In Matthew, Chapter 22, Jesus reveals for us the most important component of our faith:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)
In other words, everything in the Bible points to two commands affirmed by Jesus and given in order of importance: First: Love God. Second: Love People. The order is significant. It points to the reality that we cannot effectively love people unless we are loving God. In fact, calibrating our lives to God’s design and will for us cannot happen without love. And I’m not talking about the kind of love that the world is talking about. The world would have you believe that love is not a choice – that a person has no control over who he or she loves. That love is simply an emotion, a feeling, that you either have or you don’t. Therefore, if you have this love feeling for someone, then you should go after it regardless of whether it’s in direct contradiction to God’s commands. Or, on the other hand, if you lose the love feeling, then you are free to walk away and pursue what makes you happy. Both of these are lies and a direct contradiction to how godly, biblical love is defined.
The truth is that God would not put this much emphasis on a command that was based solely on emotions that can change hour-by-hour or even minute-by-minute. God never commands us to do something that He will not also empower us to do. If the command to love was only ever based on how we feel in a moment, then even those of us who follow Christ would be hopeless. Rather than an emotion, real love for God and for people is a choice, an action. It’s risky, it costs us something, but calibrating your life to the way God intended is always worth the risk and the cost.
This weekend, we are going to look at a familiar parable, given by Jesus in Luke, Chapter 10, that illustrates what this kind of love looks like. In fact, Jesus tells this parable in response to an expert in the Law who at first seemed to understand the greatest commandments, but then asked a question that revealed that he really didn’t understand. His question: Who is my neighbor? It’s a question that all of us have asked in some form or another. Jesus’ answer to the question not only tells us who our neighbor is, but also provides us with a practical look at what it means to love God and love your neighbor.
The story is told of a man who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. Two men walked by – a priest and a Levite – both keepers of God’s Law who decided to cross to the other side of the street and leave the man to die. But a third man, a Samaritan, hated among the Jewish people, makes the choice to stop, bandage the injured man’s wounds, and get him to a place where he could heal. The purpose of the parable was to show that not only was the injured man the neighbor, but also the hated Samaritan.
Rather than narrowly defining neighbor to just those within the law expert’s immediate sphere of influence, Jesus radically expands the definition to include a hurting man in a rough part of town from an entirely different group of people. Jesus shows that those we are to love, our “neighbors,” include not only those who are closest to us, but also those who are furthest from us. And in case you think I’m just talking about proximity, realize that those who are furthest from you in this moment may very well be the very people who are living under your own roof.
Along with giving a definition of “neighbor” that is all-inclusive – those who are easy to love and those who are difficult to love – Jesus also shows us through this parable how love is demonstrated. The Samaritan made an active choice to interrupt his schedule and his life to stop and help the injured man. He dirtied himself to get on the ground and bandage his wounds. He paid out of his own pocket to ensure the man was cared for and then went back to pay the rest of the tab and check on him. None of these things were emotions or feelings – they were choices that fall in line with Paul’s famous words about love in 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
How often we have heard this verse recited at weddings, but how rarely we have seen it played out in marriages! Unfortunately, because of the world’s flawed definition of love, we have turned Paul’s words and God’s command into conditional statements. I will be patient if you are patient. I will be kind if you are kind. I will be humble if you will be humble. But the choice to love is not dependent upon whether others choose to love us back. The Samaritan didn’t expect the injured man to pay him back for his kindness – he did it because it was the right thing to do according to God’s design for how he was to love God and love his neighbor.
There is so much for us to unpack this weekend. I hope that you will join us at 5:30 PM Saturday evening or 10:30 AM Sunday morning.