Recently, I made a decision: I want to be viewed as a yes man. By “yes man,” I don’t mean a person of unquestioning, mindless obedience or a sycophant. Instead, I mean a man who says yes when his neighbors ask for help. Or, when God reveals a need to me, I say yes to Him and offer to help. I want my neighbors—yes, my physical neighbors who live less than 40 yards away from me—to know that I am willing to serve them. I want the 88 year old widow to know that I want to help her rake her leaves. I want the 70 year old, technically-challenged retiree to know that it’s not a problem for me to help her set up her new laptop and printer. I want the older, single man to know that, in a weird way, I enjoy climbing on top of the roofs to blow the leaves off of everyone’s roofs in my little neighborhood. I want the young family, with the dad that works 16 hour shifts, to know that I don’t mind stacking wood with him in the rain. Why? Because if Christ lived as a servant (Mk. 10:45), then I want to live as a servant. Not only that, but it’s an incredibly practical way to obey the second half of the Great Commandment. Consider these two passages:
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29, emphasis mine)
Now, these are different occasions, but they both talk about our top two priorities when it comes to loving: God first, neighbors second. The second account, Luke 10:25-29, introduces the parable of the Good Samaritan. Take a second and re-read the last verse of that Luke passage, noting especially the portion I italicized.
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, emphasis mine)
Here’s my question: how did he plan on justifying himself? It says that the lawyer asked “who is my neighbor” because he was desiring to justify himself. What does that mean?
Well, I think the passage gives us 4 clues:
He was a lawyer (i.e. he was highly respected in his community).
He wanted to test Jesus (i.e. make Jesus look bad).
He wanted to justify himself (i.e. make himself look good).
Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan.
Here’s my guess: when it came to loving his neighbors, this lawyer probably thought he was doing a great job. The only way he could justify himself is if he thought Jesus was about to give him kudos for being a shining example of loving his neighbor. After all, would it make sense to ask this question if the neighbor wasn’t loving his physical neighbors? But Jesus shatters his definition of ‘neighbor.’
In the story of the Good Samaritan, the man who falls is passed up by a priest and a Levite but helped by a foreigner. While not certain, it’s possible the priest was the local priest for this man; perhaps the Levite knew the man as well. Jesus finishes the story by forcing the lawyer to admit that the Samaritan proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell (in Luke 10:36-37). Why do you think Jesus did this? Why do you think Jesus forced the lawyer to admit that the foreigner was the neighbor, and not the priest or Levite who were actually his physical neighbors?
I think it’s because the lawyer already loved his physical neighbors and was becoming prideful about it. However, in America, we’ve got it reversed: we might sponsor a child in Africa—and know her name—but not know the names of our own neighbors who live less than 40 yards away. Sponsoring a child is a great thing; not knowing your neighbors’ names is a bad thing.
The lawyer thought he would justify himself because loving your physical neighbors was a no-brainer in Jesus’ culture. Of course you’re supposed to love the people that live right next to you. Jesus expanded his perceptions. Our problem is that we need to start taking the second half of the Great Commandment more literally. We need to love our neighbors.
So here are my two challenges for you:
Be interruptible. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take 5-15 minutes, say yes on the spot and help them. The odds are good that you have 15 minutes to spare (if you don’t, then don’t beat yourself up). But, in light of the fact that the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day, I think we can all make time to help our neighbors for less than 1/8 of our TV time.
Be intentional. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take a large chunk of time, like an hour or two, challenge yourself to sacrifice that time to serve them. In fact, make it your goal to serve them within a week of them asking. Once again, knowing that the Average American watches 34 hours of television per week, I think we can all find a couple hours of our week to spend helping our neighbors.
So, why this push to love our physical neighbors? Because I think American Christians are completely ignoring the second half of the Great Commandment (which makes me wonder if we are also ignoring the first half of the Great Commandment). Can you honestly tell God that you followed the Command to love your neighbors if you don’t even know your neighbors’ names? Do we think God is pleased if we listen to dozens of sermons and can discuss in depth all our favorite Christian preachers and authors, yet don’t know the names or needs of the people God has placed in our immediate physical vicinity? I think it’s time to turn off the TV, spend less time reading about Christian living, and start spending some time living like Christians. Let’s start taking intentional steps to know, serve, and love our neighbors.
“…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)