Who is my neighbor is one of the great questions in scripture. Because the answer to this question is another question: Who or Whom do I love?
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29)
To answer this, we can go to the first name of our ministry, Agape. Agape is a very special kind of love. It’s a “for God so loved the World” love. It’s an action verb and not a noun. It is love “in spite of,” not “because of.” It is love that is a choice – a creative act – and not an accidental or evolutionary experience.
It’s easy to love the loveable. It’s easy to love those who are like us. That goes for Christians, too. That goes for people of a particular church, too. It’s easy to love those who we find attractive.
But everyone else, we find it easy to dislike, distrust, or otherwise have contempt for. And, often times, we want to see God settle the score:
And He sent messengers before Him; and they reached and entered a Samaritan village to make [things] ready for Him; But [the people] would not welcome or receive or accept Him, because His face was [set as if He was] going to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John observed this, they said, Lord, do You wish us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did? But He turned and rebuked and severely censured them. He said, You do not know of what sort of spirit you are, For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them [from the penalty of eternal death]. And they journeyed on to another village (Luke 9:52-56 AMP)
In the passage we just read, James and John – disciples of the Lord, Jesus, who walked with him, studied under him, and observed his unfailing love for others – asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to “smoke those fools!”
And it would have been easy for Jesus to get on-board with the “nuclear option,” but, instead, He rebuked them.
There’s a lesson here: we are not to be the judge, jury, and executioner of those who do us dirty!
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12)
It’s funny how the writers of the Gospels deal with the Samaritans. We learn from reading that the Jews despised the Samaritans. Historically, the Samaritans were a branch of Hebrews that did not practice Judaism. Therefore, the Jews had no love for them. They were pariah to them. If you go deeper into the core text of our message – instead of stopping at verse 29, going all the way to verse 37, you’ll catch the gist of where Jesus was going with this:
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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 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. ’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)
So, we learn that a neighbor is not just someone who lives within proximity to another, rather it is someone who cares for others around them.
See, the person who lives next door to you is exactly that. And if you take that approach, you can easily absolve yourself of any responsibility to them
On the other hand, when you refer to that same person as your next-door neighbor, you assume a certain amount of responsibility for them.
It’s your responsibility to pick your neighbor up when they’re fallen.
It’s your responsibility to bind up their wounds.
It’s your responsibility to protect them
As always, Jesus had an awesome way of putting this into perspective:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
Did you catch that? It’s not just your friend who is your neighbor; it is your enemy. According to the Word of God, you actually don’t have a choice in who your neighbor is!
Now, that’s contrary to how most of us select where we live. Most of us want to be around like-minded people – politically, religiously, ethnically, and so on.
But when you realize all the world is your neighbor, it puts a different spin on things.
Let me touch on something, though, so you don’t fall into condemnation by thinking you have to work at something – Matthew 5:48 speaks of being perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Jesus was saying something to those in his audience in the “Sermon on the Mount.” These folks had been steeped in the law and browbeat by religion. And the standard of perfection was the law. However, the law was impossible to keep. That’s why, in John 15, Jesus stressed the importance of abiding in Him – when we abide in Him, we abide in His perfection. And that’s the only way you will ever attain perfection on this side of eternity
Now that we know what a neighbor is, how do we become a neighbor. Love. Yep, that simple!
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (1 Corinthians 10:24)
Another interpretation of this is, “have love for yourselves and others.” Because if you only love those who look, think, and believe like you, you’re no different than the rest of the world. A true neighbor seeks the good of his neighbor.
You’d have to pay someone to help you misunderstand that.
Let’s have a look at the 10 Commandments, but viewed through the lens of the New Covenant
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:9-10)
The first 5 of the 10 commandments deal with loving God:
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make any graven images or idols
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long
So, if you love God, you’ll honor Him.
The second 5 of the 10 commandments deal with loving your neighbor:
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse or stuff
And if you love your neighbor, you won’t do him any harm
That’s why Jesus summed it all up this way:
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. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40)
© 2014 – Derrick Day (www.derrickday.com)