Well, well. We've made it to week three together! Thanks for hanging out with me thus far. Before I get into this week's topic, I want to tell you that last week was a topsy-turvy one at our house. My husband had an emergency heart catherization following what we thought was just going to be a routine stress test on Wednesday. No doubt, many of you, who are regular readers and know me personally already know that, but for those who were not aware, he's recovering well.
God is still in control, even when there are rough circumstances. We are very thankful that God has provided us with a great family doctor who made a great call, and a very attentive stress test tech who stopped the test at the first early signals. Your prayers for a continued recovery for him and for peace in my already chaotic world would be greatly appreciated.
So... Let's review a little bit: In week one, we talked about being real before God and before His people. We want to make sure that we have a real relationship with God through Genuine Surrender, and are not just fulfilling religious practices. We also want to drop those masks that we sometimes wear as believers in front of other folks... Last week, we learned to communicate with God by learning to pray the way that Jesus taught us to pray in the Model Prayer.... and not by pre-conceived notions that we may have learned by observing others.
Now, let's talk about this week's topic relative to our horizontal relationships. Over and over in both the Old and New Testaments, God instructed His people with regard to how to treat people around us. And there is a recurring theme. It was first introduced in Deuteronomy 6:5: "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." This same command was given four more times in the Old Testament (three more times in Deuteronomy, and then again in Joshua), and in all four of the gospels.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest of the commandments was, He responded with this same Old Testament quote, then He added, "and love your neighbor as yourself." Three of the four of the gospels record a version of this same quote from Jesus. You can find it in Mt. 22:37, Mk. 12:33, and Lk. 10:27.
Now, I'm not sure about you, but if the God of the Universe says something, I generally give it a lot of credence... Especially, if it was said over and over and over again... and then Jesus said the same thing on the earth later. Kinda makes it a no brainer, huh? At the very least, He gave the same instruction over and over again.... as if the repetition would somehow help it to sink in.
But stupid humans that we are, we just don't get it sometimes, do we? The people of Jesus' day certainly didn't. And I'm not so sure that we're not a lot like them...
Let me show you what I mean. Take the story of the Good Samaritan. Turn over to the book of Luke, Chapter 10, beginning with verse 25. If you don't have your own Bible handy, I've printed this parable of Jesus here for you from "The Message:"
25 Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus.
"Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?" 26 He answered, "What's
written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?" 27 He said, "That you love
the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and
intelligence - and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."
28 "Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you'll live." 29 Looking for a
loophole, he asked, "And just how would you define 'neighbor'?" 30 Jesus
answered by telling a story. "There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem
to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes,
beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. 31 Luckily, a priest was on
his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the
other side. 32 Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the
injured man. 33 "A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the
man's condition, his heart went out to him. 34 He gave him first aid,
disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey,
led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. 35 In the morning he took out
two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take good care of
him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill - I'll pay you on my way back.'
36 "What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man
attacked by robbers?" 37 "The one who treated him kindly," the religion
scholar responded. Jesus said, "Go and do the same."
No doubt, if you have been in Sunday School at any point in your life, you've heard this story. There was a Jewish man going to Jericho down a very familiar highway and along the way, he was beaten by robbers. A couple of guys pass by on the other side and do NOTHING to help this poor guy that had been beaten, stripped naked and left for dead on the side of the road. But a Samaritan saw him and came to his rescue...
Funny that in verse 29, one of the religious teachers (a lawyer, actually) was looking for a loophole... He wanted Jesus to "define neighbor." Sound familiar??? Aren't we always looking for some way to escape the ways that God has called us to love other people?
Allow me to give you a modern day picture of the characters in the parable of the Good Samaritan and perhaps you will actually see the way that God intends for us to love and care for one another and for those around us.
The Samaritan in Jesus' day was a half-breed, hated people. The Jews despised them. To call a Jew a Samaritan was to equate them with being evil, being a devil! In our modern-day world, the modern day Samaritan would likely be the kind of person you would find residing in your local ghetto... He was considered a hoodlum of the worst kind!
The Jew who had been beaten by robbers would be like a person who had been beaten by gang members, and left for dead on the side of the Interstate.
The folks who passed by were priests and worship leaders. These were the religious folks who were more concerned about following the law, than about rendering aid. This would be like you and I, though we saw the body of the person on the side of the road, driving past, without stopping to help, or calling for an ambulance.
That the Samaritan took it upon himself to pay for the Jewish man's well-being was an understatement! He basically gave the caregivers everything he had on his person and told him to send him the bill if he needed more! Bear in mind, he was not at all a wealthy man. What he gave for the care of this young man was beyond sacrificial. I've heard it said that "True sacrificial giving is not 'giving what they need', but rather 'giving what I need." That is precisely what happened here.
Ok. So how does that translate to our everyday lives, as we learn to love those around us?
Can I share a personal opinion/observation here? I honestly believe that there is an attitude that has crept in among believers these days. We, the church, have become hateful, dogmatic, legalistic and down-right mean when it comes to dealing with folks outside of the church. We have become so bitter, angry and defensive that we cannot possibly be useful in winning people into the kingdom of God. When we are confronted with the truth of the type of behavior God requires of us as His child, we simply respond with, "I'm not Jesus, and I'll do as I want!" We have simply forgotten the mercy and grace extended to us by Christ at the cross... and we often fail to extend that same grace to others.
News flash: People are hurting all around us in our churches, in our communities, in our families, in our world... All of them need our love and support. And that's not to say that we should only render aid to those who may look like us, dress like us, smell like us, behave like us or talk like us. (See the book of James, Chapters 1 and 2.) The priest and Levite in Jesus' story should have been, by all rights and means, the Jewish man's heroes! After all, they were from his same religious background and were probably from his hometown. And yet, they ignored him. But the Samaritan (the most hated kind of guy on the planet) went out of his way and took pity on him. He met his needs and treated him with respect, in spite of the fact that the same type of care probably would not have been extended to him, had the shoe been on the other foot.
In short, we need to remember that we are able to extend this kind of love to folks because that same type of love has been extended to us in Christ. We were the outcasts of His kingdom... we were the ones without hope... we had lives filled with sin... And the Holy God of the Universe showed us His love and extended His grace toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) The type of love, mercy, grace and forgiveness extended to us at the Cross is the same kind of love that we should extend to others. We love because He first loved us. (I John 4:19)
I like what the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the church at Colossae (Col. 3:11-14, from The Message) as a way of dealing with people in general:
11 Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and
outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on
everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. 12 So, chosen by
God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you:
compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. 13 Be even-tempered,
content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and
completely as the Master forgave you. 14 And regardless of what else you put on,
wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Well said, Paul. Well said.