Preaching Date: June 30, 2019
Key Sentence: Love is learned by example. Therefore imitate those who love.
I. The Law of Love
II. The Samaritan: Love for Others
III. Mary: Love for God.
I'd like to begin this morning with a little experiment. I want to try to teach you a simple new way to tie your shoes. At least it was new to me. You can do this in your imagination, or you can put a foot up and try to follow along. So here it is: Untie the shoe so that you have one lace coming out of each of the top holes. Then cross the laces, loop-de-loop, and pull them tight, just as you would if you were tying shoes the traditional way. Second, cross the laces, drop them, loop-de-loop, and pull them, but leave a small circle. Third, take the end of one of the shoelaces and put it through the circle. Repeat with the other shoelace. Lastly, pull the loops of the shoelaces tight. And there you go, you've tied your shoes! At least I hope you have. But I’ll bet some of you didn’t or maybe couldn’t follow the instructions.
Wouldn’t it be easier if you could follow an example? If someone showed you how to do it? Let’s try again with a video: “First, cross the laces, loop-de-loop, and pull them tight, just as if you were tying shoes the traditional way. Second, cross the laces, drop them, loop-de-loop, and pull them, but leave a small circle. Third, take the end of one of the shoelaces and put it through the circle. Repeat with the other shoelace. Lastly, pull the loops of the shoelaces tight.”
Much easier, right? You just need an example to follow. The same is true in the fundamental things of God. Many of the most important things in the Christian life are best learned by following a good, godly example. In today's Scripture, we learn about one of the most important characteristics of the Christian life, love. We are given a command to love, to love God and to love others. But the bare command is sometimes more intimidating than helpful. So we look further in this text, and we find examples of what it means to love others, and to love God. Love is learned by example. Therefore imitate those who love.
Remember, love in Scripture is almost always an action, a behavior, a giving of oneself. And only secondarily is it a feeling or an attitude. So love is best learned by example, and we are called to imitate those who love. In Luke 10:25-42, we see first of all the teaching on the law of love. Verses 25-28 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
We’ve talked about these two greatest commandments many times over the years. The episode begins when a lawyer, one who had deeply studied the religious laws of Israel stands up with a question specifically designed to put Jesus to the test. This does not necessarily imply antagonism, but it does imply a desire on the part of this lawyer to see whether Jesus would give an appropriate, theologically sound answer.
Recognize that this is probably not the same episode recorded in Matthew and Mark. There Jesus is asked “what is the greatest commandment?” He answers, and gives these as the greatest commands. Here the question is “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s a different question. It shows that the people of Jesus’ day were seeking what they called “the life of the age to come,” and it shows that, like most people, they had a works mentality toward it, “what must I do?”
It’s that “what must I do” that leads it back to the other common question of that day “what is the most important commandment of the law.” But Jesus neither asks nor answers the questions. Instead, recognizing that this lawyer is himself an expert in the law, Jesus turns the question back and asks a question of his own. “What do you think?” he asks the man, “what does the law say?” So it’s this lawyer who now mentally equates obtaining eternal life and obeying the greatest command of the law. And the answer he comes up with is the right one, the same one Jesus gave in both Matthew and Mark. He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
These commands summarize the Law, all that God teaches his people to do through the many commands, decrees and rules that he had given. Jesus says in Matthew that all the law and prophets hang on these two commands. Paul says in Galatians and Romans that love for one's neighbor fulfills the law. Together these two commands are called the Law of Love. They are the foundational principle of the law, found in the ten commandments and in all the others.
The law of love is never repealed. The law of love never goes out of style. Though we are saved by grace, and though eternal life is a free gift of God which can never be earned, yet having been given redemption, the forgiveness of sin and eternal life, if we look for a response that honors God, we can’t do better than these two commands. They have the distinct advantage of simplicity: It is a tremendous benefit to remind yourself that in these four, or six, words I can summarize what I’m trying to do with my life: love God totally. Love others sacrificially. But they also have the disadvantage of simplicity, which is that when you simplify something so much, and boil it down to such an essential core, you begin to wonder “what does this mean in practical terms?”
When I worked for Exxon we had thick standards, which gave rules for the design and construction of chemical plants. There were lots of details, but if you looked closely you’d find nearly every section was overridden by a summary of Exxon's intent, which basically told our contractors “do good work,” without really saying what good work was. We can have the same problem. What does it look like to love God totally? What does it look like to love others? Sometimes I want to say “be nice.” If you would be nice to each other these conflicts would go away. But people ask “what do you mean be nice?”
Everybody in this text seems to have been concerned about these questions. The lawyer was. Perhaps he was looking for the loophole. He knew he needed to love his neighbor. It would be easier if it was narrowed down to a small group. So, he says “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus was concerned about the practical application as well, but he had no intention of narrowing it down. He responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which expands our thinking. Luke follows that with Mary and Martha’s story, which is a practical example of loving the Lord your God, the priority of real devotion to him. The law of love is learned by example. We can learn to love by imitating these examples.
So, look at verses 30-37 as an example of loving others. Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Houston to Galveston, but when he stopped for gas he was grabbed, beaten and robbed. His car was stolen, and he was left under the bridge at El Dorado, half dead. 31By chance a pastor was going to breakfast, and when he saw him he locked his doors and turned south. 32Likewise an elder of the church, when he came to the place and saw him, gave him a wide berth. 33But a socialist, a doctor at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, came to the intersection, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34He went to him and cared for his bleeding wound. He he put him in his own car and brought him to Clear Lake Regional, and stayed with him in the emergency room. When he had to be admitted, having no medical insurance, the doctor took responsibility for his costs. He promised to come back and help the man when he was released. 36Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the thugs?” 37The expert in the law said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
This story, this parable, is so familiar that maybe we lose the impact of it. But when Jesus told it, the local and everyday nature of the story was a huge part of its impact. Going from Houston to Galveston is about the same as going from Jerusalem to Jericho, except the road is a lot more hilly and windy. Jericho was even a kind of a suburb. Apparently many of the priests and Levites lived there rather than in Jerusalem. As one of my college professors said about the Pharisees, you would have liked these people. They were the good guys.
But Jesus makes them the bad guys. He is not only saying they lacked compassion, he’s is saying their religion kept them from an act of compassion. The problem was that they risked defilement, they risked ceremonial impurity by going to the aid of this man. It was clear from the Law that if they touched a dead body, they would be ceremonially unclean, and would need an elaborate ritual to return to purity. In fact, if they got within two yards of a dead body, they would be defiled, so they couldn't even get close enough to determine whether the man was dead. they had to pass by on the other side. In the same way the pastor and the elder in my version are thinking “This guy’s probably a drug addict, an alcoholic, a dangerous mentally unstable person. How do I know what kind of risk I'm taking if I get involved? I have a responsibility to my family. I have a responsibility to my church. I'd be better off to just keep going.” Or worse “this guy’s probably just getting what he deserves. It’s his own choices that got him into this. Helping will just perpetuate his problem.”
Jesus' implication is that compassion, love for others, is more significant than my own comfort zone or safe clean life. He proves that when he says the one who comes and shows compassion is a Samaritan. Samaritans were a despised group. There was an antagonism between Jews and Samaritans. It started after the return from Babylon. In the years just before Jesus, it had been intensified because some Samaritans defiled the Jewish temple, scattering human bones there. One historian writes that the Samaritans were publicly cursed in the synagogues, and a petition was daily offered up, praying to God that the Samaritans might not be partakers of eternal life. Do you catch the irony in that? The lawyer had asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. And the one Jesus uses as an example of that doing is a despised Samaritan.
So this was a shock to Jesus’ listeners. I challenge you to make that substitution. Think of those who, in your estimation, are destroying society, those people with the worst values, those who are the greatest hypocrites. Then make the mental leap to give one of those people the quality of compassion. Someone you would never expect it from comes along and puts you to shame by doing what you should do, risking what you should risk.
It’s someone like that who shows compassion on the beaten man, binds his wounds, puts him on his own donkey, and leads it. This too was shocking, because the one who leads a donkey is invariably in the Middle East, a servant. He makes himself the beaten man’s servant, and he takes him to an inn. They didn't have hospitals. But he gives this man both his time and his money. He stays the night and gives the innkeeper two silver coins, one or two days wages for an average individual. The Samaritan is a great example of compassion.
With that Jesus turns the question back on the questioner. Jesus will not give a list of who is and who is not this man's neighbor. Instead, he forces the man to recognize that he must become a neighbor to anyone in need. So the Samaritan becomes for us also an example to follow when we desire live out the law of love. Our neighbor is anyone who is in need, regardless of who they are.
Notice how practical this can be. It’s simply taking care of somebody else's physical needs, spending time with them, spending money if that’s needed. These are ingredients in loving your neighbor ahead of yourself, though there are other aspects of love, especially relational aspects. There are people all around you with only limited physical needs who are yet weighed down by loneliness or depression or shame or just need a friend. This is good Samaritan love too. And if the Good Samaritan’s example is too remote, ask yourself who you know who really demonstrates love for others. How does he or she do it? If we look around, at our church, in families, among our friends, we will notice someone who demonstrates love well. My proposal to you is that you take what is appropriate from how they demonstrate love, and put that into practice.
I won't embarrass anyone by using an example from anyone here, though there are many people who do this well. But I can easily use examples of people who used to go to our church who aren’t just good but great Samaritans in the lives of others. One is Caroline Casselberry, whose husband David died of brain cancer many years ago and who finished raising her children in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Even before the kids left she began to use her home to become Mama Casselberry to all kinds of kids at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. She took some into her home, she’s befriended many, she’s provided for some, she’s counseled. She’s been a neighbor to those far away from home.
Bob and Suzanne Achgill have a similar ministry in College Station. They did it in Russia first. They did it in Israel. But when they moved back to Texas they continued to minister internationals, neighbors far away from home, and they meet physical, emotional, relational and especially spiritual needs. They take these young adults under their wings and give home and family experiences to them while sharing the good news of Jesus, and impacting lives. So I ask again, who can you imitate? Who can be an example to you of loving well?
Do you see the way this works? First we have the unforgettable command, which should provide a basic moral foundation for our lives: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Then we have an example. What does this love look like? It looks like the Good Samaritan. It looks like Caroline Casselberry, the Achgills, or whoever you have in mind. Then comes the application “Go and do likewise.”
Now I have to stop a minute and say that Jesus is handing this questioner a terrible truth. The man had said “what must I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus hasn't even challenged his ability to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. But he shows him that even the simpler task of loving his neighbor as himself presents challenges he will certainly find impossible. He cannot, and we cannot, without dependence on God, begin to fulfill this law of love and we certainly do not inherit eternal life by success at these commands. Only as we throw ourselves in trust into the arms of God, and only as he works in us can we begin to wrestle with living out this standard.
So we have the command, we have the example of the Good Samaritan and now Luke takes another episode, and places it next, partially to provide an example of the priority of devotion to God. It's the story of Mary and Martha, verses 38-42 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke doesn’t say this happened immediately after the previous episode. The words that begin verse 38 could be translated “another time.” Luke saw, I believe, that reinforcement of the command to love God was also important. He picks an event from the minstry of Jesus as an example of devotion. Thus, in Luke, though the journey to Jerusalem has just started, this episode happens quite close to Jerusalem. The village is Bethany, the home of Martha and Mary, whose brother is Lazarus. Jesus comes into the house and begins to teach those who were there. One sister, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, and listens.
Martha, on the other hand is busy serving. She’s preparing a meal. She’s focused. You can almost hear her slamming the pots and pans around and muttering in the kitchen. “How come I have to do all this work? Here am I trying to put together a nice dinner, and she sits out there like a slug. It's not like I don't want to hear what the teacher says. It's just not fair. She ought to be helping me." I know that many of you have felt that kind of stress in your own life. I feel it at time in my own home, where wonderful though they are, my kids sometimes don’t see what needs to be done to help my wife. I’m guilty of that at times too. And even at church there are times when I wish people would be less involved in relationships and more invested in helping with what needs to be done. I repent of that attitude, but I do have it at times.
Finally, Martha gets so frustrated she goes to Jesus and complains. "Tell this sister of mine to help me with this work.” Before we hear Jesus' answer we need to remember that what Martha was doing was good It was commendable and it was right. Her attitude wasn't too great, as mine sometimes isn’t, but what she was doing was okay. It's just that under the circumstances, Mary had made the better choice. Verse 41 “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” The ESV says “the good portion,” but I’m more convinced by the NIV translation “the better part.” Martha got stress and troubled in serving, but Mary found peace in the better thing.
The simple truth is that Martha’s attitude went sour. She didn't have the spiritual strength to serve without frustration. Jesus says, “there are many things you can do for me But there is one thing that is better, and Mary has chosen it.” What is it? To sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus and be devoted to Him. To hear his words, and learn from him. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus implies that it is never to be set aside. It’s an essential priority, and it is what enables us to love others with. “Come Martha, sit here. We’ll order Papa John's if we have to. Make me your priority.”
So we have a marvelous balance of sacrificial love for others, in the Good Samaritan and Martha, but also a clear recognition that Jesus is your first priority, taking at least some time to sit and his feet like Mary and dwell on his words. This pushes back on our contemporary success-driven, social-image, consumer-church version of Christianity. It lifts up old fashioned, out of date, difficult to maintain values of Bible study and meditation, of prayer and attention to God. Of course to really be love for God it does have to translate active service of God, usually express in love for others But that’s second. First we sit at his feet, learn from him, fellowship with him, depend on him, refreshed in spirit by Jesus himself. He says in the next chapter “come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Only as we are strengthened by the Lord, upheld by his grace, can we love our neighbor in a real way.
Again, this is an example to us. Love is learned by example. Imitate Mary. I know I need to. Too often the urgencies of life take me away from the really important thing, time with the Lord. I need to keep reminding myself that any real love for others is grounded in my relationship with him. The thing the Lord keeps saying to me, and maybe he’s saying it to you too, is to build rest into my life. I read a great article this week that challenged me again. Chris Yokel says that you have to put aside the cell phone, slow down, sit back and quiet what the author called the hamster wheels in your mind so you can drink in his peace and pay attention to what he’s quietly saying through his Word and his Spirit.
As I considered people who’ve done this I kept coming back to Amy Carmichael, and she’s kind of an interesting example. If you haven’t read Elizabeth Elliot’s fine biography of Carmichael, you should. The short version is that Amy was born in Ireland to a family of strong believers who served God in Belfast. But she felt a call to missions and after working with little success in Japan and Celyon, she went to India. There she served 52 years without a furlough and founded the Dohnavur Mission. Her most notable ministry was with girls and young women, many of them Hindu temple children who were dedicated to the gods, then usually forced into prostitution to earn money for the priests.
The thing that I find fascinating is that she was both Mary and Martha, the Good Samaritan who actively rescued girls from trafficking, and the contemplative who achieved a life of prayer and meditation when God confined her to her bed for many years. Yeah, that’s what I said. She didn’t really get the love expressed in sitting at his feet part until the Lord forced her to, but it made her ministry much richer. She wrote a lot, and her most famous book is called “If.” I’ll close with a few lines from a section called “Calvary Love.”
“If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love. If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary love. If I do not feel far more for the grieved Savior than for my worried self when troublesome things occur, then I know nothing of Calvary love. If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself, then I know nothing of Calvary love. If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love. That which I know not, teach me, O Lord, my God.”
Loving God and Loving Others is learned by example. Whose example are you following.