What love looks like

I love God.

I love him with all my heart. He saved me and made me a new creation. He gave me the new heart I love him with.

I love him with all my soul. I do everything I can to take every thought captive and submit my mind, will and emotions to his mind, his will, his passions.

I love him with all my strength. With my body I do all I can to resist temptation, avoid laziness, and put my hands and feet to his work.

I love God.

I try to love my neighbour.

Who is my neighbour?

A learned man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”

…and by implication, “Who is not?”

He wanted to justify himself. Who is not my neighbour? Where do the boundaries lie, Jesus? I’m looking for a loophole.

Specifically, I’d like to know if Samaritans come under the Neighbour category. Because I have lots of other categories that Samaritans might be eligible for.

And I reckon it’s probably OK with God for me to hate Samaritans. After all, it’s become a family tradition. My dad hates Samaritans. My grandpa hated Samaritans. In fact all of my extended family hate Samaritans, and some of them don’t even know why. Some of them just think it’s in our blood, like a Jewish instinct – we were just born hating Samaritans.

It’s probably fine to hate Samaritans – even with God – because historically they were Jewish but intermarried with pagans. So they are far from pure. In fact they’re worse than pagans because they should have known better. They’re half-breeds.

Jesus thinks, I’ll tell you a story with a Samaritan in it, and I’ll make him the good guy, the hero in fact. Then I’ll tell you that you need to act like the Samaritan did, to be neighbourly. A Samaritan role model. That’ll really mess with your head!

I think Jesus still wants to mess with our heads, to rearrange some furniture, using this story.

Are you ready to be disrupted?

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, so this happened outside the holy city, outside of your comfort zone, out in the real world. This is where the Samaritan was ready for loving action. It’s great that I love God and want to live a life that reflects that love for him. But at some point that love needs to be expressed to others. Out in the real world.

The man was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead. Jesus tells us in John 10 that there is a very real thief. He comes to kill, steal and destroy, like the robbers in this story. Many people you know of have been stripped of dignity, shown no love and openly wear the bruises left by the attacks life has thrown at them. They lie in the road they should be journeying along, left for dead.

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. For many people lying in the road, religion has not helped. Religion has not helped because the last thing a dying man needs is 613 laws telling them how to behave, and countless sub-laws helpfully telling them how to interpret those laws – just to avoid confusion.

What happens next shows us six steps we can all follow if we want to be Christ-like in our neigbourlyness:

STEP 1: Compassion

A lawless Samaritan, as he travelled along his life journey, came to where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. This pity is the same ‘compassion’ Jesus had on those around him. It’s a deep feeling from the inward parts. We’re not talking about a bit of dutiful sympathy for some poor guy. This is gut-level compassion. The Samaritan guy was deeply moved.

And if that’s Jesus’ example then that’s exactly what our response should be to those we see on the road we walk along day to day. Compassion is the first step in genuine God-pleasing community action.

STEP 2: Assessment

Unlike the Priest and the Levite, the despised Samaritan went to the injured man. The second step, once we feel compassion for someone is to assess the damage and our own part in it. When Nehemiah got permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem he didn’t set to work until he’d weighed up the work required to put things right. He went over to Jerusalem and rode around the broken walls first. Feel compassion, but on most occasions it’s wise to go to and take a closer look before rushing to action.

STEP 3: Action

Our hated hero then 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. We move from compassion to assessment to action. And action requires sacrifice. Or maybe you prefer to call it generosity. This is what love looks like.

God may call you to show his love to someone who hates you. Get over it. Lots of us hated God and he died for us.

STEP 4: Follow-up

The next day he took out two days’ wages and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said. The Samaritan did not stop with a quick fix and then desert the wounded man. I’m sure you’ve seen some ministry or organisation come in to a situation, do some trouble-shooting, coaching, or evangelism and see instant results that are not sustained once they leave. The Samaritan understood the value of follow-up. It’s what some companies call after-sales-service. He didn’t just do the deed and run. He genuinely cared for the guy because all of his action started with gut-level compassion.

STEP 5: Collaboration

He said to the innkeeper, “When I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” Not only did the neighbourly Samaritan follow up, he realised he couldn’t do it all on his own. He had to collaborate with others. As churches, we all have different gifts and visions. We’re all working towards the same goal (hopefully), following the great commission. But if we become isolated, keeping our heads down, we will miss out on the great collaboration.

STEP 6: Restoration

Finally, we see absolute integrity in the Samaritan as he makes sure the bill will be settled. He does not leave the rescued man with a bill at the end. He wanted to come back and check that the man had been totally restored and that there was no debt outstanding. Sometimes we might feel good at the beginning of a mission or cause we are following up on, but as the novelty wears off, things get left and loose ends are not tied up. How many people have been helped by the church or other organisations and despite feeling gratitude for being rescued, are left with a tinge of disappointment or abandonment? The Samaritan wanted to make sure the man was fully cared for, totally restored and back on road with no debt outstanding.

Do you think the rescued man would casually thank the Samaritan and never communicate with him again? I think they would have swapped names and addresses and over time families would have been introduced to one another.

Who is not my neighbour?

‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’

The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’

Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Jesus says to Christians and churches today, go and do likewise. There are no boundaries, no loopholes with love. You may be hated by the person you’re trying to help but when you see a need, be like the Samaritan.

Here are those steps again, with some questions:

  1. Allow God to stir a gut-level compassion in you
    1. What do you feel passionate about?
    2. What breaks your heart?
  2. As you are drawn to the need, assess what is really needed and how you can help
    1. How well do you know the need?
    2. Have you assessed your own ability to respond?
  3. Be willing to show love through action, sacrifice and generosity
    1. What can you do with what you have?
  4. Don’t abandon the project – follow up
    1. Are you the sort of person who likes to see things through to the end?
    2. Are there people around you who will hold you accountable and remind you of your goals?
  5. Collaborate with others
    1. Who is the ‘innkeeper’ in your story?
  6. Be a completer / finisher
    1. Will there be any follow-up required when others might think you have finished?
    2. Have you budgeted right to the end of the completed project?
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