation? Well, we know it's not, but it appears that Jesus sees care for the poor and the needy as of the essence of being a Christian; it's of the essence of the Christian life. Well, another question may pop in your mind, what is the scope and dimension of my life of loving my neighbor? Like the lawyer, aren't we ready to ask in different ways who is my neighbor?
Tim Keller, in his book, Mercy Ministry: The Call of the Jericho Road lists ways that modern Christians seek to escape costly ministry to the poor and needy by making excuses and asking these kinds of questions. “Just how far do we have to go?” “You don't mean that we should pour ourselves out for anyone and everyone do you?” “Doesn't charity begin at home?” “You don't mean that every Christian must get deeply involved with hurting and needy people. I'm not really very good at that kind of work. It's really not my gift.” “I have a busy schedule, and I'm actually extremely active in my church.”
You start to see that the priest and the Levite kind of answer is going on here. “I've got things I gotta do for the church.” “Isn't this sort of thing the government's job anyway?” Well, we can get into that discussion another time. “I barely have enough money for myself and frankly aren't many of the poor really just personally irresponsible? Isn't it the case that if they would just get their act together, that things will be better in their lives?”
And realistically, “how far should we go?” You can see anything you wanna see all over the world. You can see the Haiti earthquake, within hours after it's happened. Or maybe even while it's happening, I mean, are we really supposed to care for everybody that's hurting and broken all over the world?
These are real questions that come into our hearts. My question is this, how can we really be transformed as individuals, so that we actually obey these commands as God intends? That's my question, how can FBC become, without question, a loving church in this community that does the good works God has ordained for us to do? That's my question. So that we are not excusing ourselves from good works and missing, friends, so many blessings that God has for us to do. Are we not living in the Jericho road right now, every day?
Priorities in Love
Gospel Coalition Talk on Mercy Ministry
Now some time ago, I gave a talk at The Gospel Coalition in Chicago on this topic and I want to lay out quickly, some, I think biblical priorities in helping us to sort this out.
The first priority I laid out is this: Justification before ministry. And by this, I'm talking to you as an individual. Please be sure that you yourselves are justified by faith in Christ, apart from works of the law before you even try to do these things. They came in John 6 and said, “What must we do to work the works of God?” And Jesus said, “This is the work of him who sent me, that you believe in the one that he is sent.”
Let's start there. I said it early in the sermon. I'll say it again. Do not try to do mercy ministry if you're not certain that your sins are forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ. We are not saved by doing mercy ministry, friends. We are saved by someone else's mercy ministry to us, Jesus. And then we're saved to do mercy ministries for others, but we're not justified by our works. So let's be sure that we have that. Have you trusted in Christ? Are your sins forgiven through faith in His blood? Have you let Jesus wash not just your feet, but your hands and your head and your whole soul in his cleansing grace and mercy? Have you let him do that for you? Then set aside everything else I'm saying and just come to Christ, if you haven't yet. That's priority number one: Justification before ministry.
Priority number two is: Ministry to the soul above ministry to the body. It is more important to minister to the soul than it is to minister to the body. Jesus settled this forever when he said, “What would it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” He said it in John 6, after the feeding of the 5,000. “Do not labor for the food that spoils,” he said to the poor. “Do not labor for the food that spoils but for the food that endures to eternal life.” And so that's our message in mercy ministry here, in any kind of loving of the poor and needy must be gospel proclamation above all else. Now, it doesn't mean temporally it has to come first. Sometimes you feed them some soup or do some things, but in that there's a seeking and a yearning to have that gospel conversation and to share the gospel. So ministry to the soul above ministry to the body; it does not mean we don't minister to the body, friends. Just setting out priorities. So we want to minister to the soul because it's eternal.
Thirdly, ministry to the family of believers and to our own families above ministry to outsiders. This is a clear biblical priority. First and foremost, God has arranged most of the people in the world in families to care for their overwhelming ongoing needs of food, clothing, and shelter. It is clearly too much for the church to care for the food, clothing, and shelter needs of everybody in the district. That is something families are supposed to take care of. And so it says in 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he's denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” He's talking there about in context ministry to the widows and be sure that they're truly widows in need. Be sure that they don't have a son that can take care of them, and he ought to take care of them.
And then a little side step from that is we need a minister to Christians, first and foremost, above ministry to non-Christians. And you get this again from Galatians 6:10. “Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family believers.” There's a priority structure there. So we're gonna minister to Christians as they have need, especially within our own church and then outward from there. But this doesn't mean we don't minister to non-Christians. It's just a priority structure.
Fourth, ministry to the poor above ministry to the rich. Jesus provokes us with this teaching. Luke 14, “Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and you'll be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’” So there's a clear priority structure there. Find out those that are genuinely needy and minister to them, but this doesn't mean that we have no ministry to the rich. The rich can be hurting in other ways, significantly hurting, and so we need a minister to them as well.
Applications and Challenges
Alright, so what applications and challenges, do we take from this? Well, I'm already challenged. I know about you. I look at these kinds of things, and I say, “Lord, how can I live a life pleasing to you?” I think basically what I get from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 is each day has enough trouble of its own. Let's put it positively, each day has enough ministry opportunities of its own. Let's do the good works that God has ordained for us to do today. Let's do them today and let's find out what they are.
Loving Your Spouse as Yourself
Let's love our neighbor as ourself within our own family. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church. Love her, cherish her, take care of her. Wives love your husbands, pray for your husbands, build them up, encourage them. 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient, love is kind,” let's really do that.
Loving Your Children as Yourself
Parents love your children, cherish them, pour yourselves out for them and into them, pray for them, set them a good example, be tender-hearted and compassionate with them. Paul says to the Thessalonians, he says, “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children; you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of the Lord.” That's how fathers and mothers should be. So do that; love your children.
Loving Your Neighborhood Partner (Neighbor) as Yourself
And let's love our geographical neighbors right in our own neighborhoods. It's like I'm not sure we have neighborhoods anymore. It's amazing, the modern technology has made neighborhood's almost like a thing of the past. There's so much seclusion these days, do you see it? It's really hard. If you don't think I'm right, then just go knock on someone's door, ring their doorbell if it even works. And they'll be surprised to see you. I'm not saying you should do that as a ministry strategy, I'm just telling you some things have broken down. Maybe we ought to start rebuilding our commitment to our physical neighbors, to see who's around us, and how we can minister to them. Ask God for opportunities to do it; ask God for help. You're not on your own in all of this.
Loving Your Fellow Church Member as Yourself
And what about fellow church members, how can we love our fellow church members as we love ourselves? Well, I would begin with prayer. I would start with prayer lists and find out how people are hurting. They frequently will tell that on the prayer list, so go find it and say, “Okay this isn't just a line on a piece of paper, this is so and so who's saying that such and such is going on in his or her life.” Think about it. Take it to God in prayer as though it were happening to you, and think if this were happening to you, what kind of ministry would mean something to you? How could somebody minister to me.”
Loving Your Urban Neighbor or International Neighbor as Yourself
Love your urban neighbor and your international neighbor as yourself. Different ministries, I already mentioned Jobs For Life. We have a growing ministry in an urban setting that's getting stronger and stronger. It could be that God may be calling you to minister right here in the community and you don't know how. There's this incredible ministry called Durham Cares. I talked with these folks last week, and they basically will listen to you, they interview you, they find out what you are into. There's this discussion back and forth and then they line you up with some ministries you might be interested in. Said it sounds like e-Harmony.com for ministry. And they said, “Yeah, that's what it is.” But they try to line you up with some options for ministry.
There are opportunities. We've seen a tremendous growth to our own international student ministry. English as a Second Language, other things, just being hosts and having people in your home. It's been beautiful to see some people really get excited about that kind of ministry. Friends, we are called to love our neighbors as ourself, even to the ends of the earth. John Piper summarizes it this way, “Our Lord is aiming to call into being loving, compassionate, merciful men and women whose hearts summon them irresistibly into action when there is suffering within their reach. To that end he demands that they again and again ask themselves this question: Am I desiring and seeking the temporal and eternal good of my neighbor with the same zeal, ingenuity, and perseverance with which I seek my own? Is my own native and insatiable longing for happiness seeking its fulfillment by drinking deeply at the fountain of God's mercy and then letting it spill over in love into the life of my neighbor?” Close with me in prayer.