Who is my Neighbor?

by Mike Stine

This is a story you’ve all heard before.  It is the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It is the Golden Rule put into action- do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  However, I believe that this can be applied to more than simply doing good towards others as I will illustrate later on.  But first allow me to give you the story and the details most of you have probably heard before.

Luke 10:25 begins saying that “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.  ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”  This man wasn’t genuinely searching for a way to heaven, he was simply trying to trap Jesus like so many of the experts in the law tried to do throughout Jesus’ ministry.  This expert in the law thought that he understood the law so well that he was certain to trick Jesus into saying something that obviously went against what all good Jews would believe.  We also run into people like this in our own lives.  There will be people that will ask questions that they don’t really want an answer for but simply wish to trip us up.  Jesus was ready however.

“What is written in the Law?” he replied.  “How do you read it?”  Jesus answered the expert in the law’s question with another question.  Certainly Jesus could have told the man exactly what he must do to inherit eternal life.  However, in asking another question, he made the man come to the right answer on his own.  This way the expert could not say that Jesus had told him something foolish but in fact, the man had reached the conclusion on his own with Jesus to help him.

“He answered: ‘”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 “Love your neighbor as your self.”’  ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied.  ‘Do this and you will live.’”

The expert in the law understood exactly what the law said and what God expected of him.  Jesus said that he answered correctly and by doing what the man had just stated he would live.

“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”  The conclusion the expert in the law should have reached was that in fact he couldn’t uphold the very things he had just stated would allow him to inherit eternal life.  Instead he looked for a loophole in the system the way the Pharisees found loopholes in their own laws.

One such law involves travel on the Sabbath.  According to the laws that Jewish leaders had set up and not God, Jews could only walk a certain distance on the Sabbath before it was considered work.  But it wasn’t considered work if they walked a certain distance and then ate a “meal” after that distance.  So some smart Jewish leaders figured out that if they had to walk a distance on the Sabbath, they would go ahead the day before and hide food along the pathway they intended to take.  They next day when they were walking, when they had reached the distance they were allowed to travel in one day, they also reached the food that they had hidden the day before.  There they stopped for a “meal” and then continued walking to the next place where he had hidden food the day before.

This was just one of the many ways that the Jewish leaders had devised to get around their own laws.  The expert in the law was probably looking for the same type of loophole in what Jesus said was the way to inherit eternal life.  He thought he’d find such a loophole but asking who was his neighbor.

“In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.’”  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was treacherous.  It was also a difficult road to travel because it dropped 3000 feet in 17 miles.  Robbers were known for being on this road and this scene of being robber and beaten up is something that the expert in the law was probably familiar with.

“’A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.’”  We probably immediately think that this is a horrible thing to do.  But I believe that we can actually relate pretty well.  How many times have we been walking in the mall when we see someone handing out flyers for some new product or someone who is doing demonstrations of a new product.  We find ourselves moving towards the outside wall, hoping to get out of distance of the person handing out flyers because we don’t want to be caught by a salesman.

The priest and the Levite would have found this man to be a considerable inconvenience.  There’s the obvious fact that the man needed help which would have taken at least their time from them.  But there is also the fact that this man was most likely bleeding and for all they knew, could have been dead.  To help this man out would have meant touching blood or possibly a dead body.  If the priest or Levite did that, then they would have been considered unclean.

“’But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them the innkeeper.  “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”’”

The first thing we see about the Samaritan is that he did exactly the opposite of what the priest and the Levite did.  Instead he went to the wounded man.  Then he proceeded to bandage the man’s wounds, pour oil and wine on them, and take the man into town on his donkey.  He took him to an inn and took care of him.  When he left the next day he paid the innkeeper to take care of the wounded man and if the innkeeper needed more money, he’d pay him the next time he came back.  The two silver coins the man paid was about two days’ wages, so it wasn’t just couple of coins.  It would have been enough keep the wounded man in the inn for up to two months.

“’Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’  The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’  Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”

The basic meaning of this story isn’t difficult to discern.  We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Everyone is our neighbor and therefore we are to love one another, even sacrificially in the way that the Good Samaritan did, giving up his time, money, and energy.

We encounter people who have been beaten up, robbed, and left by the roadside for dead practically every day of our lives.  These are people who the devil has grabbed a hold of and robbed the joy of life and sometimes even the will to live from them.  He has beaten them up with abuse, uncaring families, and unfaithful friends.  And he has stripped them of their dignity, leaving them naked in their sins.

These people left by the roadside robbed and beaten are the non-Christians.  People who may have heard the gospel before, maybe not.  We too often see these people- robbed, beaten, bleeding, and dying lying by the roadside in our lives.  And we do the same as the priest and the Levite do, we walk to the other side of the road to avoid them.

These people are not necessarily strangers that we avoid and walk away from.  These are people who we work with, friends, and even family members.  We hear stories about broken families, rebellious children, and miserable jobs.  We hear how miserable people are or sometimes we hear stories covering up the emptiness of people’s lives.

And still we walk by, letting these beaten up people lie along the road when we are in fact the only ones who can help them.  Others may have tried to help them, giving them drugs, sex, or money but it doesn’t heal their wounds.  We hold the only bandage that will keep them from bleeding to death but we keep it to ourselves and walk to the other side of the road for whatever reason.

There are three parts to witnessing as I see it- your life, your prayers, and your actions.  While each of these are important in witnessing and any can be effective in bringing a person to Christ, they also build on one another.

The first step in witnessing and possibly the easiest to do living your life.  That is, living your life as a Christian.  Christian literally means little Christ.  When you take the name of Christian upon yourself and others know that you are a Christian, you not only represent yourself before others, but you represent Christ.  Much can be said about living a Christ like life but there is little time to discuss it.

When others look at your life, they should see that there is something different about you than there is in the rest of the world that is not Christian.  There should be something to distinguish between the wounded man lying by the road and the man who is trying to help man.  This all comes down to how you live your life.

Ask yourself, do people know I’m a Christian without me needing to tell them?  Do they see it in how I act?  More importantly, do non-Christians see that there is something in your life that they want or even need?

Living a Christian life in public isn’t as easy as it used to be.  Some people are rude and will walk over anyone who nice.  Others mock Christianity as a crutch for those who are weak.  Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura said this about Christians publicly.

Nevertheless, living a Christ like life will show others that Christianity is not the same as other religions.  Not that we may feel that we have our life altogether, quite possibly we really don’t, but others will see the difference in our lives.

As the family continues to deteriorate, people are just now turning to Christians for help with their children or spouse.  If you live your life as Christ would have you, people will come to you and want to know where your joy comes from.  Then you tell them it comes from knowing Christ.

The second part of witnessing many wouldn’t include but I feel it is a very necessary part.  That is the power of prayer.  This isn’t simply offering up a short one time prayer, not that there isn’t power behind that as well, but it is the persistence of prayer.  That’s why I said that living your life as Christ would might be the easiest step.

Many people have difficulty in continued prayer for someone or something.  They often give up after a few weeks or maybe months when they see that God has not answered their prayer yet.  It is the persistent prayer that is sometimes needed to reach lost ones.  I heard of a story of a woman who prayed for her son’s salvation for over 60 years and her prayer was finally answered shortly before her death.

It is through prayer that we may reach the seemingly most unreachable people.  Only when we ask God to step in and melt hard hearts will witnessing be effective in many cases.  Even when a person may already be receptive to the gospel, prayer will never hurt in witnessing.  There is power behind prayer and more power than we can possibly imagine when we pray, believing that God will answer.

A group of ten men had a regular Bible study in which they met.  One night they were told to each come up with five people they knew that they wished but would never expect to become a Christian.  The next week they came back, each with their five names.  They compiled the names into a list of 50 and gave the list to each member.  They were asked to pray for each person on the list by name, every day for a month.  At the end of the month 30 of those 50 people these men wanted to see saved but thought would never happen had been!  God answers prayer, don’t forget it!

The third part of witnessing is definitely the most difficult.  It requires putting your neck out and possibly facing rejection.  It requires your action.  As effective as prayer is, sometimes we have to be the ones to reach out to other people and not just pray that someone else will.  How foolish would it have been if the Good Samaritan had walked past the man who was robbed and said, I’ll pray for you that someone will come along and help!

Action needs to back up the way we live and the way we pray.  This leaves us very vulnerable to people.  It may mean that we should ask a friend, a neighbor, or coworker to come to church with us.  This obviously means that they could say no and say that they do not want to have anything to do with Christianity.

Our action could place tension in a relationship.  It could even mean the loss of a friend.  Action can mean that we spend time and energy talking with a person about Christ and nothing ever happens because the person still doesn’t see their need for Christ as their savior.

Every time we reach out to another person, we place ourselves at risk for rejection.  Like the Good Samaritan, helping this robbed, dying person will likely cost us something.  But this is better than the alternative.  What happens if we don’t reach out to that person and instead act as the priest and the Levite did?  Will someone else come along?  Maybe, maybe not?  I have a powerful poem that I found on the internet that illustrates what happens when we fear the consequences of witnessing more than we fear that person going to hell.

My friend, I stand in judgment now,
And feel that you’re to blame somehow.
On Earth I walked with you day by day,
And never did you point the way.

You knew the Lord in truth and glory,
But never did you tell the story.
My knowledge then was very dim;
You could have led me safe to Him.

Though we lived together here on Earth
You never told me of the second birth
And now I stand this day condemned,
Because you failed to mention Him.

You taught me many things that’s true;
I called you “friend” and trusted you.
But I learn now that it’s too late,
And you could have kept me from this fate.

We walked by day and talked by night,
And yet you showed me not the light.
You let me live, and love, and die,
You knew I’d never live on high.

Yes, I called you “friend” in life,
And trusted you through joy and strife,
And, yet, on coming to this dreadful end
I cannot, now, call you “my friend.”

Witnessing is not a call for those who are gifted evangelists.  Witnessing is something that we are all called to do.  It is not something that only people who are good at it are to do.  I am not good at speaking out to other people and inviting people to church.  But I know that there are times when just living a Christian life and praying for someone doesn’t bring results.  Sometimes God calls for our action.  We must not sit idly by while our friends, coworkers, and family members go to hell.

Now discernment must be used in this matter.  I understand this.  Sometimes, we may speak to a person and they want to hear nothing about Jesus.  In some cases, we can do nothing more for their heart has been hardened; we are not responsible for their choices.  Other times we must continue to pray that God will soften that person’s heart so that an opportunity will arise for us to speak to them.

I have friends that mock Christianity and do not understand it.  They do not want to understand it either.  While I still pray that God will soften their hearts that I or another person will be able to lead them to Christ, I know the decision is not mine to make.  I have spoken to them about Christianity and if they do not go to heaven, it will not be because they didn’t know about it.

The church needs to rise up as witnesses to a lost and dying world.  We as a congregation need to reach out to those around us who do not know Christ.  It is time to stop acting like priests and Levites and walking away from those who have been left by the roadside robbed, bleeding, naked, and half dead.

We have no right to not tell others about Christ, to not invite others to church, and to succumb to fear of what may inconvenience us.  There is a world out there that is going to hell and we want to sit around unable to live godly lives, unable to pray, and unable to tell others about Christ because we worry about what others may think or say.

Have we not been given a higher calling than to simply keep the joy Christ has given us to ourselves?  It is time for us to start leading godly lives that show to others that the Christian life is something that they themselves want.  It is time for us to get down on our knees and be praying for our family and friends who do not know the Lord.  Not just praying, but praying with the conviction that God will answer our prayers, and beyond our greatest expectations.  Finally we need to get out of the comfortable bubble that we so often live in and realize that we are called to action.  Sometimes we are the best ones for the job and simply praying for someone doesn’t meet the need when they are lying, bleeding in front of us.  As Jesus told the expert in the law, “Go and do likewise.”

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