“Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”
August 21, 2016
In the end, compassionate outreach is loving your neighbor.
I. Leave something for the poor and the refugee (Leviticus 19:9-10)
II. Don’t be the cause of your neighbor’s pain (Leviticus 19:11-16)
III. Replace hate with love for your neighbor (Leviticus 19:17-18)
You rarely hear a Good Samaritan story from the point of view of the helper, but our friend Nichole Surovcek, told one on herself recently on Facebook: “Today really checked me. I went to Whole Foods and when I first walk in, there's this mom with her two kids, and the daughter is in the middle of a temper tantrum. It was minutes long. My first thought was, "I could've never gotten away with that as a kid. Why let her do that?" Then I saw the stress level building up for the mom and felt sorry for her. Everyone's just watching.
I moved on with my groceries. Later, I'm checking out and notice the family behind me in the next lane over, and I decided in that moment, that I was going to pay for her groceries. She's probably embarrassed and stressed out, maybe I can put a smile on her face. I got to know her family in that brief moment, and she opened up saying that her husband had passed away about a year ago, and she was doing everything she could to keep her and the kids busy. And then I realized why she just let her daughter scream and cry earlier in the store. They are all still getting used to not having their dad around. May life get easier for you.” In the comments Nicole mentions that “I decided to start paying for others groceries a few months ago, as an appreciation for being alive. Gods always been good to me and it's my way of telling Him thank you.”
For many weeks we’ve studied compassionate outreach, from many points of view: Paul’s teaching, Job’s example, refugees, orphans, the emotional and spiritual needs we all have. As we close this week, I want to look at one of the most famous verses and least known texts in the Bible. The famous verse is ‘love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said it was second greatest commandment, second only to “Love the Lord your God,” and paired with it. In other words, ‘Love God, Love Others.” Later both Paul and James would echo Jesus, saying “The whole law is fulfilled if you love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus, and Paul and James are quoting from a verse in Leviticus 19. But how many have gone back to read that chapter and study the famous phrase in context? Today, as we finish our study of compassionate outreach, we’re going to do that, and we’re going to find that loving your neighbor is immensely personal and challenging and that in the end, as Jesus and Paul and James all realized, compassionate outreach is well summed up as loving your neighbor. Leviticus 19 is a chapter that repeats and amplifies a number of commands given earlier in the writing of Moses, including respect for the Sabbath day, rejection of idolatry, embracing holiness, and a few details on the peace offering which was given to the Lord as thanksgiving.
Beginning in verse 9 this review turns to the way God’s people treat others, starting with what for us is now a familiar concept: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.
We talked about these specific activities two weeks ago when we studied God’s heart for orphans. In an agricultural society, the needs of the poor and oppressed, and of the refugee could be met by leaving part of every harvest field for their use. That would not work so well in the suburbs of Houston. I don’t know anyone around here who even raises all their own food, let alone enough for others, and if you left the outer ten percent of your property unharvested I can almost guarantee you a letter from your homeowners association.
But it’s not hard to figure out the principle here. This means not spending all your income on yourself and your own needs or desires, but being willing to give a piece of your income to compassionate outreach. Give to World Vision, to Samaritan’s Purse, to Show Hope for orphans, to Trinity’s benevolent fund, to the Free Church’s crisis respond in Louisiana. I’m not saying to do all your giving to compassionate outreach. In the Old Testament, this was just one of the ways people gave from their increase. But don’t neglect the principle here, that you give for the needs of the less fortunate of your neighbors.
The heart of this passage, though, is Leviticus 19:11-16. “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12You shall not swear by my name falsely and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 13You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. 15“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.”
These commands are mostly in the form “you shall not,” and many are really “you shall not be unkind to your neighbor,” some followed by “but do this instead.” So we lead up to “love your neighbor” with “don’t hurt your neighbor.”
The first few ‘you shall nots’ are an echo of what the Ten Commandments say about loving others. So, you shall not steal. It’s obvious that stealing does harm to the one you steal from. It’s unkind, it’s unloving. You shall not deal falsely means don’t give someone less value than you promise.
In the Old Testament one of the applications of this was to keep honest scales. If you were selling a pound of flour, it should be a pound, not seven eighths. Today that might look like using someone’s car and not putting gas in it, or cutting someone’s lawn once while they were on vacation, but accepting payment for two, or telling your boss you were sick or working from home when you were really just sleeping in or going to an Astros game. That crosses over, of course, into “you shall not lie to one another.” And that can include lying by silence, accepting the enemy’s lie that what someone doesn’t know won’t hurt them.
Verse 12, “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” This is from the first half of the ten commandments, not directly focused on neighbor love. Except that it can be an offense to your neighbor or brother in Christ if you insist on using common curses that invoke the Lord’s name or his damnation. Your speech is heard not only by God, but usually also by others. So guarding your speech is also love for your neighbor.
Verse 13: “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning.” The word steal in verse 11 implies secret theft, without a person’s notice. This one leans more toward violent theft, tearing something out of someone’s hands, or worse, doing them bodily harm, like the thieves did to the man on the road in Jesus’ parable, leaving him for dead. The other word, oppress, is when a person or a system takes advantage of poverty or lack of legal recourse to keep people in subservience or hardship. This could be as extreme as kidnapping someone and holding them captive against their will, or something systemic, like the lack of swimming pools in ethnic neighborhoods that we heard about after Simone Manuel’s gold medal win, and that contributes to a much higher drowning rate among black Americans.
The last phrase in verse 13, about the wages of the worker, has to do with economic oppression. In that culture if you hired someone to work for you, you paid them at the end of the work day. That one day’s wage might very well be the only provision they had for food the next day. So if you say “Oh, I don’t have that right now, let me give it to you tomorrow,” you would be putting the worker and his family into hunger, maybe even starvation. We actually had an example of that at Trinity a few years back, where a company hired somebody at a certain rate, but it was a startup company that ended up not selling product, and they kept promising that as soon as they got the next big sale they’d be able to pay this guy a paycheck and they never did.
Verse 14 is my favorite in this part “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
This is a vivid picture of taking advantage of peoples’ weakness or disability. How cruel is that? Years ago our family enjoyed a movie called “Telling Kelly,” about a deaf girl in Hawaii whom an artist attempted to reach by illustrating the Gospel. At the climax of the movie the other children around her, hating her because she’s different, push her into the water and abandon her. The artist has to rescue her. That’s the way deaf people have often been treated.
Blind people too have been despised. Earlier we sang "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go." George Matheson wrote this on the eve of his sister’s marriage. He himself had been engaged, until his fiancée learned that he was going blind. She told him she could not go through life with a blind man. So his sister had cared for him, but now she was leaving, and in his despair God gave him those words about resting his weary soul in a love that would not let him go. But how cruel is it to walk out on a blind man? Notice that in this verse there is a “but.” But you shall fear the Lord your God. If you fear the Lord, stand in awe of him and fear his judgment, you will not disdain the needy and the broken. You yourself were needy and broken and this awesome, holy God did not treat you as you deserve, but instead reached out to you in love through Jesus.
Verse 15: “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.” On the way home from Pennsylvania this summer we listened to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” on audio book. I’d forgotten how good it is, and these verses are an almost perfect description of the injustice at the center of that story, and a picture of one man’s integrity in the face of gross prejudice. Toward the end there is a courtroom scene where Atticus, the person of integrity, a lawyer, makes an impassioned plea for the innocence of his client, Tom Robinson, a black man who has been falsely accused of rape. Atticus says, in part,
“To begin with, this case should never have come to trial. The State has not produced one iota of medical evidence that the crime Tom Robinson is accused of ever took place. It has relied instead on the testimony of two witnesses, whose evidence has not only been called into serious question in the face of cross-examination, but has been flatly contradicted by the defendant. Now there is circumstantial evidence to indicate that Mayella Euell was beaten, savagely, by someone who led, almost exclusively with his left. And Tom Robinson now sits before you having taken the oath that the only good hand he possesses, his right.” “Gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?” “We have, your honor.” “Will the defendant please rise and face the jury?” “What is your verdict?” “We find the defendant guilty as charged.”
This list of ‘thou shalt nots’ actually gives us a lot of insight into loving our neighbor, and into compassionate outreach. The person of integrity looks out for the interests of others, and like Atticus Finch, cries out against injustice. Which leads to the last few verses where all this is summarized by “love your neighbor.” Verses 17 and 18: You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
The beginning and end of the two verses use the contrasting words "hate" and "love" to express the same idea, negatively and then positively. "You shall not hate your brother in your heart" parallels "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge." The verses also emphasize the community of believers by using terms like "brother" and "sons of your own people." This does not mean outsiders could be hated and mistreated. We’ve seen that the essence of the Law’s teaching about foreigners is that they are to be treated as well or better than brothers. And Jesus answered the question, "Who is my neighbor?" by showing in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that a neighbor is anyone in need and is not limited to ethnic or economic attachment.
But do notice the parallel. What it means to "hate" a brother is to hold "a grudge" and act it out by "vengeance." The word translated "grudge" means "to keep, to reserve," that is to sustain one’s anger. The impression from the passage is that the anger festers and results in vengeance, perhaps murder. In both ancient and modern tribal societies, feuds nurture anger, and promote recurring vengeance. But Scripture prohibits personal vengeance. In Deuteronomy 32:35 God says “vengeance is mine,” and both Paul and the author of Hebrews interpret this to mean “don’t take vengeance yourself, but leave it to the Lord.”
Notice that part of the motive here is avoiding sin yourself. The offended person can easily become the offender. Even if there is a reason for a grudge, an initial wrong that was done, if I hold the grudge then I become the one who sins. And the verses give the right approach, “reason frankly with your neighbor." The words "reason frankly" reflect a Hebrew term that means "to correct or convince" another person. Other English versions have stronger language, "rebuke" or "reprove." So to love one's neighbor also means or at least includes, helping your neighbor see his own wrong, in the hope that by discussing the offense, the wrongdoer will repent and seek forgiveness. Of course when we confront a person who has offended or harmed us, we need to do so out of true concern for their welfare. That’s where the parallel with love your neighbor emerges. Confrontation is not meant to humiliate or exact vengeance, but to resolve the conflict without any lingering resentment.
The example of Abraham and Abimelech shows how misunderstanding can be resolved through discussion. King Abimelech's servants seized a well belonging to Abraham, and the patriarch brought this to the king's attention. Since both parties wanted to resolve their differences and enter into a pact of friendship, the king and Abraham came to a mutual agreement. Too often we permit resentment to be stored away, like garbage in a can. Unless we deal with it honestly and humbly, the trash eventually spills out into our lives.
The phrase “as yourself” makes this very practical. Scripture, of course, doesn’t commend self-love. It commends loving others. But it does recognize that we do love and care for ourselves, and it’s not shy about using this as a measuring stick for our care for others. This is the "Golden Rule" "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” Paul says much the same thing in calling husbands to love their wives “as their own bodies.” “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” Loving others, James says, the fulfillment of "the royal law" And James says that we display real faith if we live by the great commandment to care for the interests of others.
So what have we seen? Loving our neighbor is both extremely practical and extremely deep. It is as practical as our paycheck, calling us to thoughtfully give a portion to the poor and the refugee and the orphan. It is as simple as restraining ourselves from every act that would harm another person. We don’t steal, we don’t lie, we don’t defraud, especially those who are unable to defend or help themselves; the blind, the deaf, the poor. And this is true even if the blindness or poverty is more spiritual than physical. We don’t buy into the injustices and prejudices, racisms and fears of our day, but treat all men and women as equals, having created dignity as God’s image bearers. In short, we love our neighbor and treat them as good or better than we do ourselves.
This is the vision that has inspired believers all through church history to acts of love and kindness, Good Samaritans acting with simple virtue toward neighbor strangers. I opened this message with Nicole Surovcek’s story of paying a grocery bill. But the story didn’t end there. One of the comments on her Facebook wall said. “This reminds me a friend of mine who did the exact same this for a mom and her kids. Same store too. His act started a world wide random act of kindness movement. #matthewslegacy”
A newspaper described it this way, “Jamie-Lynne Knighten wants the world to know the legacy of Matthew Jackson, a man she barely knew. Their only encounter was brief, about five minutes in a grocery store. 10. But what happened in those moments, and the tragedy that followed, put the Carlsbad woman on a quest to honor the 28-year-old whose kindness left a deep impression.”
“It is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time,” she said Wednesday. “We are trying to turn something sad into something really good.” The late evening trip to Trader Joe’s in Oceanside had been stressful for Knighten, her fussy 5-month-old in tow as she navigated a market she had not been to before. The trip to the register was worse: A $200 tab, her debit card at home, her credit card declined thanks to an anti-fraud lock, and, of course, a crying baby. Knighten began fumbling for her phone to call the bank, as a long line stretched behind her, when a young man stepped up and asked if he could cover the cost. She first refused, but he asked again. Knighten said when she looked into his eyes, she realized that he truly wanted to help.
“It just felt like this huge hug, this great big bear hug,” the married mother of two said. The man said he wanted nothing in return, he simply wanted her to do the same for someone else. She agreed, but asked his name and where he worked, thinking that somehow she still wanted to acknowledge his selfless act. So more than a week later, when she finally had a moment, Knighten called Jackson’s boss at LA Fitness, to say how kind he had been, and perhaps bring him a gift. The gym manager began crying, Knighten said. Days earlier, Jackson had died in a car accident. His Ford Fiesta struck a tree along a shopping complex, not far from the store where Knighten met him. Two passengers in the car were hurt, but have since been released from the hospital. The crash happened less than 24 hours after Jackson had paid her grocery bill.
After a sleepness night, Knighten took to Facebook: “I still cannot believe it. I thought for sure I would get the chance to see him again, give him a hug and thank him at least once more in person. Now I won't get that chance, but more importantly no one else will get the chance to meet him. And that breaks my heart.” The response from friends and family to her post, she said, “was incredible. People saying they were going to pay it forward in Scotland, in Wisconsin, in Australia. Overwhelming. It was overwhelming.”
As a fitness trainer, Jackson didn’t make much, and $200 was a lot of money to lay out for a stranger. But his mother, LeeAnn Krymow, said Wednesday that such kindness defined her son. She remembers one day under a sweltering desert sun where Jackson grew up, Phoenix, that mother and son stopped to get cold bottled water. At a stop light a block later, he suddenly jumped out of the car, ran over to a panhandler and handed his unopened bottle to the stranger. “I knew my boy was like this,” Krymow said. “He loved to be kind. He was just a really special kid. So cute, so intelligent, so talented, an accomplished musician. You wonder why these things happen.” She said he had attended Liberty University in Virginia, and later moved to San Diego County to be near his longtime girlfriend, whom he planned to marry.
Knighten, who is from Canada and had recently returned to North County after a lengthy visit home, said she hopes to spread the word of what she calls “Matthew’s legacy.” She has started a Facebook page and Twitter account under just that name: “Matthews legacy.” Krymow said she is touched to know that her son will be remembered for his good works. There has got to be some good to come of this,” she said. “He would be happy to know that other people are learning from his example.”
In the end compassionate outreach is loving your neighbor. And in the end it is the love of God, poured out into our souls that empowers our love for others.