Loving Our Neighbours

I have had a little opportunity to “spy” on this country in the past few weeks. One of the things I have found out through the internet is that some New Zealanders are not happy with the flag. I think the chief complaint is that the flag is not distinctive enough, because it is similar to so many other flags. Some of the suggested alternatives feature the color black prominently, or a large while stripe to represent a cloud, or a kiwi bird, or a silver fern, or some maori design.

I’m not suggesting that you should change your flag, but I can understand the need to identify yourselves clearly among the nations of the world. The Bible says that the way Christians identify themselves is by obeying Christ’s commands:

NIV 1 John 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.

This message is part of a series of “how-to” messages built around the three most important commands of scripture: the commands that I call the foundations of life and ministry.

The first command is what Jesus called the greatest commandment: that we should love God with all of who we are: our heart and soul and might. This command is found in Deuteronomy 6:5.

Deuteronomy 6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

The command is repeated by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-38.

Matthew 22:37-38 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.

This command motivates our relationship with the LORD, and our ministry to Him, including personal and corporate Bible study, prayer, and worship.

The second command is what Jesus called the second greatest commandment, that we should love our neighbors in the same way as we love ourselves. This command motivates our relationship with our neighbors. Neighbors as the Bible defines them include everyone on the planet, especially those that need our love, and those whose path we cross so that we have opportunity to express God’s love to them. This command is found in Leviticus 19:18.

Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

It is repeated by Jesus in Matthew 22:39.

Matthew 22:39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

But the best place to study just what it means to love our neighbors is the story Jesus told to answer that question. It is the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Luke 10:30-37 ESV
30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Excuses That Keep us from Loving our Neighbors.

The first thing that came to my mind when I studied this passage is how unusual this story is. It seems that Jesus went out of his way to make this story as unbelievable as possible. The main character in the story is a Samaritan. In Jesus’ day, the Samaritans were not known for being loving. The Jews avoided the Samaritans, and the Samaritans probably avoided the Jews in return. If anybody in the story were expected to be compassionate to the hurting, it would have been the priest or the Levite. So one of the things that this story communicates is that there are a number of excuses that can prevent us from loving our neighbors.

First, there is the excuse of jurisdiction. Imagine being in a restaurant, ordering a nice bowl of soup, then the waiter leaves before you realize that you haven’t got a spoon. After several minutes of waiting for your waiter to reappear, you finally spot another waiter. You ask for a spoon, but the waiter just says, “Sorry, not my table.”

I call this the excuse of jurisdiction because, when it comes to acts of love and compassion, we often create artificial limits. We narrow down the places where and the people to whom we choose to manifest God’s love. I read a book many years ago called “The Pursuit of Loneliness” which claimed that most of us spend our lives separating ourselves from other people.

It would have been very easy for the Samaritan to use the “not my table” excuse. After all, he was literally a stranger. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is not in Samaria – not even close. Surely someone else would have an easier time giving the wounded man medical help.

The reason Jesus told this story in the first place is that somebody was trying to use the excuse of jurisdiction to get away with being unloving. Luke tells us that a lawyer, ‘desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” ‘ (10:29). He probably thought that this question would put Jesus in his place. After all, we can’t be expected to extend a helping hand to everyone, can we? Jesus made it clear that true love finds a need and fills it… it looks outside the box.

The second excuse the Samaritan could have used is the excuse of ethnic priority. Jesus clearly implied that the man who had been robbed and beaten was not a Samaritan. The Samaritan could have looked at the victim, assessed that he was in need, but turned away because he was “not one of my people.” He might even have reasoned with himself that if he wasted his resources and time on this stranger, what if there’s a wounded Samaritan just a few minutes up the road?

But Jesus’ story is just that more significant because the Samaritan chose to love someone who was different. His love was based on something inside of him, not something he saw in the object of his compassion. In that respect, it mirrors God’s love, because he loved us and sent his Son to die for us while we did nothing to deserve that love.

That is the kind of love that Jesus commands us to give – an impartial love that seeks out those who need it the most, whoever they are. James said “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9). If our love is limited to “people like us” it does not even qualify as love. It is sin!

The third excuse the Samaritan could have used is the excuse of busyness. He could have looked at the need before him, and then at his watch (ok, I know he didn’t have a watch, but you know what I mean), and then walked away.

It is very easy to let your own busyness trap you into a routine that effectively keeps you from loving your neighbors. The priest and Levite were both probably guilty of this. The impression we get in the story is that both of these guys had some important “ministries” that would have been delayed if they stopped to render aid to the mugging victim. Or, maybe they were coming home from a long hard day at the office in Jerusalem. Either way, each man assessed that the problem before him was “not worth my time.”

Committed Christians can really get caught up in this trap as well. We want to do all we can for the Lord, and so often can fill up our schedule to such an extent that when these opportunities present themselves, we cannot seem to make room for them. Churches struggle to keep a balance between all three foundational commandments, and sometimes lose sight of this one entirely. When that happens, the churches might have great worship, devotional, and evangelism programs, but fail to reach out to the needy all around them.

The only way to avoid the busyness excuse is to make sure acts of love and compassion are built into our daily business. I’ll talk more about how to do that in a few minutes.

A fourth excuse the Samaritan could have used is the excuse of selfishness. Loving that mugging victim cost the Samaritan not only time, but also money. He would have been tempted to say, “not my stuff.” I can hear him say to himself, “Look, I’m away from home; I do not have many provisions to begin with, and if I use them up on this stranger, what’s going to happen if I need them?

We Christians are also tempted to use this excuse, but we label it stewardship. We are more comfortable thinking that our money is being reserved for “the Lord’s work.” But often that is just an excuse for holding on to what’s in our wallets.

Principles that Enable us to Love our Neighbors.

Let me briefly share a few principles implied in this text. I’m pretty sure that keeping these principles in mind will enable us as individuals and as churches to love our neighbors like this Samaritan did.

First, the principle of providence. Of all the characters in the story, it was only the Samaritan who saw the mugging victim as an opportunity instead of a liability. He was not a bystander that day. He was an emergency medical technician, and his donkey was an ambulance.

We Christians operate under the principle of providence when they see life’s trajedies and unfortunate events as opportunities for us to manifest God’s love.

Secondly, the principle of preparation. Of all the characters in the story, it was only the Samaritan who was prepared to treat and transport the man who had the need for it.

We Christians need to look for ways to love those who are being overlooked. We need to think outside the box of our own needs and plans, and anticipate the needs of others.

Our churches need to develop programs that reach out to those people that our society has forgotten. To make sure that acts of love and compassion are built into our daily business, we need to plan for them. That means providing for means of loving our neighbors when we set our annual budgets, and when we hire our church workers.

Thirdly, the principle of partnership. Of all the characters in the story, it was only the Samaritan who worked together with someone else to make sure the hurting man had a chance to recover. The innkeeper became a partner in the Samaritan’s act of kindness.

Like him, we Christians should seek ways to network with those who can help us to manifest God’s love. Those potential partners are everywhere: the government, non-government organizations, charities, hospitals, rehab centers, … everywhere that somebody is doing something for someone else.

ACST 12. The Gift

The apostle Peter said that “God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). One of those gifts is the Bible itself. Unfortunately our need for God’s word is so significant that we often ignore it, and take it for granted. Like the air that we breathe, we take God’s gift of his word for granted, assuming its existence, but never contemplating its importance.

Since God is the source of the truth we find in the Bible, loyalty to God demands loyalty to that truth. Since God’s word comes from him, it is the standard by which we judge all truth claims, and the tool with which the Holy Spirit transforms our lives. It is the ultimate authority because it expresses God’s will as nothing else can. It sheds light on today’s path as well as yesterday’s. God has given us sure knowledge of himself through his word, and that knowledge is sufficient for our present needs. Although we do not yet understand everything about our present standing and future hope, what we do understand is enough to motivate our trust in him, and to guide us in obeying him.

There are obstacles to that kind of trust, and those obstacles should be avoided. Identifying how Satan tries to undermine that trust can help believers to fully appreciate the gift we have from God in his word, and avoid taking it for granted.

Science and the Bible

God created science, because he created the natural world and created within humanity the desire to understand its mysteries. The word of God accurately interpreted can never oppose reality. Likewise, true science (which is intended to reflect that reality) can never be in opposition to what God has revealed in his word.

However, much of what passes as scientific knowledge today is neither scientific nor knowledge. It is a conspiracy which starts from the unproven presupposition that all that is can be explained without God, and then devises unprovable theories of origin, and defends them without the slightest glance toward all the evidence for intelligent design. It persecutes free thinkers who dare to challenge those basic assumptions which drive it, forbidding them access to jobs in the field of scientific research or education.

Much of the blame for this state of intellectual blindness is put on Charles Darwin, and his theory of evolution. Darwin posited that all species originated from the same source, and came to that conclusion from the similarities he observed among the species. In his day, Darwin was effectively refuted by the scientific community, which answered his presupposition by pointing out that similarities among the species is to be expected if all of the species had the same Creator, who used the same processes and building blocks to create them.

The real cause for the conspiracy against intelligent design is not a proven scientific theory, but an unprovable religious philosophy: secularism. It was the secularists who attached themselves to Darwin’s theory, and applied it in a number of different areas of scientific pursuit.1 Secularism has taken the scientific and education fields hostage for its own purpose. That purpose is to produce a social atmosphere void of religious norms.

One of the religious norms that secularism has fought strenuously is that of biblical authority. By removing the biblical concept of creation as an acceptable concept of origins, the secularists have effectively removed the idea of God from its connection with true knowledge itself. Theistic theories are branded as taboo, and those who espouse them are ostracized.

Many individual scientists and educators, however, have come to Christ, because they realize that God’s word is true, and have put their faith in what that word says about Jesus’ death, and God’s promises. This has led to a somewhat dualistic existence, since the rules of their religious life are at odds with the rules imposed upon them by their “secular” lives.

This situation is truly intolerable, and it cannot last forever. The scientific and education communities must eventually own up to their being held hostage by an unproven religious philosophy. Until that happens, at least the religious community must hold fast to fiat creationism. The so-called theistic evolution perspective is a compromise that does no good for the Church, and only encourages secularists, whose goal is not the truth, but a social structure free from religion.

The Bible is a gift given to humanity in order that we accomplish God’s will for us. Attempts (like those made by the secularists) to lessen the importance of the Bible should be fought militantly. Unfortunately, the evangelical church in the 21st century has failed to engage in this battle. One of the results of this failure is that our view of the Bible has suffered. Although we call the Bible God’s word, and insist that it is reliable, what the world hears is “the Bible is true except for when it is not.”

Supernatural Experience and the Bible

Another major attack on the believer’s view of the Bible has been an elevation of the role of supernatural experience. Since God, angels and demons exist, there will always be supernatural experiences, some of them orchestrated from heaven, others from a different place. Historically, these supernatural experiences have increased our appreciation of the Bible, because they affirm that the same God who spoke through such experiences in the past (as recorded in the Bible) is still working today. Unfortunately, Satan loves to abuse a good thing. He has encouraged believers to put too much trust in their own experiences, rather than to rely on God’s truth. This is not new. The Israelite society that conquered the promised land under Joshua faced a similar situation. After successfully possessing the land under the power of God, they soon fell under the influence of those nations that they had defeated. Part of the reason for that is that they intermingled with those very cultures that God had sent them to displace. They became enamored with those people, and listened to their stories of religious encounters at the Asherah poles and oak trees. Soon they began experimenting with the rituals themselves, and had similar experiences. It was not long before the law of Moses was a dim memory, and the real religious life of the Israelites was of pagan origin. The result, as the book of Judges demonstrates, is that the Israelites were soon controlled by the very cultures which God had commanded them to displace.

Whenever a society places more emphasis on supernatural experience than God’s revelation in his word, it opens itself up to demonic deception. Satan and his demons look for ways to distract people from the truth of the Bible. They use dreams and visions, and pretend to be lost loved ones with messages from “the other side.” The demons can be very convincing in this role, since they would have witnessed these loved ones while they were still alive. Satan does not have the power to awaken anyone from the dead, but he does have the ability to deceive those who believe it is possible.

A biblical story which shows this strategy the devil uses is that of Saul and the medium at En-dor. This story is found in 1 Samuel 28:7-20 (ESV).

7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.” 8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” 9 The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 But Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” 11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage. 15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me, for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.” 20 Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night.

This passage is not intended to justify what Saul did. It was obvious that Saul was acting outside the boundaries of God’s law, since he himself had commanded that all such mediums be destroyed (9). But God appears to have used his desperate attempt to rescue himself as another means of communicating with him, to announce his judgment for disobedience, and confirm that the kingdom belonged to David. Neither is this story intended to legitimize the function of the medium. Actually, the medium herself expressed surprise when she discovered that she could see Samuel (12). She expected a demon pretending to be Samuel. Whether this was actually Samuel resurrected (awakened) by God for this occasion, or whether it was merely a vision that God gave, this whole story reaffirms the principle that God’s people are to look to Him and his word for guidance, not to supernatural experiences.

Ecclesiastical Authority and the Bible

If Satan cannot dilute our trust in God’s words with science or the supernatural, he will attempt to replace those words with our traditional understanding of them. Because the Church has theologized in the past, she has developed theological traditions. These are not wrong in themselves – in fact, they prove quite helpful. The problem is when “tradition in effect becomes a lens through which the written word is interpreted. Tradition therefore stands as the highest of all authorities, because it renders the only authoritative interpretation of the sacred writings.”2 When these theological traditions are defended by ecclesiastical authorities, then the authorities themselves wind up replacing God’s word.

Jesus encountered this problem with the Pharisees and scribes. He accused them of leaving God’s word and holding to the traditions of men (Mark 7:8). When God gave his word to the Israelites through Moses, he specifically commanded them not to add to it or take away from it (Deut. 12:32). Success and prosperity depended upon them knowing and obeying God’s written revelation, and not turning from it to the right hand or the left (Joshua 1:7-8).

However, it is so easy for those who are part of an ecclesiastical tradition to place undue authority on that tradition. Like Paul, who commended his churches for maintaining the traditions that he had set up for them (1 Cor. 11:12; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6), we are right to resist change unless it is clearly called for by scripture. But our commitment to sola scriptura requires that we constantly compare our traditional understandings with God’s word, and it must be the standard by which we judge them.

Being Christian About the Bible

To possess and maintain a proper view of the Bible, believers should look to Jesus himself for an example. Our bibliology (view of God’s revelation through scripture) must be “…bound up with our loyalty to Jesus Christ. If He is our Teacher and our Lord, we have no liberty to disagree with him. Our view of Scripture must be His.”3 The following texts demonstrate that Jesus viewed the Bible as a divinely inspired text which could be relied upon because it was free from error and falsehood:

Matthew 22:29 NET “Jesus answered them, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God.”

Luke 22:37 NET “For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me is being fulfilled.”

Matthew 4:4 NET “But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

John 10:35 NET “…and the scripture cannot be broken”

Nor did Jesus limit his view of the reliability of the Bible. In fact, it was the Old Testament scripture to which he was referring when he made his statements defending the Bible’s veracity.

Those who look to the Bible itself (like Jesus did) for their view of the Bible will find that “every word of God proves true” (Prov. 30:5). They will find that the biblical authors unashamedly proclaimed that what they were saying and writing were God’s words and as reliable as He is. The phrase “Thus says the LORD,” for example, appears in the Old Testament 416 times. The phrase “…declares the LORD” appears 361 times. Therefore “…any attempt to find in the Bible some encouragement to restrict the areas in which Scripture is reliable and truthful will surely fail, for the implication of literally hundreds of verses is that God’s word is reliable in every way.”4

It is to this word from God, this Scripture, this Bible, that we turn to discover the answers to the questions we have today about God, humanity, sin, Christ, salvation, the Church, and the future. We will not ignore the voices of science, supernatural experience, or ecclesiastical tradition. But in the final analysis it will be in God’s message itself that we place our trust. It is that message that we will proclaim to this and the next generation.

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1 Once the theory of evolution suggested that long periods of time were all that was necessary to explain the biological universe, similar presuppositions were brought to bear on geological and astronomical questions. These three fields of scientific endeavor have ever since served as the major evidence for evolution. For some arguments against secularist presuppositions, see http://www.creationtips.com/evoluwrong.html;
http://www.straight-talk.net/evolution/arguments.shtml; http://www.frankcaw.com/science.html

2 John MacArthur, “The Sufficiency of the Written Word.” in Don Kistler, ed., Sola Scriptura. (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), 152.

3 John R. W. Stott, You Can Trust The Bible. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1982), 38.

4 Wayne A. Grudem, “Scripture’s Self-Attestation.” in D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Scripture and Truth. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 58.