"The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."" Galatians 5:14 (NIV)
Intro: There is a true story about a 28 year old woman…, who had just got off from work. It was a little after 3:00 a.m. in the morning as she drove home to her neighborhood. She parked her car and began to walk down the sidewalk and across the street to her house. About 30 feet from her door she noticed a man standing in the shadows. She paused when he started toward her; she turned and ran in the opposite direction. She fumbled through her purse to find her keys; she tried to reach a phone to call the police…, but did not make it. The man caught her and stabbed her. She started screaming that she’d been stabbed, she was crying out for help. Lights came on in the house across the street. Windows opened. One man called out, "Leave that girl alone!" The attacker heard it and walked away. But the windows closed and lights went out. So he came back and attacked her again. This time she screamed "I’m dying! I’m dying." This time more windows opened and more lights went on. The attacker went to his car and drove off, leaving the young girl to crawl along the street to her home. Somehow, she managed to drag herself inside. But he came back a third time and found her on the floor, and finally he succeeded in killing her. During those three separate attacks that happened over the course of almost an hour, not one of this young girl’s neighbors came outside to try to help. After the third attack someone called the police who arrived there within minutes, but by this time it was too late. Neighbors who were later interviewed were asked why they did nothing to help. The simplest answer was, “I didn’t want to get involved.” (Story adapted from sermon by Greg Nance)
What I am about to say, I know I could not say…, unless, I knew that you loved me as your pastor. You can hear this because you know that I love you as brothers and sisters in Christ. You might be thinking that nothing like that happens around here. You might be thinking that you would have done something. But I am here to tell you that this happens every day in our neighborhood and Jesus calls us to be involved in the lives of our neighbors.
You see in the shadows of our neighborhood is poverty. Poverty lurks in every home where mom’s or dad’s only source of income is a government check. Substance abuse in our neighborhood is one of the highest among the counties in Kentucky. Domestic violence hides behind the doors in homes where children go to bed hungry and mom and dad stay up all night fighting.
According to the latest demographics info there is one church for every 243 people in the Williamsburg area. Imagine 243 people in every church in your neighborhood. How many churches do you have in your neighborhood?
We can look around and see that there are a lot of people who are crying out for help. Just maybe we turn on the lights…, and occasionally we open the windows.
But today I am going to talk to you about true “Biblical Neighboring.” Today I’m going to share with you what Christ tells us to do. We are going to look at how to get more involved in our neighborhood.
I. Take the Commandment Seriously
Matthew 22:36-39 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
The Pharisees had classified the law into over 600 groups. Everything was categorized under one of these laws. The Pharisees were experts at the Law. They were constantly trying to identify the most important laws and keep the most important laws and thereby impress others with their ability to say, “Look, I do not steal. I do not lie. I come to the temple once a week. I fast. I give a tenth of all my income. I am proud that I am better than those sinners because I keep the most important of the laws. Jesus replied: "’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.”
Had Jesus stopped right there…, every Pharisee could have went home…, a son of Abraham, a child of Isaac, the decedent of Jacob…, for there was no question that they loved the Lord God of their ancestors. They kept the Ten Commandments and obeyed the law to the best of their ability. All the way down to performing the Levitical traditions of sacrifice in the Holy Temple. And they would have been justified in their morality.
But God was about to do a new thing. God was about to move us from salvation by the Law to salvation by Grace. Because, sometimes you could be keeping all of the laws and still not be doing what God wanted you to be doing. And so Jesus adds this second phrase: And the second is like it: ’Love your neighbor as yourself.’" Matthew 22:36-39
Everyone look up here… 1 Corinthians 3:2 talks about feeding the people with milk verses meat. I am about to put some meat on the table: You have to really pay attention to understand this.
[You see God never was alive in the Law…] let me repeat that. God never was alive in the Law. Even if he was it was only for a brief moment right before the animal was offered as a sacrifice. The law always demanded a regular yearly sacrifice for sin. An animal always had to be put to death because try as hard as you might, do as good as you could do to obey the letter of the law, God’s command was for us to do more than obey the law. God’s command was for us to do what was right based on the situation we found ourselves in. Amen!
Let me give an example: The Story of the Good Samaritan. A man was attacked, wounded and beaten, left laying on the side of the road. The law said, it was unclean and unholy to touch this dirty, bloody man lying in the ditch. A priest on his way to the temple to offer a sacrifice was obeying the law by not touching that which was unclean. A Jewish Priest knew the law well. He studied the law and debated it. The Jewish Priest would have become ceremonially unclean by touching this wounded, bloody, helpless, person. So he was justified and obeying the law as he rode past on his way to the temple.
A Levite was on his way to read the sacred scroll at the temple. He was a scribe. He had transcribed the law. He probably knew it by heart. This Jewish Levite was within the rights of the law to not stop and touch this unclean, bloody man lying in the ditch. This Jewish Levite was obeying the law.
A Samaritan who was not even welcomed at the Church of the Jews because years ago his ancestors disagreed on where to build the temple and they were still unfriendly and harsh feelings between the Jews and the Samaritans over something that happen generations ago. A Samaritan came along and picked up the man who had been beaten. He carried him to the nearest home. He treated the man’s bloody wounds. He gave money for his room and board and even promised to pay more money on his way back from worship at the temple if it was needed. This Samaritan broke every law of sanctification.
But Jesus asked which of these three would you say was more a neighbor to the man who was attacked? Jesus answered and said this Samaritan did more to show God’s mercy and God’s grace and obey the Law of God than either the Jewish Priest of the Jewish Levite. And then Jesus tells us to “go and do the same.”
What I just said, is a summary of the Theology of God moving from the Old Testament Mosaic Sacrificial System of the Law (which always resulted in the death of an animal for sin.) God was moving us, his people, to the New Testament Covenant of Grace and Jesus Christ becoming the sacrifice once and for all for sin and Jesus becoming the present tense of the resurrection unto eternal life. Grace always results in life. For in Grace there is death for only a brief moment in Jesus on the cross but life is eternal in the resurrected Saviour.
Take the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself seriously. Because it is the difference between the Law that always resulted in death and Grace which always results in salvation and life.
We are talking about the “Biblical Neighboring.” So, how do we get more involved in our neighborhood? It is not “if I want to.” It is not “when I have time.” Jesus commands us to “go and do the same.” Take the commandment seriously.
II. Become a more involved Giver
"In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ’It is more blessed to give than to receive.’" Acts 20:35
Almost all the attention of Act 20:35 is almost always focused on those last 9 words. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” We all know this part of the verse. We have it memorized. We can quote this part of the verse.
Paul was a tent maker. Acts chapter 18 tells us that during Paul’s second missionary journey to Corinth that he began to work with a couple of Jews there by the name of Aquilla and Priscilla who were also tent makers. Aquilla and Priscilla had just been expelled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius who was driving out all of the Jews and not allowing Jews to live in Rome or operate a business in Rome or in most cases trade in Rome.
Times were tough. Factories were closing. People were out of work. Unemployment was high. The economy for Jews had tanked. So, when Paul came to Aquilla and Priscilla they could have said, “there is not room for another tent maker in Corinth.” But instead they took Paul into their neighborhood and even into their home. Paul joined their tent making business. And over the course of time became part of the family life of Aquilla and Priscilla.
You have to understand how significant this is in God’s plan. Aquilla and Priscilla’s last news of the law and prophecy of the Messiah had been heard from Apollos who was a disciple of John the Baptist. Their last news was that John the Baptist was crying in the wilderness that the Messiah was near. Now to put this into context is was likely some 50-70 years since Aquilla and Priscilla had heard anything other than the message of John the Baptist. So as Aquilla and Priscilla become more involved with Paul…, Paul tells them about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and the reality of God’s indwelling of the Holy Spirit!
Aquilla and Priscilla’s home becomes the host of one of the first house churches. Their home becomes one of the first Christian “New Faith Communities” in Asia. Their hospitality opened the doorway of salvation to many both Jews and Gentiles.
Your christian home is still one of the best tools for spreading the gospel.
But Paul says…, what he did to share the gospel was not easy work. Tents were made out of goat skins. You had to kill the goat. You had to dry the skin. You had to scrape the hide. You had to stretch the fur.
I can sew on a button with a needle and thread. Hello? But I know it would have been very difficult 2000 years ago to have sewn together the thick hide of goats to make a tent.
Almost all the attention of Act 20:35 is almost always focused on those last 9 words. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Here is the lesson we often miss. The first part of that is Paul saying: "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak.” Think about the words “Hard Work.”
It takes hard work to help the weak. It is not easy to be a Sunday school teacher. It is not easy to come out at night and work with the Youth and Children. It is not easy to get up and be part of a Women’s group or Men’s group. It is not easy to share the Gospel. It is very hard work. It is so hard Paul equates it to the labor intensity of tent making. Paul is teaching us that “it takes a lot of effort to be a good neighbor.”
Biblical Neighboring doesn’t just happen by itself. You have work hard at it. Biblical Neighboring is as hard of work as tent making. Neighboring is labor intensive. Neighboring is not just giving…(it is more blessed to give than receive…) Neighboring is sweat and toil and long hours of effort. Neighboring is so intense Paul spent the next 18 months with Aquilla and Pricilla. What would happen if you spent the next year and a half working with just one of your neighbors? Inviting them into your home. Sharing with them the Gospel of Christ. Showing them Christian hospitality. Teaching them about mercy. Teaching them about the Grace of Christ. I am convinced that we would have better results and more professions of faith by focusing on one person. Praying everyday for a year and half with one family. Sharing the good news of the gospel in one home than we do by saying we love all our neighbors and never really getting sharing the message of Christ with any of them. Will you make the commitment to become an “involved giver?”
The question for you to answer today is: Will this church in the future turn inward toward itself? Or will this church in the future turn outward to our neighbors?
Biblical neighboring takes a deep commitment to your faith. It takes a powerful passion to obey the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Closing: Biblical Neighboring Proves to the World that we are Disciples
"Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." John 13:35 (NLT)
“Biblical Neighboring” isn’t just a friendly smile to people who pass us by. It is as hard and difficult as tent making. We prove our love by helping not just when it is convenient, but by giving when it is not easy. We prove it by giving not just when we have plenty to give, but by giving when it means we have to sacrifice and work really hard to offer the help. We prove it by not just when we have the time and energy, but when we ourselves are busy, tired and weary and broken and hurting, but somehow when we love others it takes the attention off of our own pain, and that’s when Christ can really begin healing us saving them! Will you make the decision to “Take the Commandment to Love your Neighbor as yourself Seriously?" Are you willing to “Become a More Involved Giver?”