In Luke 10:25-29, scripture says a lawyer tested Jesus by asking Him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded by asking the man what the law said. The lawyer responded to Jesus this way: “So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’” He was saying to Jesus we must love a great God in a great way, but we should love our neighbors in the same way that we love ourselves. Jesus told the lawyer that he had answered correctly, but wanting to justify himself, the lawyer then asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
Loving God in a great way we can all understand; we conclude God deserves our best because He is God. But, but like the lawyer, we sometimes ask who is our neighbor? We do this because sometimes we may know a few people who get on our nerves, who do us wrong, who are impossible to live with, and so forth. Surely, we think, there must be a limit on how far we go with some people, so we ask, “Who is our neighbor?”
Here are some truths I have learned from life with God. If I am your father or mother, that makes you my child; if I am your child that makes you my father or mother. If I am your husband, that makes you my wife; if I am your wife, that makes you my husband. I believe it would be difficult for anyone to rightly argue the truth of these statements. Likewise, If I am your neighbor, that makes you my neighbor. And, if you are my neighbor, that makes me your neighbor. These are truth also.
To me it doesn’t seem like God would be completely satisfied that we would only love those that we think of as neighbors as ourselves. What about everyone else? Not all people are our neighbors in the way we think of neighbors. This is how we might see a neighbor: the people who live near us; the people of our community; the people with whom we share something in common; the people who do good towards us; the people who are our friends. These we could think of as neighbors. But God doesn’t see a neighbor the way we see a neighbor.
The lawyer is saying we can love our neighbors, but perhaps we don’t have to love those people who are not our neighbors or who are against us in some way. He was saying could there be room in the law for us to decide how far to go with non-neighbors. He is saying there will be people who are mean to us, there will be people who will persecute us and behave hatefully towards us, there will be people who betray us, so surely it is within what is right in the law to withhold love to people like that.
Well, we must be careful not to turn God’s desires into a law that we blindly follow. If we look deeply into God’s wishes of how we should relate to others, we will find a Spirit that goes beyond the law we see on the surface. The law is specific to a particular event or circumstance, but the intent or Spirit of the Law relates to all that we are and all that we can ever be. Who then really is our neighbor? I must say my neighbor is probably more than the people who live nearby. In trying to justify himself, the lawyer asked the wrong question. It is not just knowing who is my neighbor that matters. Rather the question should be, “Lord, would you show us how to be neighborly towards others?”
Jesus describes a scene for the lawyer in which a man leaves Jerusalem and is robbed and left to die by the roadside heading into Jericho. Three people going to visit Jericho pass by this man. Two of those people, a Priest and a Levite, see the man, but they pass by without stopping to help him. But the third person, a Samaritan, sees the man and stops to give him help. He probably saves the man’s life as a result. Jesus asked the lawyer which of those three people was neighbor to the man who was robbed. The lawyer responds, the one who showed mercy on him. Jesus tells him that is right. The Priest and the Levite were people of God so we should have expected them to help the man, but they did not; the man was not a neighbor of theirs. The Samaritan person was not thought to be a person of God at that time, yet he stopped and was neighborly towards someone who wasn’t his neighbor.
God wants to keep us from getting the right answer to the wrong question. The question is not “what we should do to inherit eternal life”, nor is it “who is our neighbor.” Eternal life is not the wages God pays us for the work we do. Rather, eternal life is the gift of God for the condition of the hearts we have towards Him. Jesus describes a neighbor as anyone, even those who may not be neighbors in the way we know it, who lives in a neighborly way and who does neighborly things towards anyone else.
So, while we must learn to rightly understand the letter of the law, we must also learn to correctly discern the Spirit of the intent of God’s Word. Perhaps the Spirit of the law is this: that we learn to live in a spirit of love towards God and towards all people, and by doing so we will do neighborly things towards all people. A neighbor isn’t just the person who lives near us. We have the power to make everyone our neighbor by the way we live towards others. Learn to ask God the right question so that you come to the knowledge of the right answer, so that you learn to live in the right ways, and so that you can be the person that God points to when He says, “See how he lives? He has the gift of eternal life; go and live likewise.” Live in a Spirit of neighborly love, and you will make neighbors of all people you encounter. Live a Delivered Life. Love you.