Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 21: Love Your Neighbor
May 30, 2010
Objectives of sermon:
· Instruct us in how to love our neighbor as ourselves in everyday life.
· HSB: Slavery, Sell everything (Mk 10:21)
· Marilyn’s article
· Skim passages
Scripture reading: Matthew 22:34-40
Putting it into practice
Jesus said that the entire OT hangs on those two commands, love God and love your neighbor. 600,000 words summed up in 25.
· All of the laws are either about loving God (vertical – last week) or your neighbor (horizontal – this week).
· Every sin that we commit (omission or commission) is a failure to love properly.
It is easy to memorize “love God/your neighbor,” a little harder to understand, but really difficult to apply to all of the messy situations that get thrown at us.
Q What does it mean to love your neighbor when you are looking at a panhandler?
Q How is love involved if you are in the store looking a newer, nicer TV (even though you have one that works perfectly well)?
Q What does ignoring building codes on an electrical panel in your house have to do with love?
· Deut. is all about how to love God and love your neighbor in different practical situations.
What makes the OT so interesting is that it is very concrete, not abstract; it has few principles but lots of practical. The NT is the opposite - principles applied to many situations.
Q Why the shift?
1. In the NT we have the Holy Spirit to help us.
2. NT is building upon the OT (eg. “Muzzle the oz”), and we still need its help navigating the murkiness of loving God and neighbor.
Isn’t the OT obsolete?
Q Important question: Isn’t the OT obsolete?
I have shifted in my thinking: the NT eliminates the specifics, relegating them to Israel. But the principles behind the specifics are still just as true.
· The laws demonstrate God’s heart and the things that concern him, and these have not changed.
We don’t have to eat kosher, but holiness still matters. We don’t have to wear telifim, but the Word must be in our hearts.
Therefore, we need to look carefully into the Mosaic Law to find these principles behind the laws. This isn’t easy because of cultural differences.
This sermon will be unusual in that we won’t be in a specific passage, but rather looking at several laws and what they teach us about loving our neighbor.
· My hope is not just that you see the lasting meaning in these laws, but through the OT we all learn to love our neighbor.
My purpose is to get us thinking about how to find the principles and put them into practice, hence opening up the entire Bible.
1. Good HYGIENE
We begin with what I consider one of the funniest laws:
Deuteronomy 23:12-13 Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement.
We all go to the bathroom (even models), but there is something about reading about it in the Bible that just makes it funnier.
Potty humor aside, proper sanitation is a practical way to treat your neighbor how you would want to be treated – no one wants to walk into that.
· I’ve had to clean up messes from guys who used to camp out under the parsonage, so I can really appreciate this.
But more importantly, proper sanitation prevents many diseases.
Q How do we apply this today? (Pause)
Spurgeon’s application is to take a bath before church, because sitting next to an odorous brother or sister is distracting.
· I don’t know if it’s proper exegesis, but I appreciate it!
But even covering your mouth when you sneeze and using the sanitizer (esp. when sick) are all good applications.
2. Lost and found
Here’s another way we love our neighbor:
NIV Deuteronomy 22:1-3 ¶ If you see your brother’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to him. 2 If the brother does not live near you or if you do not know who he is, take it home with you and keep it until he comes looking for it. Then give it back to him. 3 Do the same if you find your brother’s donkey or his cloak or anything he loses. Do not ignore it.
Q How do we apply this today?
We may not misplace many sheep, but it is such a simple application of loving your neighbor – if you lost something you would want someone to return it, so do that little extra work.
· BTW: I am missing an “Old Navy” sweatshirt.
Beyond “lost and found,” “Love your neighbor as yourself” basically means to treat everyone as you want to be treated and to desire for them what you desire for yourself.
· I say everyone because your neighbor is anyone you have proximity to, and in this era that’s everyone.
This is basically the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)
3. Building codes
This is interesting – the earliest recorded building code:
Deuteronomy 22:8 When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.
· Ancient houses used their roofs like porches, so this was important.
Q How do we apply this today?
Perhaps modern building codes have become excessive, but at their heart, they are very Biblical – you show your neighbor love by taking reasonable precautions to keep him safe.
So ignoring building codes (such as the electrical panel) is unloving towards your neighbor because it puts him at risk. Never mind that you are rebelling against God’s authority, which is rebellion against God.
· That’s a dangerous thing to say in a church full of builders – I may find my windshield bashed in with a framing hammer.
4. Do not steal
NIV Deuteronomy 25:13 ¶ Do not have two differing weights in your bag-- one heavy, one light. 14 Do not have two differing measures in your house-- one large, one small. 15 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
I think we can figure out what this means – Saturday Evening Post captured the sentiment well.
· It’s stealing; granny should be arrested for attempt of theft.
Q How do we apply this today?
There are many ways that folk do a little “white stealing.” Like a white lie, they convince themselves it’s not stealing.
· Sarah and I watched a lady a McDonalds ask for a water cup, then fill it with soda pop (as we drank our water).
Q I doubt any of us do that, but have you ever said it was your birthday to get a free desert?
Justify it as you may, stealing is “love problem,” because we are not loving our neighbor as much as ourselves.
· It does not matter that it’s a corporation or that they are rich – they are still our neighbors.
Q Have you ever cheated on your taxes or misused government benefits? The government is comprised of our neighbors.
Q Have you ever copied a movie or illegally downloaded music?
· I’m probably going to have my car keyed by a USB thumb drive.
A concern for justice.
The next couple of examples have to do with justice. Justice is a major concern of the OT – in the Law (Pentateuch) God gives them laws dictating how to be just, then in the Prophets, God condemns them for ignoring the laws.
Justice is a little tricky about because there are two spheres where justice comes into play: Government and individual. We can do a lot more about the personal sphere than government.
I am not say we cannot affect government – we can and should vote and be politically active. William Wilberforce ended slavery, and we are called by God to be involved
· At the end of the day, we cannot make everyone else vote for what’s right – we can make ourselves do what’s right.
5. equity: One law for everyone
The essence of justice is equity, treating everyone equally under the law.
Leviticus 19:15 15 ¶ “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
Notice that being partial to the poor is as unjust as showing partiality to the rich. God desires equality across the board.
Q Is this more the government’s job or the individuals?
I would argue that it is both. In America, the government is more or less just. Not perfect by any means, but it aspires to justice. This is not at all the case around the world.
Q How do we apply this in our personal lives today?
We love our neighbors as ourselves by having the same love for all of our neighbors and not biased against anyone or any class.
I doubt that many of us are genuinely racist in this room, but I look at myself and see my own biased that drive me to be more caring and patient with some folks than others.
Q Who do you treat better?
· Rich or poor?
· Educated or “simple folk”?
· Cultured or red necks?
· Sinners or saints?
· I am biased against clean shaven guys – I’ve been praying for help to accept Cecil ever since he saved his goatee.
6. Protecting those who can’t protect themselves
Another huge part of justice is protecting those that cannot help themselves. God gives governments the responsibility of protecting the powerless from those with power.
Deuteronomy 24:17-18 17 ¶ Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. [All of whom lacked the family support structure to protect them – if they were mistreated, no one would care] 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.
God’s point – you were once without protection and exploited, so don’t do that to others. It is as if to say, “Love your neighbor as I have loved you.”
Of course “aliens” is a hot button topic. Whether or not America should open its arms to all immigrants, or offer amnesty for illegal aliens is huge political issue that Christians legitimately disagree on.
· The justice of obeying the laws and caring for those here legally is at odds with the justice of caring for the poor.
I will not wade into that, not because I am afraid, but on the principle that this church will not engage in political discussion that distract us from the Gospel.
What I do know is that while they are here we may not deprive them of justice (as Deut. says). You cannot steal an illegal’s money because he will not go to the police.
Similarly, OT laws worked to protect women, because they were easily exploited. Because of the cultural distance, we can’t always recognize these laws as beneficial:
For instance, divorce laws were merciful to women. Without them, a woman could be kicked out, unable to remarry and hence unable to support herself.
Q What about the law that called for a girl to be executed if she was not a virgin when she got married?
I think that actually had the effect of protecting women, but you will have to read the “Inscription” Facebook post if you want to see it.
7. concern for the poor:
I have saved the most difficult for last: How to love your poor neighbor as yourself. How do you respond to the guy with a sign by Taco Bell?
Deuteronomy 15:7-11 7 ¶ If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. 8 Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
Am I the only one who gets nervous reading this passage? When it comes to the poor, I have two fears (perhaps you share them):
1. Having to give up everything
· When have I given enough? I could give away everything and become absolutely desolate, and not even make a dent.
2. Enabling dysfunction
Hardest part of church work is dealing with benevolence requests. At my previous church, I had to field a lot of them, and I came to see that there were three categories of people:
a) Those who have genuine need,
b) Those who have genuine need because of continuing dysfunction, and
c) Those who are scamming the system.
And I am sad to say that the first category made up the small minority of the requests. Each of these groups has to be treated very differently.
· That to say, I am acutely aware of the fact that “helping” can often do more harm.
Here is a question I ask myself:
Q How do we care for the poor in a welfare state where no one dies of malnourishment, but many die of foolishness.
Here is my take on politics and the poor: (to paint with a very broad brush and offend everyone):
You know the proverbs, “Give a man a fish...”? In my experience, liberals just want to keep giving fish away and conservatives just want to keep quoting that proverb, but never actually teach anyone to fish.
Q So how do we apply this and other passages in our context?
Q How do we genuinely love our neighbor, not just giving him what he wants?
Let’s look at Deut.’s solution – there were three levels of providing for your neighbor:
Deuteronomy 24:19 19 ¶ When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
· Gleaning was not a hand out, it was hard work, but with hard work you could provide for yourself.
2. Loans: As I read earlier, you lent (not gave) to those in need, and you were not allowed to charge interest.
3. Slavery: If you couldn’t pay your debts, you could sell yourself to pay them.
This was way different from American slavery – you were selling your labor, not your body. In fact, if you master injured you, he had to let you go. It was also for a limited period of time.
· It was much more like indentured servants.
Q Have you noticed what makes this so different from our welfare system?
You were not handed money or food, you were handed an opportunity to work (and work hard) to provide for yourself. On this principle, Paul said:
2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” 11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.
The hand out system destroys dignity and self-reliance, makes them dependent upon the system – it is not loving.
· We love our neighbor as we love ourselves by giving them the opportunity to help themselves.
Q How does this work out in practice?
Our deacons are responsible for overseeing such helps. They evaluate requests: If is a genuine emergency from someone typically has lived wisely, they’ll see how the church can help.
If the need comes from dysfunction or foolishness, then they’ll attempt to address root issues, teach wisdom and self-reliance, which means your money won’t be spent rewarding foolishness.
This is from an e-mail Josh Krause sent me:
We have been saved from the cycle of sin, we now have the opportunity to be used by God to end someone else’s cycle. That is where I would like to see us going as a church. Identifying with those in need and ministering to their heart.
Meeting peoples’ immediate needs is important, and I believe that we are called to help them if we can. But if we stop there, we have truly failed them. In fact we may have made the problem worse. Giving a beggar only money doesn’t help him – you might as well bring him a sixer.
We also have to be on guard against those who would take advantage of our help and generosity. If we allow that, then we are allowing them to remain in the same old sin pattern – which is no help at all! So while generosity is good, it can potentially allow someone to remain in an unhealthy pattern.
The generosity we offer has to be backed up by love, encouragement, relationship, mercy, truth, mentorship, discernment, etc. We have to realize that it is only God who can truly help these people, but that He will work with us and through us to deliver that help. Josh Krause
I loved reading this. I love seeing this sort of heart in our deacons. We have great deacons.
This means that we will help far fewer people, because most will want the handout and the government has made that easy. But that the people we help be genuinely helped.
· It is my hope that people come to this church on welfare and end up providing for themselves and giving to others.
But if I stopped here, I would be letting us off too easy, because we are the church, and God works through us. Every one of us is called to help the poor.
The deacons (especially Josh) will be on the lookout for way for you and I to serve those in need.
· Tomorrow we need folks to help serve food at Reverie BBQ.
· There will be service opportunities.
· They will need help mentoring folks.
If you want to help out, talk to Josh, and let him know your interests and skills.
There is no getting around it: Part of loving our neighbor as ourselves is giving financially, but to do so wisely, not rewarding foolishness.
· Marilyn and I love to give to Love INC because we know that our money will be well used.
Remember my fear of having to give everything away and when is enough enough? Again, we look to Deut. – there is no command or expectation to impoverish yourself to care for the poor, but rather to lend a hand out of compassion.
Similarly, Paul says:
2 Corinthians 8:13-14a 13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.
You are not called to be “hard pressed” in order to provide for others. You may, however be called to lower your standard of living. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we want to see them provided for even as we are.
· It might be that as you look at that nicer TV, God will call you to stick with what you have and give the money to others.
· Nothing wrong with a new TV, but if you never give anything to the poor and buy it, there is a problem.
And there comes a profound blessing – when we give, we find that our treasure is moved from earthly things to heavenly things.
· This is why Jesus told that one guy to sell everything. (Matt. 19:16-22)
I can’t give percentages or dollar amounts, but I can ask you to look at your spending and determine if you be able to help those who are hard pressed, even as your heart is more opened to God.
· The scary thing is that as you get closer to God, the more he may have you give.
· The cool thing is that you will realize that that is actually a cool thing.
Q & A
We’ve covered a lot of ground and practical ways to love your neighbor as yourself, but now we still have to turn to the Holy Spirit to be guided in your life and empowered to do it.
Objectives of sermon:
· Instruct us in how to love our neighbor as ourselves in everyday life.