I’d like to talk about what I’m going to call gospel neighboring. It’s a term I’m getting from one of the most famous parables that Jesus ever told.
My guess is that it’s the second most famous parable. I think probably the most famous one is the parable of the Prodigal Son. But maybe this is the second most famous parable, the parable of the Good Samaritan. Now, I won’t read you the whole parable. It’s familiar to most of us, but I can recount the story.
Someone asks Jesus “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus tells them about how you have to obey the commands — you love God with all your heart, soul, strength of mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
And the retort to Jesus was: “Well, who is my neighbor?” In other words, he was being asked, what does it mean to love my neighbor, who is my neighbor? What does it mean to love him? And Jesus tells this story.
The story is in Luke, chapter 10, verse 25 to 37. It’s pretty familiar. It’s a story about a Jewish man who is on his way to somewhere on a road that is very, very dangerous.
And on this road, he is attacked by thieves who rob him, of course, and beat him and leave him in the road, half dead. It was an area where there were a lot of robbers and thugs and so on.
Later, two fellow Jews come by on the road — a priest and a Levite. And when they see him lying in the road, they realize the robbers are around, and so they just go by on the other side and get past him quickly.
But then, a Samaritan comes along. The Jews and the Samaritans were enemies because the Samaritans were perceived by the Jews as being racial outsiders. What they would consider not a pure racial breed, a mixed race.
They were seen as racial outsiders and they were also seen as heretics because their religion was different. And so the Samaritans and the Jews hated each other. And yet the Samaritan came along and when he saw the man in the road, he stopped.
He stopped, which means he risked his life and he gave him medical help and he gave him physical help, transportation. He took him into a town and then he provided financial help, telling the innkeeper to keep him until his wounds were better.
And so the Samaritan gives risky, sacrificial, practical help to this man. And that is Jesus’ way of saying this is what it means to love your neighbor. Now, what do we learn from this? I would like you to consider four things, four things we learned.
1. The first thing we learn is it literally tells us that if you’re a Christian and your neighbor — who is anybody in the road, anybody that you’re brought into contact with, anybody, somebody who lives near you, it could be somebody you come upon, it could be one of your colleagues at work. But in other words, to love your neighbor, there’s really no limitation on this. Jesus is saying your neighbor is anyone in your road, that is to say, anyone you find in need.
And actually, I want you to notice something. When somebody asks Jesus, what does it mean to love my neighbor? He gives them a story of a man who sacrificially helps someone of a different race and a different religion. Did you hear that? Loving somebody of a different race and different religion and Jesus says that’s what I mean by loving your neighbor.
So it’s pretty radical. We are being called by Jesus Christ to love our neighbor, meaning anyone, including people of other races, of other classes, of other tribes, as it were, of other religions and that we’re supposed to love them all.
That’s number one. No limitations.
2. Number two, however, Jesus says it’s not enough to show sentiment and goodwill. You need to do something practical — love — don’t love just, you know, in word and sentiment, but in deed. Now, my guess is that the priest and the Levite who came and saw the man lying in the road, might have felt sympathy. In fact, they might have felt terrible. So there was a sort of love. They felt kindness. They felt sympathy for him. But for the man in the road, they didn’t do anything for him.
And of course, that’s what Jesus is trying to say. Loving your neighbor means being willing to actually not just say, oh, you know, I have warm feelings toward you. It means doing something. It means being willing to make sacrificial material, physical financial investment in somebody who’s got those kinds of needs.
So it’s a very, very strong case for what a lot of people would call social action. That’s what a lot of people would call helping people with material needs and not just simply talking to them and feeling love.
So, first of all, it means everybody. Secondly, it actually means not just word, but deed, not just sentiment, but actual material, physical, real help.
3. But thirdly. People say, well, what about evangelism, aren’t you supposed to evangelize? Isn’t that the most important thing? The context for Luke, Chapter 10 verses 25-37, which is where Jesus talks about what it means to love your neighbor, in the very same chapter. The first 25 verses of the Chapter 10 is where Jesus sends out 70 disciples to preach and to evangelize.
So the first interestingly enough, the first half of Luke Chapter 10 is about gospel witnessing. Open your mouth. Tell people about Jesus. But the second part of Luke, Chapter 10 is about gospel neighboring. And so what that does mean is Jesus is on the one hand saying, Christians are supposed to minister in words and deeds, but we’re not just supposed to help the poor, we’re supposed to also evangelize. But we’re not just supposed to evangelize, we’re supposed to also help the poor. Now, by the way, one of the interesting questions is, do they have to always go together?
And the answer is, go look at Jesus himself and you’ll see. Sometimes, for example, in John Chapter nine, he heals a man born blind. There’s deed ministry. He heals a man born blind. But he never says anything to him about who he is. And it’s not until much later, when the man born blind comes back to Jesus, that Jesus says who he is and calls him to faith. And so it depends. The fact is, you do not have to evangelize people when you’re helping them. But you also should always be looking for opportunities. But nevertheless, you shouldn’t do it in a wooden way. You shouldn’t do it in a way that looks coercive. You should never do it in that way. You shouldn’t even look like you’re giving people material help on the condition that they listen to your gospel presentation. That’s not love. That’s actually, in some ways, exploitation.
You can learn about their ministry and the 25th anniversary by visiting here.
So we see therefore, anyone is your neighbor. Number Two: Neighboring means practical help, material help. Number Three: you should try to make sure people know you’re doing deeds in the name of Christ. You should always try to find creative ways of bringing a witness together with gospel neighboring. But you mustn’t do it in a wooden way.
4. And lastly, where do you get the power? Where do you get the motivation to live like this? If you’re reading Luke 10: 25-37, you probably don’t see where you get the power to do this because Jesus says go and do likewise. So this seems like — suck it up, just go do it until you realize something. Who is the ultimate Good Samaritan?
Does the Good Samaritan remind you of anybody, if you’re reading the Gospel of Luke? Does the Good Samaritan remind you of anybody? Somebody who didn’t just risk his life to save a dying man, but actually gave his life to save a dying man. Somebody who didn’t just say, from heaven, I love you, but actually came and did something. Someone who didn’t just save us at the cost of his money, but at the cost of his life. Does the good Samaritan remind you of anybody? Of course he does. And when you see, as it were, Jesus being a neighbor to you in that costley way, in that wonderful way and that glorious way, that will show you — yes, if you do that for me, Lord, in that infinite way, I can certainly do this for you and for my neighbor. So the gospel gives us the power to do neighbor love, gospel neighboring.
And one of the things that I’d like to talk to you about now for a moment is how Avail is actually a perfect way for you to do gospel neighboring.
I jotted down some notes to myself, you know, Avail shows love to people who are facing both unexpected pregnancies and loss from abortion by supporting New Yorkers before, during and after the pregnancy decision with comprehensive care. Now, think about this.
In some ways, Avail is like the Good Samaritan because it welcomes every person no matter what. Just like Jesus. There’s no boundaries as to who is a neighbor. No race, no religion. No one is preferred. No one is denied.
Secondly, It privileges neighboring rather than lecturing. Avail gives unconditional help, practical help. Thirdly, it affirms the “Imago Dei.” That is to say, Avail is absolutely committed to the belief that every woman, man and every child is made in the image of God and Avail does not pit one against the other. Gospel neighboring assumes the fact that every human being is made the image of God and therefore has dignity and is worthy of our help. And lastly, let me just remind you that I am very much supportive of Avail and its gospel neighboring.
It was started by seven women from Redeemer 25 years ago, and now it’s coming up on its 25th anniversary. And so I want to congratulate Avail for its 25 years of gospel neighboring. And I want to recommend it as one of the ways that you can do gospel neighboring in New York City.
For more information about Avail NYC and their 25th anniversary, visit avail25.org/keller.