Kevin A. Pierpont
Higgins Lake Baptist Church
Catherine Booth was the “mother” of the Salvation Army. “Wherever Catherine Booth went,” said G. Campbell Morgan, “humanity went to hear her. Princes and peeresses merged with paupers and prostitutes.”
One night, Morgan shared in a meeting with Mrs. Booth; and a great crowd of “publicans and sinners” was there. Her message brought many to Christ.
After the meeting, Morgan and Mrs. Booth went to be entertained at a fine home; and the lady of the manor said, “My dear Mrs. Booth, that meeting was dreadful”
“What do you mean, dearie?” asked Mrs. Booth.
“Oh, when you were speaking, I was looking at those people opposite to me. Their faces were so terrible, many of them. I don’t think I shall sleep tonight!”
“Why, dearie, don’t you know them?” Mrs. Booth asked; and the hostess replied, “Certainly not!”
“Well, that is interesting,” Mrs. Booth said. “I did not bring them with me from London; they are your neighbors!” (Source Unknown)
Do you know who your neighbors are? When we think of neighbors we tend to think of the people who live near us. They are the people next door who maybe borrow our tools or invite us over for a cookout. Some of our neighbors are pleasant to live near and sometimes we have neighbors that aren’t so pleasant to live near. When we think of neighbors, we generally think of the people who live in the houses near ours.
As we continue the Loving God, Loving People series this morning the question we’ll be considering is, “who is my neighbor?”
Is my neighbor the guy next door or is there more to understanding the word neighbor? The basis for our study has been the passage found in Matthew 22:34-40.
Last week we focused on verse 39. Jesus had spoken of the greatest command—loving God with all your heart, soul and mind—and then He said in verse 39,
"And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
Jesus was saying that we are to have a love for our neighbors like we already love ourselves.
Today we’ll focus on the phrase “You shall love your neighbor”. We are going to take a closer look at just who our neighbor is. We’ll be asking the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Is it just the people in my neighborhood?
To help answer that question we’re going to be studying Luke 10:25-37 where we’ll find the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. In it we’ll see that the question, “who is my neighbor?” was asked of Jesus. The answer Jesus gave helps us understand who our neighbor is.
If we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves then we need to understand who our neighbor is.
Let’s look at Luke 10:25-37.
Luke 10:25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" 27 So he answered and said, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.'" 28 And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live." 29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 "Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 "Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33 "But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 "So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 "On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.' 36 "So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" 37 And he said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
This lawyer who is questioning Jesus is not the kind of lawyer we think of today. When we think of a lawyer we think of a professional who knows the laws of our land well and tries cases in court. The lawyer referenced here is an expert in Old Testament law. He is a scholar. He has studied the Law of Moses thoroughly. The first question the lawyer asks of Jesus is “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
It’s interesting to note how Jesus responds. Jesus knows that this man is well versed in Old Testament law. Instead of simply answering the question, He asks a couple of questions Himself. “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” Jesus wants the lawyer to answer the question for himself.
The answer the lawyer comes up with is, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.'"
In verse 28 we see that Jesus affirms that this is the right answer and says, “do this and you will live.” The words of Jesus could be a bit troubling here. Why would Jesus tell this man that he could inherit eternal life by keeping these two points of the law—Loving the Lord God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself?
Paul tells us in Galatians 3:10, (NIV)
Galatians 3:10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."
In other words if you’re relying on keeping the law you’re cursed. In order to keep the law you would have to do everything written in the Book of the Law. And at any point that you break the law you are guilty of being a lawbreaker.
Jesus knew that no one was capable of completely following the law at all times in every point. The law condemns us and shows us how we fall short and points to our need of a Savior. What the lawyer needed to understand was that it was impossible for him to inherit eternal life by keeping the law because it was impossible for him to completely follow the law at all times. One infraction was all that was needed to be worthy of punishment.
Some people have the mistaken notion that if they follow the Ten Commandments they’ll get to Heaven. What they need to understand is that they fall short of the glory of God. There is none righteous. Not one! We are all sinners. None of us has lived a perfect life and followed God’s law in every way.
Jesus knew this was impossible for the lawyer and He knew the lawyer needed to understand this for himself that observing the law completely was impossible.
It’s important that we understand that none of us can inherit eternal life by living a sinless life because we are all guilty of breaking God’s laws. That’s why Jesus came. The law points us to our need of a Savior. What we can’t do for ourselves Jesus did for us by dying on the cross for our sin. Maybe you’re like the lawyer who was relying on observing the law for eternal life. You think if you’re a good person or you go to church you’ll go to Heaven when you die. But being good or going to church won’t save you. Only by trusting in Jesus Christ as your Savior will you inherit eternal life.
Jesus isn’t teaching in this passage that good works can save you. He is pointing out the futility of relying on observing the law or doing good works to save us, because it is impossible for any man or woman to completely keep every commandment of the law every minute of their life. He says, “do this and you will live.” The catch of course is that the lawyer is not capable of doing this. He falls short. He’s inadequate. He’s a lawbreaker and He needs a Savior.
Charles Spurgeon once said,
"Let it never be forgotten that what the law demands of us the gospel really produces in us."
The law demands of us that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that produces this kind of love for God and neighbor in our lives. By placing our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ the demands of the law will be evident in our lives. We can’t follow the law in our own strength to meet its rigorous demands. What the law demands is produced by the saving grace of Jesus Christ in our lives.
Now note the second question the lawyer had for Jesus in verse 29.
v29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
The Jews of that day considered their neighbors to be fellow Israelites. He probably felt pretty good about himself in this regard and thought he did a good job of loving his neighbor. So he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
It’s easy for us to want to narrowly define the word “neighbor” because that makes it easier for us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus answers the lawyer’s question by telling a story. The story that follows is familiar to many of us. A man while traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is attacked by thieves. They take his clothing and wound him so badly that he’s left for dead by them along the roadside.
Here is a man in a desperate state. He’s naked and been seriously wounded. He’s lying by the road and could really use some help. A priest comes by and sees him and moves way over to the other side of the road. He keeps going, ignoring the hurting man lying on the side of the road. Then a Levite comes along, sees the wounded man and he too crosses to the other side. He keeps right on going and makes no attempt to stop and help the man.
Then a Samaritan happens by the wounded man. The first two men who passed by, the priest and the Levite are both Jewish men. The Samaritan who passes by is an enemy of the Jews. The Jews hated the Samaritans. Yet it is the Samaritan, despised by the Jewish people of the day, who has compassion on the wounded man. He doesn’t cross to the other side of the road and go on his merry way. There’s quite a contrast between his actions and those of the priest and the Levite.
The Samaritan goes to a great deal of trouble to help the wounded man. He bandages his wounds. He probably had to use part of his own clothing as bandages. Think about it. He isn’t traveling along in his luxury sedan with a first aid kit in the glove box. He can’t dial 911 on his cell phone on the way by. He’s probably using pieces of his own clothing as bandages to cover the man’s wounds. He pours his own oil and wine on the wounds to cleanse them. He lifts the man onto his animal and takes him to an inn. He takes care of the man while he is there and the next day when he leaves he gives the innkeeper money to care for him. Beyond that he tells the innkeeper that he’ll be back to repay for any additional expenses involved in caring for the wounded man.
The Samaritan sacrificially takes the time to get involved with helping the wounded man.
Jesus finishes the story and then asks the lawyer, who was the neighbor? The lawyer rightly answers, “He who showed mercy on him.”
So who is your neighbor? I want you to understand from this passage that your neighbor is the one in need of mercy. Your neighbor is the person you encounter in the course of your everyday life who is wounded. Neighbors are the people in our lives. They might live in your neighborhood. They may work with you. They are the other people you encounter in need of the mercy we’ve been shown by our Heavenly Father.
Your neighbors aren’t just the people next door that you enjoy having as neighbors, who look after your place when you’re out of town and who lend a helping hand when you need one. They’re also the ones who might drive you crazy at times. Maybe they turn their stereo up too loud or let their dog run loose in your neighborhood or the let their leaves blow into your yard or they rev their dirt bike or snowmobile next to your house at midnight.
It’s easy for us to love those who love us. The difficulty comes in loving those who aren’t so easy to love. The difficulty comes in loving those in need of mercy just like that wounded man lying on the side of the road. It can get messy to love people like that. It can eat up our time. It can cost us.
You have neighbors all around you. Your neighbor is your fellow man. Your neighbor is the other people in your life. The problem is we would like to narrowly define the word “neighbor” because that would make it easier for us to obey the command to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” But the truth is your neighbor may be a complete stranger lying on the side of the road wounded.
Your neighbor may be the waitress who isn’t serving you the way you would like but you can tell she needs an encouraging word anyway. It may be the mechanic working on your car that tells you his wife just left him. There are people all around us that we encounter every day that need to be shown mercy. There are people in need of our compassion.
Jesus didn’t answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” by saying your fellow Israelites or the people living near you. He answered the question with a story that illustrated how we can be good neighbors. The neighbor was the one who showed mercy.
Do you want to love your neighbor as yourself? Then you need to be a good neighbor. You may need to grow in the area of showing mercy to those who desperately need it.
Who should you be a good neighbor to? The people that God sends into your life who are hurting and in need of compassion. Your neighbor can be people in your family, your friends, your co-workers, the people who live near you, the people you transact business with and yes even people who don’t like you and have never done one nice thing for you. They may even be someone that considers you an enemy.
Your neighbor could be someone of greater means than you have or someone of lesser means. Your neighbor may have more education or less education than you have. Your neighbor may be older or younger. Your neighbors aren’t just the people that are like you that you enjoy spending time with. They are the people who may be very different and perhaps they are difficult to love.
We can’t be selective about who our neighbors are and which ones we will love. Our neighbors are the other people in our lives and we are commanded to love them like we love ourselves. Our neighbors are the people in this community. Whenever and wherever you encounter another person, consider him to be your neighbor and love him in the same way you do yourself.
Your neighbor is the other people in your life. It’s others God has placed around you and given you an opportunity to minister to. It’s the wounded all around you in need of your compassion, mercy and care just like the wounded man on the side of the road. It may be a stranger. It may be someone you’ve never met before or it may be someone you know very well.
Who is your neighbor? Your neighbor is other people. Love others as you love yourself. Not just the guy living next-door but love everyone else the way you love yourself. The people God places in your life are your neighbors. Your contact may be brief or long-term but it should always be marked by love. Loving your neighbor involves loving the unlovely as well as the lovely.
The question that was asked of Jesus by the lawyer, “who is my neighbor?” wasn’t given a simple reply. Jesus told a powerful story that turned the focus from wondering who our neighbor is and emphasized instead the importance of being a neighbor. The Samaritan was a neighbor to the wounded man lying in the road. He was a neighbor to a complete stranger.
The challenge for us is not to worry so much about who our neighbor is. Instead the challenge for us is to be a neighbor to those God places in our lives. The challenge is to follow the example set by the Samaritan in showing compassion to those around us who are wounded and in need of the care that we can offer.
Jesus challenged the lawyer to “go and do likewise,” and that is the challenge before us today. In answer to the question of “who is my neighbor?” Jesus calls us to show mercy to others who are wounded like the Samaritan did in the story He told.
Instead of asking yourself, “who is my neighbor?” Ask yourself, “am I a good neighbor?” Do I truly care for others? Do I have compassion on those in need? Am I willing to get involved in their lives or am I passing them by like the priest and the Levite did? Am I willing to give of myself to be a good neighbor even though it may cost me personally? Am I willing to give of my resources to be a neighbor? Am I willing to go the extra mile to show compassion on one who is struggling?
Don’t be concerned with wondering who your neighbor is. Concern yourself with going and doing likewise. Follow the example of the Samaritan. Be a neighbor and you’ll never run out of opportunities to minister to others. Just have the heart of a neighbor like the Samaritan did and be willing to serve others and God will be placing others in your path that you can encourage and help.
I can imagine the priest and Levite might have thought they were too busy to get involved with the wounded man lying on the side of the road. It was probably easy to rationalize, “hey I really don’t have time for this right now. I’ll be late for my appointment if I stop and help. He looks dead anyway.” We can get so busy with our own interests that we fail to take the time to be a neighbor.
We live in a world where we often don’t even know the people living across the street. Sometimes we get so busy we don’t even know our own spouses or children or parents like we should. We’re all so busy with our own activities and projects that we fail to get involved in the lives of those around us like we should. We’re too busy to be a neighbor.
If we are going to be a church that Loves God and Loves People, then we need to ask ourselves if we’re taking the time to be a neighbor to the people around us. Are you a neighbor to others that God places in your path?
If we’ll seek to be neighbors to those around us think of the impact we can have for Jesus Christ. If you know Jesus Christ as Savior, you have wonderful news to share with a lost and dying world.
Imagine the man lying half-dead on the road and pretend for a moment that the priest stops and hands him a gospel tract and then continues on his way without offering any other assistance. Do you think the wounded man is going to be very receptive to the message of the tract?
Then imagine for a moment the Samaritan who goes out of his way to help the man and then he shares the good news of Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t the wounded man be much more receptive to one who backed up his message with his actions?
There are people all around us who are wounded spiritually. They are dying in their sin. They need to hear the good news that Jesus Christ came to save sinners. They need someone to be a neighbor to them. They need someone who’s concerned enough to live the gospel and be their neighbor then they’ll be ready to hear the gospel.
It’s been said, “Your life may be the only Bible some people will ever read.” And that “People really won't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
If we’ll have compassion toward others God will give us plenty of opportunities to point them to our Savior. If we love God with all our heart and soul and mind and we love our neighbor as ourselves, people are going to notice our Savior.
Which of the three men was a neighbor to the wounded man? Just as the lawyer answered, it was the one who showed mercy. Jesus is calling us to go and do likewise.
Are you the kind of neighbor the Samaritan was? Do you love others like that? Perhaps you’d have to admit this morning that this kind of love doesn’t characterize your life right now. Maybe you have trusted Christ but you haven’t been walking with the Lord like you should. Let Jesus’ words challenge you today to “go and do likewise.” Get your heart right with the Lord today.
Maybe you’re incapable of loving others like you should because you don’t love God like you should and you don’t love God like you should because you have never trusted Jesus Christ. Maybe you’re wondering like the lawyer did, “how can I inherit eternal life?” You can inherit eternal life—God’s free gift of salvation—by simply confessing that you’re a sinner, then accept the forgiveness that Jesus offers and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Then you can begin to truly love God and love people.
Jesus calls each of us today to do as the Samaritan and go and do likewise. May it be our desire as a people and a church that we truly love God and love people.