Note: This is an edited manuscript from the sermon I preached at Calvary Baptist Church on June 13 th, 2010.
There are plenty of people in this world who are hard to love. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to not to love those who are not like us. It’s convenient to ignore the poor, the outcast, the needy, those of different races that we don’t understand.
It’s also easy to ignore the people we don’t like. Especially those who are constantly defensive and negative, those who lash out verbally and withdraw emotionally. And then there are those who are just plain nasty. You know who I am talking about – its those people who seem to take “perverse pleasure in sabotaging every conversation.”
It’s easy to ignore their calls, emails, and avoid them in the hall. It’s easy to make sure you don’t make eye contact with them when you see them out in public. But Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We read that and might be tempted to think: does Jesus know my neighbor? Now, that’s an impossible imperative!
Sure these people are hard to love. But, the command to love our neighbors is unavoidable in the Scripture. I would argue that if you truly understand that you have been saved by grace, then your attitude towards others will be one of compassionate love – reflecting the gospel of Jesus Christ.
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.”
Here you have the ‘Master Teacher’ with all of his disciples sitting down gathered around him. This was the ancient learning environment, much different than today’s classroom. In this environment the process of asking and answering questions was the way of learning. Lessons were not so tightly planned as in the modern classroom; instead a master teacher would skillfully guide the direction of the conversation by asking and answering questions.
The religious leader was probably impressed with Jesus’ wisdom and decides to ask him a sincere question. The religious leader addresses Jesus respectfully as ‘teacher’, but we cannot miss that he is intent on ‘challenging’ Jesus. The religious leader was very “learned”; he knew the details of the law of God. He has spent his life studying, classifying, and categorizing the law – all 613 laws in the Old Testament. Just like In any other complex legal system, some laws eventually take priority over others. The ancient teachers of the law were always trying to distinguish which laws were more important than others.
And while this lawyer knew the law, he did not know its true meaning. This is revealed in his initial question. His question, ‘what shall I do to inherit eternal life’ indicates that eternal life was earned. Note, there is an assumption on the part of the lawyer of human responsibility in the attainment, accomplishment of eternal life. What must I do?
Jesus does not explore the assumption behind the question, but directs the questioner back to the law since he was “an expert.” Jesus asks the religious leader “what is written in the law?” and “how do you read it?”
‘To read’ here is not simply the act of reading, but perceiving the meaning of the text being read. In other words, Jesus question – ‘how do you read it?’ invites the expert’s personal opinion – how do you interpret the law?
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.”
The experts answer is satisfactory as far as it goes. It is based on the Old Testament passage Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 – passages fundamental to Jewish life and worship. The Jewish people recited these passages often; every morning and every evening. The lawyer correctly combine the law of God, all 613 commands, and reveals them in one principle — love, directed to God and to others. He knew the right answer. But there was something he did not understand about the law.
Jesus affirms that the man has answered correctly, properly, in fact the word used here is the word from which ‘orthodox’ is derived. In other words, the lawyer had the orthodox answer. But notice what happens in verse 29 as the religious leader responds back to Jesus imperative. Luke writes: that the religious leader, “desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, and who is my neighbor?”
What’s wrong with the Lawyers Heart?
When do we typically try and justify ourselves? When we know we are in the wrong?When we are found guilty or condemned? See, the religious leader knew he could not do what the law required perfectly. Here are the two things revealed by the lawyers question in verse 29:
1. The Lawyer Is Trying to Justify Himself
To the Religious leader, the law was some kind of contract with God by which he could earn eternal life. He wanted a ‘rule’ or ‘set of rules’ that he could keep and so he could justify himself.
2. The Lawyer Assumes That Some People Are Not Worthy Of Love.
This was the heart of the question ‘who is my neighbor?’ The only way he could ‘justify himself’ was to limit the extent of the laws demand. He wants to limit the extent of the laws demand because he knew that there were people he did not love, and there were people who would be very…very hard to love. In saying who is my neighbor he is saying “what kind of person is worthy of my love.”
Jesus, does not answer his question, but tells a parable that aims at his heart. With a dialogue in verses 25-29 in mind, continue reading through 37.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
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.”
This was about an 18 mile trip. It was a stretch of road known for its curves, rocky passes, and caves. On this road, robbers could easily hide and strike people – this was a remote area, and traveling it would make you vulnerable to such attacks. Jesus then adds a man lying in the road – half dead, and obviously needs help. So Jesus has set the stage, enter the characters.
The first two people who walk by are religious leaders. They are, by all outward appearances, the ones in Jesus’ time who would have it all together – they know the orthodox answers; they live very clean moral lives. More than that, in the ancient system the Levite and Priest were the typical ones who would bring help to the needy. But they pass right by.
Maybe the religious leader identified with these characters as Jesus told the parable and thought to himself – surely there is a good reason why they just passed by, right?
- Perhaps he did not help because it would remove his ceremonial purity?
- Perhaps he did not want to help because it would risk his life?
- I am sure there is a perfectly good reason to justify not helping…right?
Well, if the religious leader was not already self condemned through ‘neglect’, here is where Jesus nails him.
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.
A Samaritan? Really Jesus? …
- Jesus knew that the Jews had serious disdain, if not hate, for the Samaritan people.
- In their minds the Samaritans were the worst of Pagans.
- The Samaritans were considered unclean, and the Jews had nothing to do with them.
- On the other hand, if a Jew were to help a Samaritan – they would be seen as a traitor to their own people.
Jesus purposely uses the lawyer’s enemy, the pagan Samaritan to drive home the point: and here is how he did it – by directing one last question at the religious leader:
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
This right here is the key to the parable: in asking this last question, where has Jesus now placed the religious leader in the story?
See, he had to identify the neighbor from the perspective of the man dying in the road – from that perspective; it was not the religious leader who was upholding God’s law – it was the Samaritan. And Jesus gave him no way around the answer.
Notice what the religious leader says – The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” The religious leader did not even use the word ‘Samaritan.’ Jesus has the religious leader answer his own question ‘who is my neighbor’ – by forcing the lawyer to see that obedience to the command ‘love your neighbor’ is fulfilled in the ‘one who shows mercy.’
Jesus changes the question from – ‘What kind of person is my neighbor?’ and aims it back at the religious leaders own heart, causing him to ask himself “well, what kind of person am I?”
The religious leader knew that if it were a Samaritan dying in the road. He would not have stopped and shown him mercy. So when faced with the question, “am I being a neighbor?” – he would have to answer no. So then, the question – “what kind of person deserves my love?” is changed to “how can I become a loving person who upholds God’s commands?”
See, Jesus was showing him that eternal life is not a matter of keeping rules at all – it goes much deeper than that, obedience flows from the heart. And here is a religious leader who tries his hardest to ‘keep all of the external commandments’ – but Jesus revealed that the problem was in his sinful heart.
And that’s the point. The religious leader walked away thinking… well, where do I get a new heart? This is where we find it, in the Gospel. In the gospel we see how the call to love if achieved in Christ – who gives us the power and the motivation to love, resulting in the ministry of love.
The Gospel Framework
1. The Call to Love
The imperative “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” is the call to ‘love God and others with all of your being.’
It literally means that – every faculty and capacity that we have should display at every moment that God is our supreme treasure, the thing we love most. That all the affections of our heart are enraptured with Him, we delight in Him and in Him alone – and this is demonstrated in every action of our lives, every thought of our mind, and in every physical effort we exert. – They all proclaim the love of God. In other words, the law is not being fulfilled unless it is observed as a way of giving and showing love to God or others – no matter who they are. But, let’s be transparent for a moment.
- We don’t love God with all of our being, all the time, do we?
- We don’t love our neighbors as we love ourselves, all the time, do we?
- This is not what goes on in our hearts, is it?
- This is not what guides our thoughts, is it?
- Our actions don’t demonstrate that God is our supreme treasure, do they?
So, while we have the “call to love” – we admit that we cannot do this ‘in and of ourselves.’ Unlike the religious leaders of Jesus day we cannot look at law as the way to life. We understand that:
The law reveals our death in sin. The law never meant to save man, because it could not. No man can save himself, or justify himself, by keeping the law. The law was given in order that we might be brought to Christ. In Paul’s words it was meant to be ‘our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ’.
But the law also reveals what it looks like to live as God’s people. But, because it reveals our sinfulness, we are forced to realize that we cannot truly uphold the law that is required of God. So, we need outside help. We need someone to come and change our hearts, and enable us to live a godly life. Which God promised to His people in Deuteronomy 30:6
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Here is the good news: this circumcision of the heart, this changing of the heart is provided in Christ as the fulfillment of that prophecy. Through Christ, God changes our hearts so that we may live. So we not only see the call to love, but that God has provided the power to love through Jesus Christ.
2. The Power to Love
Jesus Himself Is Our Perfection
Again, this is the paradox of the law. That God requires strict and perfect obedience but at the same time provides the means of dealing with the fact that such obedience cannot be given by sinful human beings. – Solution Jesus. Jesus fulfills the law by keeping it perfectly for us, but also displayed its meaning. Jesus was what the law pointed to. Jesus is the true Israelite upon whose heart God’s law was perfectly written.
- Jesus truly loved God with all of His being. It was this perfect love for the Father that was expressed in the shadow of the cross when Jesus prayed in agony, “not my will but yours be done.”
- Jesus truly loves His neighbor as He did Himself. As He told the disciples in the shadow of the cross: this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
He is our only hope for righteousness and thus eternal life – because He is the only one who has fulfilled these commands. When we repent of sin and place our faith in Christ – His righteousness is accredited to us, and we obtain the gift of eternal life.
Salvation happens when we see ourselves as the man lying in the road dead in our sins and trespasses, and cry out realizing we need to be saved. And Jesus out of compassion comes to us – with a love greater than that of the ‘good Samaritan.’ While the Good Samaritan may have risked his life the good shepherd completely surrendered His life on our behalf.
God makes us living and righteous when we as sinners are awakened by His spirit, and see Jesus as our only hope for acceptance before God. Jesus is Himself our perfection. – Our good Samaritan.
Jesus, by His presence and power within us, transforms us to truly love.
When I say that Jesus transforms us – this happens through the gospel, through the Spirit. The gospel is not just for conversion, but for sanctification as the Spirit works to apply the gospel to all areas of your life.
- The gospel is not just the starting point of the Christian life. The gospel is necessary for Christian growth.
- It’s not the ABC’s of Christianity but the A-Z.
- It’s not just the milk – It’s the meat of Christianity.
- You don’t leave the gospel and move on to other things – you return to the gospel over and over, and continually apply it to every area of your life – that’s when Christian growth happens.
See, when you experience Jesus as your “good Samaritan” it transforms you forever. You were saved only by the grace of someone who owes you nothing but rejection. And when He saves you there is continual transformed behavior through the power of His spirit as the gospel is applied to living. This transformed behavior is the fruit or evidence of this conversion and continual transformation.
- Gospel faith attaches you to Jesus for salvation, like a branch is attached to a tree.
- Gospel faith also produces fruit, like the tree feeds the branch.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5
Continually remind yourself of the gospel. Abide in God’s glorious grace. The gospel not only produces faith, but feeds your faith allowing you to bear fruit. Your loving deeds depend on the power of Jesus in the same way a branch depends on the tree. Therefore, the gospel is not only the power to love, but also the motivation to love
3. The Motivation to Love
Someone once said that “a life poured out in deeds of compassion of love to others is the visible sign that you have experienced the love of God in Christ.” In the beginning of the parable, we see that God’s word requires a love that cannot be mustered up in obedience to a laws requirement; it is a love that comes from a changed heart. We need a changed heart.
Loving God and neighbor is a response to the free grace shown in Jesus Christ, our good Samaritan. It’s when you see Jesus, and what he’s done for you, that you respond out of joy and your heart is changed. You then receive His power, and are motivated to be a neighbor to others. You were saved only by the grace of someone who owes you nothing but rejection. Therefore you love all people – and reject no one, but love them as to show them the beauty of Christ.
So when you see people who you think “don’t deserve neighborly love.” You need to remember that you, yourself were just like that towards Jesus – undeserving, dying in your own sin. Understanding that motivates you to throw down your excuses and sacrificially love others as yourself.
4. The Ministry of Love
A ministry of love demolishes any sinful limitations we might put on mercy. We are to love others even when it is risky and costly to us. Sacrificially loving others means that all the longing that I have for my own safety, health, success, and happiness – I now must feel for others as if he/she were me. Even the people I don’t like. The people who are not like me.
This is what loving your neighbor as you love yourself looks like. It’s only possible through Christ’s work – which changes your heart to desire God with all of your being. Here is how ‘loving God’ and ‘loving neighbor’ are related.
“Loving God is made visible and manifest – by sacrificially loving others.” This is the proper response to the gospel. This is a radical command. It cuts to the deep roots of human sinfulness – and requires the Spirits power.
It’s sad that has to Jesus start with you and I, and our inborn, deep, defining “love for self” as the measure by which we love others. Think about it, we all want to be happy, to live with satisfaction.
So loving your neighbor as yourself means:
- In the same way you long for food when you are hungry, feed your neighbor when he is hungry.
- As you long for nice clothes for yourself, long for nice clothes for your neighbor.
- As you work for a comfortable place to live, desire a comfortable place for your neighbor.
- As you seek to be safe and secure from calamity and violence, so seek the comfort and security of your neighbor.
- As you seek friends for yourself, seek to be that type of friend to your neighbor.
- As you want your own life to count and be significant, desire the same importance for your neighbor.
- As you like to feel welcome in a company of new people, so seek to make others feel welcome.
Seek for your neighbor the same things you seek for yourself, and do so with the same energy, passion, creativity, and persistence. And ultimately, as Christians we understand that God is the fulfillment of what you desire for yourself, therefore the proclamation of the gospel is the aim of our love for others.
Delight in God, abide in Him in such a way that His love will overflow and extend itself to all those around you – so that they would find Him as the all satisfying treasures of their souls. The external behaviors will only be pleasing to God when they flow from a heart that delights in God – when they flow from love for God.
May your heart delight and find joy in the gospel. Knowing that Jesus, your good Samaritan came to you while you were still yet dead in your trespasses and brought you to life.Remember, that you have been saved by grace, and your attitude towards others should reflect that grace and overflow into compassionate love – reflecting the gospel of Jesus Christ. Live as one who has experienced that beautiful grace.
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16
- William P. Smith, How To Love Difficult People, 3.
- See Brad Young’s book Meet The Rabbis.
- Throughout the gospel of Luke the legal experts have been monitoring Jesus’ faithfulness to the law. In the end, we know that the legal experts are the ones who are responsible for Jesus’ rejection and suffering.
- Contra Liefeld, 942.
- Nolland, 582-3.
- John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, 482-516.
- D.A. Carson, Love in Hard Places, 19.
- What we have going on here normal, the law were always in dialogue “about achieving eternal life and about the essence of the law” in these open air classrooms. (Young, 32-33)
- Later Jewish literature has similar dialogues between religious rulers where Psalm 34:12-14 are quoted as a means of achieving eternal life.
- He was thinking of some form of self salvation by works and has no understanding of divine grace.
- See a similar assumption on the part of the rich ruler in Luke 18:18.
- Notice the repetition and placement of the verb “to do” throughout the passage.
- Nolland, 583.
- Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, cf. Romans 13:9.
- Contemporary culture so greatly emphasizes the importance of self-esteem, of self-love, that the little phrase “as yourself” is often understood to be a command to love yourself, or at very least an implicit sanction of self-love. Although the idea is very popular today, the issue of self-love and its place in the Christian scheme of things is rather complicated, but for the moment it will suffice to point out that in this passage self-love is neither commanded nor commended.
- John Piper, What Jesus Demands of the World, 265.
- This is why Walter Liefeld argues that “above all, this command must be understood in its context with the parable, with attention to the questions of v.25 and v.29 and to Jesus’ application in vv.36-37. (EBC, 942)
- Leon Morris, TNTC, 204-206.
- See Ed Clowney’s excellent book How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments.
- Tim Keller, Ministries of Mercy.
- This insight came from my friend Zach Hawkins.
- Adapted from John Piper’s What Jesus Demands of the World, 258-259.