Lord, Who is My Neighbor?

By: Dustin Smith

 

Luke 10:25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. 28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. 29 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

 

Direction in Confusing Times

There are many people today who struggle to find Godly direction in a secular society. Because of everything going on in the world, what we see in the news, and what we hear from others, many are questioning, “Lord, where am I to go and what am I to do in this time?” The answer is that we must love God and love our neighbor. Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:40). Everything that was taught in the Old Testament sits on the foundational principles that you must love God and love people. Today, our planning and decision-making as the church must be based on this fundamental truth- that we were put on this Earth to love Jesus and His children. Our direction is gained in the pursuit of this love.

 

We love the sinner and hate the sin, but we must not use this as justification for church paralysis or mistreatment of others.  When we look at Jesus, our example, we see that He sat and ate with publicans and sinners (Mark 2:16), He touched the leper (Mark 1:40), and He set the captive free. He also compelled His disciples to go to the highways and hedges and compel them in (Luke 14:23). Jesus used His influence to reach the outcast. He sought for the woman at the well, He heard the blind man on the roadside, and He felt His garment touched by the afflicted. Every action was purposeful. His impact came from His desperate love for humanity. When He was betrayed and soldiers gathered around Him, one disciple chose anger and used his weapon, but Jesus’s response was love. He could have called angels to stop His crucifixion, yet He chose to endure because of His unfailing love for the world. His call to us is a reverberating echo of His actions.  Our direction must be a Christ-like love.

 

Jesus taught us to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Peter taught that we should “love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter 1:22). John observed that if we do not love we do not know God because God is love (1 John 4:8).  Jesus further defines our place in this world by saying, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). The simple test to see how much Spirit dwells in you is to check the measure of love you have for others.

 

 

Treacherous Paths and Good Neighbors

When asked the question in the key scripture, “Lord, who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered with a story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. The 18-mile path to Jericho was a very dangerous one and often referred to as the bloody highway. Thieves frequented this path because of its accessibility to the desert, allowing for easy escape. The man traveling to Jericho in Jesus’s story was ambushed by thieves who stripped him of his clothes and left him lying on the road half-dead. People began to pass by the man lying on the road. So as they passed by, the priest and the pious found a way to avoid the man hurting. They saw the pain and chose to walk by on the other side of the road, literally having to step around him as the road was very narrow. These people knew he was in bad shape, and they continued their journey without stopping.

Then a Samaritan saw him, and he reacted with compassion. He cared for him. He helped him get back on his feet. He paid for his next night’s stay in an inn. Jesus asked the question, “Which one was being a neighbor?” and the man responded, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus spoke, “Go and do likewise.”

When Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, he was not just talking about the person that lives like us or lives by us. The neighbor is the person who needs saving when they are at the end of their rope. The one who treated the fallen like a neighbor was the one willing to pick him up in his worst circumstance and not leave him stranded. He was miles away from rest, without food and without clothes, lying in a desert. He needed a savior. His savior turned out to be a Good Samaritan who had the compassion to save him.

Jesus desires that we do likewise in this moment that we live – that we approach those around us as a neighbor and meet their needs like they are our own. To love is to sacrifice. We must become all things to all men. This generation needs the church to speak to them with the language of love.

 

George Floyd and Similar Events

We have reached an impasse in society. More than ever people need to know what side local Pentecostal churches are on. People are hurting because of current and past injustices. The murder of George Floyd has incited more and more city protests, riots, and much debate over the treatment of black Americans by the justice system in America. Where is the church in all of this? As the church, what is our response to the Black Lives Matter movement? But, my main question to you in this time is “Will we be like the Good Samaritan, or will we be like the priest?”

Will we see the Black Lives Matter movement as one that is dividing our country, or will we look into the eyes of our hurting neighbor and say as an organization “I am here for you”? After all, the issue isn’t “Do all lives matter?” To this, both sides agree. The issue to Black Americans is whether the justice system treats and adjudicates black lives equally. The saying Black Lives Matter is the phrase chosen by protestors to stand up for their rights, but this phrase should also be seen as a cry from hurting people for help. We must be careful to not live in the semantics and to stand side-by-side with our neighbor. It is clear more now than ever that what this world needs is Jesus. We do not need more media with multiple false narratives. More government or less government is not going to help solve the matters at hand either. This generation needs the Spirit of God to move. It needs the church to speak clearly the Word of God. The church must be there for those who are hurting, who have been robbed of rights and mistreated on the path.

The church has faced prejudice head-on since the days of the first church. When Peter understood the impact of Cornelius, a Gentile, receiving the Holy Ghost he spoke, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). Acceptance of Gentiles was an essential issue of the Early Church. Many years later, preachers such as Charles Finney preached against slavery as a moral sin during the Second Great Awakening. Throughout the 1800s, many reform movements were established due to the religious fervor of the hour. One of those movements that gained the support of churches was the abolitionist movement that fought to end slavery. As racism and prejudice continue, God has placed the United Pentecostal Church here for such a time as this. We have the opportunity to help those who are hurting.

Apostolic Brethren, this is the moment to show the world what light looks like in dark times. We must be careful to protect that light. There are hurting people on the street. We must be the neighbor they need. Please do not pass them by on the other side. It does not matter whether you agree or not with every stance or action.  Rhetoric that justifies the death of another black man is like the actions of the priest and the Levite in the Bible story. It is not helpful to our neighbor, and it diminishes the church’s reach.

The man who asked Jesus the question “Who is my neighbor?” was looking for a distinction in whom to love. Who do I treat as my neighbor? Is it those in my circle? He needed to know this for his own well-being. Jesus’s response was much more inclusive.  Your neighbor is the one who needs help during the dark times of his life. I believe our reaction to someone else’s pain and hurt should never be ridicule or judgment, but should always be mercy and love.

1 John 3:16  says Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoso hath this world’s good and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.  Will you shut up the bowels of compassion you have for others in this moment? Is this the time to pass by the fallen on our treacherous journey, or is this the time to love like Jesus would: wholeheartedly and overwhelmingly? I pray that the world around you sees you as their good neighbor. May they see the form and power of Jesus in your actions and spoken in your voice.

“Who is your neighbor?” is an important question, and our response to this question has an even greater impact. Jesus’s retort to the lawyer in this matter should be our guide for this hour. You see what a neighbor does when someone has fallen; “Now do likewise.”

 

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