But you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Leviticus 19:18
“And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29
Jesus Community Mission. And our primary calling in mission is simply to love people. They aren’t prospects. They aren’t projects. They are people created in the image of God, now flawed like every one of us, but worthy of our love. That’s what God says.
What might that love look like? We as a church are not programming your answer for you. You have to figure it out for yourself, with God’s help. The whole reason why this man in Luke 10 gets defensive with Jesus is that the Lord didn’t give him an easy answer. The Lord simply said, “Do this.” Why? Because real love is open-ended. Real love never stops, draws a line, and says “I’ve done my bit, I’ve given all I’m going to give.” Real love sweeps us away with the heart of Christ out beyond our natural selfishness. Real love moved him out of heaven into this world, all the way to the cross. You need to figure out for yourself where that love is taking you.
As we’re staring at this commandment to love our neighbor, two things are obvious already. We’re all feeling two things together. One is the authority and beauty of this command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Who’s going to argue with that? We all feel the authority of it, and the nature of its authority is beauty. So it’s doubly unarguable. But the other obvious thing is how weak and small we are and even trapped inside our selfishness. Our lifestyles work against loving our neighbors. Our daily routines minimize social interface with other people, especially people with needs, because other things demand our attention. So the command is way up there on the mountaintop of moral beauty, and we’re down here in the foothills of our own ordinariness. We admire the commandment way up there. But admiring it might be as far as we go, because our lifestyle grooves are such deeply worn ruts. We will never change until we get radical. Nothing ever changes without getting radical. And the biggest barrier we have to push through is not in our surroundings but in our own routines. We never chose deliberately to disobey God’s commandment. We just drifted into a whole way of life that excludes others, as much as possible. So we admire this command. But without even meaning to, our minds come up with excuses, to make our status quo not all that bad. We’re all like this man in verse 29: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
“Love your neighbor” is wonderful at the level of theory. But when it comes to practical follow-through, we all start coming up with reasons, even good reasons, why “Love your neighbor” just cannot be allowed too much influence in our lives. It isn’t realistic. It isn’t practical. It’s even scary. So we justify ourselves. When this man asked, “And who is my neighbor?” he wasn’t hoping to find out. He wasn’t looking around saying, “Jesus, is it that teenager over there? Or how about that single mom over there? Where can I start?” By asking this question, the man was turning the obvious into the technical, looking for a loophole, so that his conscience could sleep on. He was saying, “Okay, Jesus, we agree on loving God and loving our neighbors. But in our daily lives, at a practical level, is it all that simple? It might be easy and obvious in your mind, but not for me. Loving God, okay. I won’t argue about that at all. But loving my neighbor – you’re just telling me, ‘Do this,’ and that’s that? Who is my neighbor, for crying out loud?” That was his objection. What’s yours? I know some of mine.
God says ten times in the Bible – once in the Old Testament, and nine quotations in the New Testament – God says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” meaning, “You shall treat other people, look out for other people, care about other people, with the same consideration you desire for yourself. You know what it’s like to hurt, to be lonely, to have a need, to be mistreated, and you also know what’s it’s like to sin. Well, everyone around you is living inside that same reality. So you get it.” And God is saying, “Now do something about it. If you know yourself at all, you understand enough about the people around you to help them. Open your eyes. Let your heart be stirred. And do something. You can’t do everything. But up to your capacities, you can do something.” That’s what God is saying. It isn’t complicated. It’s costly. But not beyond comprehension.
- As we’ve been thinking through together what it means to love our neighbor, objections do pop up to the surface of our minds. Here are ten really good excuses:
- 1. I don’t even love my family well. How can I add to that loving my neighbor too? The diagram in the booklet shows eight households around me. You mean I have to start caring about eight more households?
- 2. What will loving my neighbor cost me? How much will it inconvenience me? How big will the risks be? Is this safe?
- 3. Won’t I end up failing and looking bad and feeling small? Or could I even end up offending my neighbor and making things worse? Shouldn’t I grow and mature first, so that this comes across really well?
- 4. My home – or apartment or dorm room – my space isn’t nice enough to share with others. No one would want to come over to my place. And I’d feel embarrassed anyway.
- 5. I have a nice home. And God is the one who gave me the stewardship of my nice things – my new sofa and flat-screen TV and kitchen and sauna and rec room. What if someone comes in and breaks my stuff? Is that wise stewardship?
- 6. I might end up in a relationship I can’t get out of, way out of my depth. Some people are high-maintenance, and my whole life could be consumed. I need to know everything in advance, if I’m going to say yes.
- 7. Anyway, this commandment is part of the law, and I shouldn’t have to obey the law. I’m a gospel person now. It’s all about grace, right?
- 8. I’m not doing all that bad as it is. I’m no slacker, and I’m already involved, so why not be grateful for that? I’m certainly not harming anyone.
- 9. The truth is, I don’t even like my neighborhood. I’ve been a rotten neighbor for years. I’ve avoided people, my dog has pooped on their lawn, and now I’m supposed to do this big turn-around and be nice all of a sudden? I’ll look like a hypocrite!
- 10. Loving your neighbors is just fine for pastors and Eagle Scouts and Mother Theresa. But I have an ordinary life to live, with many responsibilities. I have a job and a family and a church to think of. I can’t abandon all my duties to Jesus!
We are so ridiculous. Can we all admit it? But Jesus calls ridiculous people to follow him into the wild river-rafting adventure of love. Grace means that God loves and uses ridiculous people who will laugh at themselves and let the gospel take them into new places. Grace means that we get beyond the guarantee of knowing in full, in advance, how it’s all going to go, and we say Yes to the Lord just because we trust him. Grace means that his plans for us are far bigger than our ridiculous thoughts. C. S. Lewis put it this way:
Imagine yourself living in a house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage; but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.
This passage in Luke 10 is all about Jesus answering our objections, overcoming our resistance, so that we throw our entire lives wide open to his purpose of love. He does not intend to embarrass us. The reason why we come up with our ridiculous excuses is that we already feel embarrassed by our mediocrity and pettiness. The Lord does not intend to make us feel worse. He intends to replace our natural ways of thinking with gospel ways of thinking, so that we go love people in new ways that look like Jesus himself.
Here then is the gospel in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus is the good Samaritan. He found us beaten up by our own sins and by the sins of others. We were lying there half dead, unable to help ourselves. And many people passed by and did nothing for us. The self-help gurus told us to bootstrap ourselves back up. The prosperity preachers told us God would make us rich and. The politicians told us to vote for them and they’d solve all our problems. The educators told us how filled with potential we are and that we can become anything, if we’ll only put our minds to it. And so forth. If we had had the energy, we would have screamed, “You have nothing to say to me. I’ve done all those things, and I still ended up lying here in this ditch – partly because I believed you. As far as I’m concerned, I’m glad for you to pass by on the other side! Get out of my life! You don’t understand me. You don’t understand how wounded and incapable I am.” No one helped us in our impasse and defeat and frustration and failure. Then Jesus came by. He saw us. He had compassion on us. He moved toward us. He got involved. Only Jesus was relevant to our desperate need. Only Jesus didn’t condescend to us. Only Jesus bound up our wounds. Only Jesus took us in and paid, in advance, for all our needs. Only Jesus showed us mercy. And at this very moment, as we’re here in church, we are right now in that inn, being cared for, healing, gaining strength, receiving mercy, all paid for by Jesus. And his love will define the rest of our journey from now on. Clearly, then, having received the crazy love of Jesus, we have no real objections to crazy love. We’re counting on it for ourselves as the defining reality of our entire existence.
Here then are three insights from the parable, to guide us as we spread his love. First, in verses 25-28, the authority of love. When Jesus says, in verse 28, “Do this, and you will live,” is he recommending legalism and works righteousness and earning our own salvation? No. But he is saying, “If my grace has landed on you, prove it.” The Bible says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love” (1 John 3:14). Can you say that about yourself? “I know that I have passed out of death into life, because I love”? Is God’s grace making that difference in you? This commandment cannot change your heart. But this commandment does reveal what is in your heart. And if you’re not obeying this authoritative command of God, then you need to repent. You need to go to him and beg him for a new heart like his. Real Christians put away their excuses and say Yes to God. The authority of love – real Christians aren’t running from it, they’re running toward it.
Second, in verses 29-35, the cost of love. Verses 34-35: “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. 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.’” Real love is not a dreamy ideal. Real love is costly. But real love is where Jesus is. If we don’t see the human needs around us and we don’t know about them because we don’t want to know, that isn’t Christianity. That comfortable obliviousness is the hypocrisy Jesus saves us from. Real love gets involved in costly ways. But costly love is the very meaning of the universe. Sacrificial love moving toward our pain and brokenness and need – to pour out that love is the reason God created the universe, culminating in the cross of Jesus. And he’s calling us now to redefine the range of our awareness and get involved in new ways according to the costly love of Jesus.
Third, in verses 36-37, the beauty of love. Verse 36: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor?” When this man answers the Lord’s question, he can’t bring himself to say, “The Samaritan.” But he can’t deny the obvious, and so he says, “The one who showed him mercy.” The Samaritans were stigmatized. They were offensive to the Jewish people. The Samaritans just didn’t count. They had a history that made them suspect. But Jesus sees beauty where others see offense. What does Jesus see and prize? The beauty of love and mercy. That wise perception is the mind of Christ. And if you’ve been stigmatized, if you’ve been branded as an outcast so that you don’t really count, here is your dignity, here is your grandeur, no matter what others may say – to be merciful, like Jesus.
So what we can see by now is that there are three categories. One, aggressive hostility, doing harm. Two, indifference, doing no harm. Three, love and mercy, making things better, bringing healing, even in costly ways. We are prone to think, “I’m not harming anyone. What’s wrong with that?” But here in Luke 10 we can see that real love is not content not to make things worse, real love is not content to leave things as they are, real love is not content not to inflict further harm. Real love makes things better. Real love brings healing. Among those three categories, hostility and indifference are on the same side, arrayed on the battle field of life against love. But Jesus is calling us out of hostility and out of indifference to join him in the beauty and power of real love bringing healing in costly ways. “Love your neighbor” means can never be the same again. We need to make some changes in how we live. And don’t need to know in advance how it’s going to go. We just need to obey the Lord. And he will be pleased to use us for his glory in this city.
Let me close with three questions. One, is Jesus really your Savior? Or are you just a nice person going to church but evading the call of Jesus to love your neighbor? Two, are you willing to pay a price, in order to follow Jesus on a journey of loving people, whether or not you come out ahead? If you’re willing, he sees it, and he will help you. Three, are you admiring the truly beautiful things in this life? Or are you settling for a life that looks okay to human eyes but doesn’t show the touch of heaven? The Bible says, “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). That’s how Jesus loved you. Now, you go and do likewise.