One of our stated goals as a church family is to increase love and godly behavior. Here are a couple of questions: First, why would we want to strive for that? Answer: It is important to making disciples and being disciples. We just wont be true disciples if we are unloving and ungodly. Second, how can we increase in love and godly behavior? Do I just will myself to love everyone? Do I commit myself to more good deeds to prove I care? Do I have to love more people? Sometimes it is hard to love the people I do know. These are good questions. Response: We might increase love and godly behavior when we realize that they are more than just good deeds or good will they are the tangible evidence of our eternal life emerging into our life even now. They are visible elements of Gods saving power at work in us.
Jesus made the connection among behavior, eternal life, and love on a certain occasion when an expert in the Jewish law asked him two important questions (Luke 10:25-37): His first question, a very common question for a rabbi, was "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" I sort of hope that if an expert in the law asked me a question I would do just what Jesus did defer it to the expert: "Youre the scholar here," he says. "Youve studied Scripture, what do you think?" The expert comes back with an answer Jesus himself has given as the greatest commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18)
Now notice that Jesus doesnt regard this sort of love as just a warm feeling or a compassionate tear in the eye. He regards it as a directive for action and a principle for behavior "Do that and you will live." Now wasnt that simple? With two verses and six words Jesus has given the answer to eternal life.
But can it really be that simple? I mean couldnt this instruction to "do that" be mistaken for works-righteousness? And I think I know how to love God (there was a little more detail there) but how do I love my neighbor and what neighbors are we talking about here. What exactly are my obligations to other people?
Thats just how the expert saw it. Wanting to justify himself he couldnt accept the simplicity of Jesus answer. So he asked his second question "Who is my neighbor?" There, that will teach Jesus to make such comprehensive statements! I mean really, we cant go around acting as if there isnt some sort of exception. Life just isnt that simple. The scripture says neighbor and not just "love everybody," so it cannot be an absolute. We need to define neighbor, yes?
Love your neighbor as yourself. Who is my neighbor? Jesus answers this question with a story ...
Once there was a certain man traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Now as we all know, it is a dangerous route and a hideout for bandits. And as you might expect he is ambushed, beaten, stabbed, and robbed stripped of all his belongings and left for dead. He will die if someone does not arrive to help him.
Now along comes this priest riding along on his donkey. He notices the unfortunate victim but passes by on the other side of the road. Perhaps he thinks the man is a Gentile or that his disregard for the commands of God has led him to this state. It might be a ruse and this is just an attempt to get me over there by the high grass and robbers will attack me. He mulls this over until he is on down the road. Meanwhile the certain man is still there and He will die if someone does not help him.
Now there comes a Levite walking to Jerusalem to do his service in the Temple. He sees the man and passes by on the other side. Perhaps he thinks the man might be dead and it wouldnt do for him to defile himself by touching a dead body not that hes squeamish after all since he deals with the sacrifice of animals but if he is defiled then who will fulfill the service in the Temple? What can be done if the man is dead? Meanwhile the certain man is still there and He will die if someone does not help him.
Now at this point in the story, we are just waiting for the hero to arrive. Jesus must have offended the expert of the law and any other faithful Israelites listening by making the next traveler a Samaritan. Samaritans have no respect for Gods law. They have no respect for the temple. They are the result of intermingling between Israelites and Assyrians. They claim to be descendents of Abraham but their history and behavior proves otherwise. Everyone in Jerusalem recalls the acts of terror and destruction Samaritans have committed. It wasnt too many years before Jesus told this story that Samaritans defiled the temple with pig blood and vandalism. Thats an attack that not only destroys, but also creates panic it is symbolic. Jesus should know what sort of people these Samaritans are. The Samaritan woman he spoke to at the well (John 4) had been married four times and was living with a man who wasnt her husband. Just before this Q & A with the expert in the law he and his disciples traveled through Samaria and no one offered them hospitality simply because he was on his way to Jerusalem (Luke 9). That was so offensive that James and John asked if Jesus wanted them to call down fire on the Samaritans as if they were Sodom and Gomorrah. Thats your average Samaritan for you.
But back to the story Jesus says (and I cant believe hes saying this) that a Samaritan comes along and he has compassion for the man so he stops, makes bandages from his own garments, uses oil and wine (his provisions for his journey) to medicate the mans wounds, takes him to an inn (where he is very likely unwelcome), pays the bill and leaves some sort of item on credit to insure that he will pay the bill should it go higher.
So, going back to the original question that prompted this story, Jesus has a "neighbor question" of his own - "Which of these three appears to have been a neighbor to the one who was robbed?" The expert of the law no doubt quite offended by the way the story turned out with a Samaritan cast against type answers without soiling his lips with the "S" word. "The neighbor to the man who was robbed is the one who showed him mercy."
Two Responses It is important to notice these two responses. They go back to our two questions earlier. The response of the expert is: "The one who did mercy." Sure, thats bad grammar, but thats how it is in the original language. And that fits with Jesus response to the response that addresses both the question "Who is my neighbor?" and "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus response: Go and do the same.
Doing mercy and love and good deeds arent so we will get saved. We do what we are. Sometimes there is too much distinction made between doing and being - If I ask you what you do you dont say: "Well, lets see on Monday I fixed a brake line and before that I changed an oil filter, and then replaced a water pump." No you say, "I am a mechanic." I understand what you do when you tell me what you are. Thats the way it usually works. So why cant we get the idea that saying "I am a disciple of Jesus. I am a Christian. I am a child of God" sorts out what we do? We love because he first loved us. We behave in a godly way because we share in his divine nature. Growing in the understanding of our life in Jesus helps us understand what we should do, otherwise we are stunned into inaction ...
This teaching of Jesus became something I experienced one Saturday in Scotland. A few of us there for a mission campaign were walking down a road in Glasgow in a pretty rough part of town. As we were on our way, a drunk was thrown out of a bar into the road in front of us. It would have been almost comical if it hadnt been for the fact that the old alcoholic got up from the ground with a bloody nose. He cursed the bar owner, and not being able to stand he slumped down to the sidewalk and sat next to a garbage can. A human being, thrown out with the trash! As we walked on not wanting to get involved with the intense drama, one of my companions, a new Christian, said "Shouldnt we help that fellow?" (Thats the problem with new Christians they are just so naïve and havent learned how to justify themselves). Seeking to justify myself I pointed out that the man was a drunk and he had probably done something really wrong to get thrown out a bar. Besides that, I was thinking to myself, I need to get back to work on my sermon because I am preaching on a text I just recently studied, Luke 10 and the parable of the Good Samaritan.
I learned a valuable lesson through this living parable. If I have to ask "who is my neighbor?" then I do not understand love. Not the sort of love for neighbor that flows out of love for God and the eternal life we enjoy as a result of Gods love for us. After all, if we have been so blessed as to inherit eternal life from our Father who loves us, shouldnt we be willing to increase to grow in love and share that love with others?
Conclusion (Increasing Love and Godly Behavior They go together for Christ-like love is active) Who do you identify with today in both these stories.
Maybe you dont want to identify with a Samaritan and you cant recall what it was like to be a naïve Christian. Fine, can you identify with the author and perfecter of eternal life Jesus? Didnt the Samaritan just do what Jesus would do? And didnt Jesus do love and godly behavior. He did, and it got him nailed to the cross, but it also got him raised from the tomb. Heres how we increase love and godly behavior those of you whove been baptized and those who would be - I want you to know that when you were/are submerged into Christ you were/are baptized into his death and live with the hope of being resurrected. Gods love and his behavior live in you.
Making Disciples for Jesus Eager to Serve Others
Notes for the Sermon "Increasing Love and Godly Behavior" Part 1
October 24, 2004
Luke 10:25-29 - The expert in the law asks Jesus two questions:
Making Disciples for Jesus Eager to Serve Others
"Increasing Love and Godly Behavior" Part 1
Driving It Home Discussion Guide
October 24, 2004
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