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Others: Whom should I love?

Others: Whom should I love?

A Scripture study from Caring, part one of two.

The spiritual power of a Christian is released when we serve others.

Do you ever wonder how to exercise spiritual power? Some might say: “Eat this.” “Say these words.” “Pray this prayer.” “Read this author.” “Have this experience.” “Go to this conference.” “Look inside yourself.” But no! Spiritual power is exercised in strenuous self-giving service for others.

The word for struggling in Colossians 1:29 can also be translated as “agony.” Which is to say, agony rather than ecstasy is the way to spiritual power. Do you want to know the power of God and a faith that works? Then give yourself over to the struggle of working for the good of others, even as Christ himself worked and struggled for our good. True Christian faith is not lazy faith. It is faith that works, like Paul’s.

Paul says, Serve one another humbly in love (Gal. 5:13b). This is an important key to building community. As we find in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (MSG).

God is far more interested in why you serve others than in how well you serve them. He’s always looking at your heart, whether you are serving willingly and eagerly out of love for Jesus and gratitude for all he’s done for you.

After all, you are most like Jesus when you’re serving others. When he finished washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you” (John 13:15 NLT).

Being a disciple of Jesus, being a Salvationist, “we are saved to serve,” which means orienting our lives toward others, just as Jesus did. It means laboring for the sake of others. This love for others is at the heart of all who love God and minister through The Salvation Army. We set our sights on serving others for Christ’s sake—For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45, NIV).

As Salvation Army Founder General William Booth famously said, our mandate is to focus on others.

Paul summed it up perfectly when he captured God’s call upon our lives in Philippians 2:2-8 (emphasis mine):

Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Whom should I love?

It was a Monday morning after several busy weeks and my wife Cheryl and I decided to take a day to rest and enjoy each other at Disneyland.

We were nearly there when we saw a man begging, asking motorists for money for food. Cheryl first recognized the man. “I think that is Terry,” she said.

“No! It cannot be Terry; he is at the shelter we run in Anaheim,” I said. But Cheryl was adamant, “No, that is certainly Terry.”

I rolled down the window and yelled out. It was Terry. He came running toward me, a little shy and embarrassed. “What are you doing on the streets?” I asked. He replied, “I got kicked out for doing the wrong thing.”

The light turned green and we drove off. But we were not going to Disneyland. I turned the car around and Terry had crossed the road with a full shopping cart.

“Terry,” I yelled, “Wait for me. I’m coming to see you.” Terry waited as I turned the car around and we pulled up alongside him. “Major, I smell pretty bad. I have not showered in over a week,” he said. I embraced him anyway.

Cheryl and I packed all of Terry’s possessions into our car and we took Terry back to the shelter. The words of Jesus rang in my head: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matt. 25:45).

Read the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.

God is love and we are called to live a life of love.

The parable of the Good Samaritan shows not only a way of life but also a way to life.

We are all guilty of committing sin. There are sins of omission (things we don’t do which we should) and sins of commission (things we do which we shouldn’t.) There are sins of the flesh and of the spirit, open sins and secret sins, and so-called “respectable” sins, which we find in this parable.

As Jesus’ earthly ministry took shape, the religious leaders—the authorities of the day—became increasingly hostile toward him. They believed his teaching contradicted their interpretation of the Law of Moses and they resented Jesus because he associated with people whom they despised. He challenged their authority, so they plotted to bring about his downfall by disgrace. One of their methods was to try and trick him into making some careless statement they could use as evidence against him.

In this story, a lawyer—an expert in the Jewish law—came to Jesus with a test.

“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25).

What could be more innocent than that? But Jesus wasn’t falling for that! Instead, Jesus replies with his own question: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (10:26).

The lawyer must have felt confident as without hesitation he replied, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18: “‘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 yourself’” (10:27).

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live” (10:28).

And yet, even the wording of the lawyer’s question is revealing as to his spiritual state, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Didn’t he see a contradiction in his own words? You don’t inherit by doing something; it’s not something you achieve. An inheritance is something you receive because you had a relationship with someone.

Like so many people in the world, often well-meaning and decent-living people, this man thought of eternal life as something purchased by your own good works rather than freely given by God’s grace.

The lawyer didn’t realize he’d already failed the test imposed by the Law of Moses to love God and love your neighbor. The man hadn’t come to Jesus as a seeker of the truth, but Jesus is a wonderful teacher. He didn’t try to score points over his legal inquirer in a theoretical debate. Rather, he complimented him on his answer which was theologically sound. “Do this and you will live.”

The lawyer must have felt a little uncomfortable. He had asked what seemed to be a profound question but he already knew the answer, so why had he asked it in the first place? In front of the listening crowd, he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (10:29).

In other words, “To whom do I owe this kind of love?”

Yet, again, the answer was obvious. Jesus didn’t have to explain the story to the lawyer—it spoke for itself.

There were four distinct characters: (1) The man traveling the road to Jericho, the victim of a vicious assault by robbers. The Jericho Road was a dangerous road for a lonely traveler as it went through barren countryside, with deep ravines, ideal cover for bandits hiding out in wait for someone to rob. He was left for dead by the roadside, stripped of all his possessions. (2) A priest, (3) a Levite and (4) a Samaritan, all traveling separately, probably the opposite way, to Jerusalem. The priest and the Levite ignored the plight of the victim, but the Samaritan had compassion on him and did his utmost to provide help and comfort in dangerous circumstances.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (10:36), Jesus asked.

What other answer could be given?

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (10:37).

Four takeaways from the Good Samaritan

Can you see yourself in the actions of the priest and Levite? Turning God’s command to “love your neighbor” into something less demanding, like “I don’t do anybody any harm”? But not mistreating our neighbor doesn’t mean we have shown him love. Or perhaps they would’ve said, “Charity begins at home,” limiting who benefits from expressions of our love. It’s easy to raise barriers as to who is qualified for our caring, but Jesus warned his disciples against restricting their hospitality to only those who could return it.

We live in a suffering world with hurting people everywhere. Some have been robbed by parental failure; others have been left half-dead because of their own foolishness. Some have been damaged by false teaching or let down by so-called Christians. We often come across these people and opportunities to be a neighbor. What should we do?

It’s notable Jesus selected a Samaritan as the hero of this story. Jews held Samaritans in utter contempt as members of a corrupt race, a nation of half-breeds. They were publicly cursed in the synagogues as heretics and prayers were offered begging God to deny them eternal life.

For Jesus to portray two pillars of the Jewish establishment as “non-neighbors” and a Samaritan as a true “neighbor” was radical teaching. The Samaritan displayed:

1. Legs of mercy
The Samaritan was walking the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, notorious for violence. Even though the priest and the Levite ignored their responsibilities, the Samaritan didn’t. His “legs of mercy” took him to the wounded man—much like Jesus, who didn’t dodge the call of his Father to come to our sin-stricken earth.

2. Eyes of understanding
The Good Samaritan immediately saw the need. He didn’t need any prodding, visions or voices. As Jesus put it, “When he saw him” (10:33) he recognized the need. Our calling is to look to God for guidance, to see genuine need, to have spiritual discernment so that when we find ourselves alongside someone in need we too can go to them.

3. A heart of love
Jesus said the Samaritan “took pity on him” (33). The Authorized Version uses the more descriptive word “compassion.” A compelling power in the Samaritan’s heart would not let him stand still. He had to do something. A heart full of compassion is always followed by action. It might result in moving into situations which, humanly speaking, might better be avoided. But the love of Christ breaks down barriers. The Good Samaritan broke through the societal barrier, putting the priest and the Levite to shame.

4. Hands of caring
The Samaritan ministered to the victim of the mugging: “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him” (10:34). It took time to stop by the beaten-up man to give him aid. The priest and Levite were both busy men, but they were too busy if they couldn’t spare the time to help a fellow traveler in need. Orderly lives are good and proper, but sometimes they must give way to a priority call if the Spirit of God urges.

Caring can be costly. The Samaritan gave freely of his own resources, taking him to the inn and promising the innkeeper he would pay the bill. Caring requires commitment, as the ancient prayer of St. Ignatius says: “To give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing we do your will.” We can be sure that God won’t ask of us more than we can give for he knows our circumstances.

Can you think of someone who fully fits this portrait of a Good Samaritan?

The only one who matches it completely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. It’s rather striking that Luke records in the previous chapter: As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem (9:51). It would be a journey that ended on the cross, the ultimate model of love. Jesus cared when caring was expensive. On the cross, he took our guilt, our liabilities, and paid for us in full.

Our calling as Christians is to hear the words of Jesus to the lawyer and “Go and do likewise” (10:37b).

It’s not always popular, convenient or cheap to follow the example of the Good Samaritan, but it is the right way. It is the way of joy.

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Nesan Kistan, Major

Major Nesan Kistan is the Divisional Secretary for The Salvation Army in Orange County, California, and the Tustin Ranch Corps Officer.