Who is My Neighbor?
A Question from a Self-Righteous Man
I. The Burden of the Law: Salvation by Loving God and Neighbor Perfectly
Someone tried to test our Lord Jesus Christ once by asking him a question. That man was called a lawyer in Luke 10:25. By lawyer here it means that he was a scribe and supposed expert in the Law of God. What was the question? The lawyer asked: "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? Of course Jesus knew that this man already had an answer for this question. So Christ turned it back on him and asked. What is written in the Law? How does it read?" And the lawyer immediately summed up the whole Law, exactly as Jesus did on another occasion. He said: "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."
This man gave a perfect summary of what the law requires for one to be righteous. The trouble with this is that no man can obey the law perfectly. No man can love God completely, or love his neighbor as himself at all times. That is why Jesus had to come to earth to die for our sins. If man could do these things there would be no need for the sacrifice of Christ. Nevertheless, Jesus knew that this man wasn't seeking to be a follower of his. The lawyer was arrogant enough to think that he could follow the law and be justified. And Jesus rightly said: "You have answered correctly. "Do this and you will live."
II. An Attempt to Justify Not Following the Law
It is the next question that the lawyer asks that reveals his true character. He was a self righteous person that thought that he was better than most. And he mistakenly thought that he was keeping the law perfectly. He overlooked the fact that he wasn't loving all of his neighbors. The opinion of the majority of scribes and pharisees was that your neighbors were only the righteous. According to them, sinners such as Gentiles, Samaritans, tax collectors, prostitutes and a host of others were to be hated as enemies of God. To prove their point they turned to Psalm 139 21,22. This passage tells us that hatred of evil is a corollary to loving righteousness. David goes so far as to say that he hates those who hate the Lord. That may be true, but hatred of the evil person does not mean that you wish him ill. I like what John MacArthur has to say about this Psalm:
"As that passage suggests, hatred of evil is the natural corollary of loving righteousness, But the truly righteous person's hatred for sinners is not a malevolent enmity. It is a righteous abhorrence of all that is base and corrupt and not spiteful, personal loathing of individuals. Godly hatred is marked by a broken-hearted grieving over the condition of the sinner."
In order for Jesus to point out to the Lawyer where he was missing the mark of loving his neighbor, he told a parable.
III. A Corrective Parable
Jesus told the story of a man who was coming from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers who stripped and beat the man, leaving him half dead. It is interesting that Christ never gave the nationality of the man. In fact he said nothing about the man at all, except what we just stated. This man represented any person that was in need, whether Jew, or Gentile, whether tax collector or any other type of person. This is insinuating that our neighbor includes everyone in the world, especially those in need.
There were three people who came along. The first two were religious leaders. You would think that they would do something for the poor man, but they just passed by on the other side of the road. The third person was a Samaritan. This is significant because the Jews hated the Samaritans. They were Jews who had intermarried with the Gentiles and they worshipped in the wrong place. It was the Samaritan who helped the man in need. He felt compassion for the man, bandaged and cared for his wounds, and took the man to an Inn to recover. Plus he payed for his room and board.
Here is where Jesus turns the question of "Who is my neighbor?" on its head. He didn't ask if the man that the Samaritan helped was a neighbor. Rather our Lord asked: "Which of the three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robber's hands?" The answer was so obvious that even the self-righteous lawyer could get it. He said: "The one who showed mercy toward him." And Jesus said: "Go and do the same."
With one simple parable, Jesus showed this lawyer that he had not been keeping the law perfectly and was a sinner like everyone else, and he taught a valuable lesson on being a good neighbor. Just as God loved the world and sent His Son, we are to show the love of God to everyone that we meet. All people are our neighbors, and though we don't love the sin, we must love the sinner and care for them when they are in need. In this way we show that we are the children of the living God. We don't pick and choose who we help. Although one person cannot possibly help everyone, we can help those whom the Lord places in our path each day. And it is our job to be a good neighbor to them in any way we can. It is my prayer that everyone who reads this will become like the good Samaritan and go out of their way to help those in need. In this way we will make this world a better place to live, and show to that world a little taste of the Kingdom of God.