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Love Your Neighbor

There was once a church and one Sunday morning the church was full. Every seat was occupied - just like our church is this morning. So the whole hall was full of people. So if the hall is full, the church must have been fired up, right? And the preacher was about to start his sermon. Suddenly, two men walked into the hall. They were dressed in black. So these men were wearing black clothes and black hats and they were looking black. They came from the back entrance of the church. They came into the middle of the church and as they reached there they started to take something out of their pockets. They took out two guns. One of them announced, " Everyone of you here who wants to take a bullet, sit in your seats". Then he clarified, 'Everyone who wants to take a bullet for Jesus, sit here". What do you think happened in the church? One by one everybody ran for their lives. In a few minutes this hall, which had been fully packed, became empty. The preacher was still standing, and there were about 20 people sitting in the church. The men who had the weapons put their weapons back in their pockets and told the preacher, 'Alright preacher, now that the hypocrites are gone you can begin the service'.

We don't want to be hypocrites, do we? See, our faith in God is going to be tested. Now this is a silly way to be tested but everyday God gives us opportunities or put things in our way to test our faith. He really wants to know who really belongs to him. Who really loves him, who really wants to hold on to his commands? God is always putting out the test to all his people. We as his children must pass that test. And this testing happens all the time - he doesn't spare anybody. And we, as disciples must understand that we are living in a world full of these temptations and challenges and we must face these holding on to his word and to Jesus.

Luke 10:25-29
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
27 He answered: "'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, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Here we see Jesus being tested by a teacher of the law and he is asked a very simple question - 'How do I get to heaven?' Jesus responds with another simple question ( hey, you're the teacher of the law) ,'What does the law say?' The man replies proudly, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself" . Jesus told him he had answered correctly and that if he did this he would live, you will have eternal life, you will enter heaven. And that's the challenge before every one of us today - to enter heaven by loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

This is the test we face everyday as a Christian - loving God with all of our heart, soul, strength and loving our neighbor. And only if we pass this test everyday as long as we live, will we make it to heaven. The Old Testament says that if we had been righteous before and then decided to be wicked, we will not make it to heaven. It also says if you were wicked all these years and you decided to be righteous, God will bless you and you will make it to heaven. The whole Bible can be summarized into these two commands and we, as disciples need to have it on our hearts to love God and love our neighbors.

Now, we all have a problem - a problem to get convicted. We already know this, isn't it? Even before we came to this church we knew it, we've heard it, we've been taught that this is the universal law. We have a serious problem in our hearts because we don't want to be convicted. When we get convicted, we get uncomfortable. We want to live a comfortable life with no pressures. That is my problem; that is our problem. We don't want to distance ourselves from the life we are living, the sins we are involved in, the kind of lifestyle we have, the kind of thoughts we entertain - we don't want to change that, we just want to keep doing it.

That is what happened to this teacher of the law. He knew the law, he knew what the Bible said, he asked Jesus and Jesus said he got the right answer (if you do like this, you'll live) but then, what did he do according to v29? It says, 'But he wanted to justify himself so he asked, ''who is my neighbor?"' He wanted to justify himself. What does it mean? He didn't want to be convicted. He didn't want to think deep about these commands of God and what it really means for his life to change. That is our problem with our hearts. We don't want to be quickly convicted. We want to feel good about ourselves, good about our Christianity, good about ourselves and the way we are living now and we don't want to discomfort ourselves. We are no different from this teacher of the law.

Today, we've got to examine our hearts -
* 'Am I comfortable with the way I'm living as a Christian?'
* 'Is my heart soft enough and eager enough to let the Word of God cut me?'
* 'When I talk with God, when I open the scriptures, when I spend time with other brothers and sisters am I open enough to get cut, to get challenged, to get inspired to get more godly?'

So, Jesus tells him a story because here was a man who was self-righteous. He told him a story to get the man's attention on his heart.

Luke 10:30-36
30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.
35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

Here's the story of a man who was robbed. The robbers not only robbed him but also beat him and left him almost half-dead. So a priest came and passed by on the other side. A Levite came and he also passed by on the others side. Then a Samaritan came and the Bible says he took pity on the man. He went to him, bandaged his wounds, poured oil and wine, put him on his own donkey and took him to a nearby inn to take care of him. He gave two silver coins to the innkeeper and asked him to take care of the man and told him that whatever extra expenses came up, he would reimburse the innkeeper. Who was this wounded man to the Samaritan? Was he his relative?

If someone is our relative we may show him or her this kind of care. If it were our near and dear ones, our closest friends, maybe we would do it. This was a total stranger. No relationship, nothing is known about this stranger -why was he lying half-dead, what happened to him. All the Samaritan saw was that this man was in need and felt that he needed to be with him. Jesus asked the man who was justifying himself which of the three people really was the wounded man's neighbor. The expert in the law said it was the one who had mercy. Jesus told him to go and do likewise.

Doesn't this make you a little uncomfortable? It does make me uncomfortable because by nature, we only want to take care of people that we know, who are close to us or who mean something to us. Or sometimes we don't want to take care of anybody except ourselves. We only think about ourselves - my day, my job, my life, me, myself. Today, Jesus is calling us to think deeply about our faith, our walk with him and our love for him and our love for others. Today that is what I want to encourage you to do - get a little uncomfortable. Only when we get a little uncomfortable are we willing to look a little beyond us.

Romans 13:8-10
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

What does the Bible say here? The law is summed up in this command - to love one another. When we understand the law we will love our neighbor and not harm them. Bible says we have a debt to God. When we have to pay back a debt to somebody, what happens/ it burdens us isn't it? If we owe Rs1000 or 10,000 or a lakh it bothers us and we work out all kinds of plans to pay it back. As disciples, we can understand this because many of us are in debt. We owe a debt to somebody and we must clear it. But we owe a debt to God also.

And this debt we don't remember. That we quickly ignore and say, 'That doesn't matter. God can wait any time'. This debt is a continuing debt -it cannot be paid off. You can pay off your father, you can pay off your neighbor, credit card companies and pawn brokers and they'll be off your back. We have a continuing debt that cannot be paid off but we've got to remember to love our fellow men. We should have this on our hearts and it should burden us the way it burdens us when we owe a debt to somebody. It should be so much on our hearts that we keep repaying it to God, keep clearing before God - loving our brothers and sisters and neighbors.

Woe to us if we don't want to pay a debt back to some man, isn't it? How does the other person feel when we say we don't want to pay him back? Woe to us when we don't care about the debt we owe people, when we do nothing about it. We just sit on it and we have no heart to pay back somebody who gave to us when we needed it. Woe to us when we don't repay to God what we owe to him. Woe to us because God has done so much for us. God has lent out so much to us.

We are living on borrowed time - he lent us this time. If we are living today it's just because he is merciful and has given us one more day - he is extending your days on earth. Woe to us when we are not grateful for what God has been constantly lending us - love, compassion, grace, mercy. He has been constantly showering us with love and compassion and forgiveness and many good blessings even though we don't deserve any of them. We don't even look at the word of God but instead look this side and that side. We've got to look intently into the word of God as James says. Intently means seriously and get ourselves convicted by reading and meditating on God's word.

Philippians 2:3-7
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Look at Jesus' attitude - how we need to be. What is the main thing Jesus did? He did not look to his own interests. He looked at our interests. That is why he came to earth and took the very form of a servant - to serve our interests. We live in a world where every one is looking out for their own interests. That is what the world is encouraging. 'Take care of yourself '.

Jesus never tells me to take care of myself because he tells me he will take care of me. He tells me, 'I will watch over you, I will reach out to you, I will never leave you, I will never abandon you. You go take care of others'. Be careful about what you listen to because all the time we love to listen to what we like to listen to. What was Jesus listening to in the garden of Gethsamane? ' You take care of yourself. Why do you want to go to the cross and go through all this pain? Take care of yourself. Why are you hanging on the cross?'

Even the Pharisees and teachers of the law were asking Jesus this question and inviting him to come down from the cross. That is what you would have loved to hear at the time when you are in a lot of pain and suffering. When you're on the cross these words sound very comforting. But Jesus did not listen to the words that comforted him. His attitude was, 'Even if I don't like to go, I will surrender to your will Father i.e. to go on the cross'. He didn't go to the cross to save himself but to save us, others. That's what the Bible says that we should not look to our own interests but to the interests of others. That's what Jesus did - he gave himself up completely for you and me.

Today I want to encourage you to think deeply about your life. Think about how you are living as a Christian. Am I easily moved by God? Am I moving God with my prayers? Is God really with me? Is my action pleasing to God? Is my service pleasing to God? Will God be pleased with my thoughts and attitudes? We need to think deeply to make ourselves a little uncomfortable.

What amazes me about Jesus' ministry is that he not only preached the good news but he also helped the poor. As Christians we've got to preach the word. But it doesn't stop there. As Christians we've also got to help the poor. We need to pray, we need to preach and we need to practice. If we don't pray we can't preach and we can't practice. If you preach and don't practice you become a hypocrite. To preach you need to have your life back it up and your prayer helps you to preach boldly.

Luke 9:1-2
1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,
2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Jesus is calling the twelve and sending them out. What did Jesus send them out for? To preach the good news of the kingdom and to heal the sick. Preaching and helping go together. What did the disciples do in v6? They preached the good news and helped the people. Look into v10-11. Here again Jesus is preaching the good news to all those who came to him and healing their diseases. Jesus was always there where the need was. When people were in suffering and pain, Jesus was there helping. We don't like to go to places of suffering, do we? Because it makes us uncomfortable. We don't like to go to places where there is mourning, where there is a lot of pain and suffering and agony. It makes us uncomfortable. We want to live a normal life, we want to enjoy a pleasurable life, we don't want to bother about all the pain and suffering. That is our heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:1-6
1 A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
5 It is better to heed a wise man's rebuke than to listen to the song of fools.
6 Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless.

What does the Bible say here? Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting. Sorrow is better than laughter. Sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning but the heart of the fool is in the house of pleasure. Better to listen to a wise man's rebuke than even though that is uncomfortable than to listen to the songs of fools. What do we hear again and again? Better to go where there is suffering and pain and agony because that's good for our hearts. That is what Jesus did - he preached and he helped those who were in need because they were uncomfortable and he wanted to comfort them. As disciples we need to go out and reach out to people in need. If each one of us has the heart to love and care for and deeply be interested in others welfare we will make a deep impact in this world. God recognizes those who have the heart.

Acts 9:36
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas ), who was always doing good and helping the poor.

There are two people whose heart God and others noticed. Here was a woman called Tabitha. What was she known for? She was always doing good and helping the poor. Who was wailing for Tabitha? The Bible says all the widows stood around Peter when he went there because they were crying and showing the robes and clothes Tabitha had made for them. Tabitha was a woman in the New Testament who really cared for the poor and needy.

Acts 10:1-4
1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.
2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.
3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!"
4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.
Here we see Cornelius. The Bible says, he and his family - not just he but his whole family - were god-fearing and devout and gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. And God reaches out to him through Peter. What does the angel tell Cornelius in the vision? "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God Almighty'.

In the church God needs many Tabithas and Corneliuses. We need to have a heart to reach out to one another, to reach out to people around us. Because God notices it and blesses us for it. When we really love God and say we are Christians we need to obey the commands of God. Why do we need to help all these people? By nature we are self focussed, we focus on our problems, we focus on our struggles, focus on our shortcomings, grumble and complain about what we have and what we don't have. When we go out and share our faith and help the poor, we find more people out there in worse shape than we are. It teaches us to be grateful, to be thankful. It teaches us to count our blessings rather than our sorrows, teaches us to be happy as Christians.

Brothers, sisters and friends, today God is calling us to be uncomfortable. Not to justify ourselves and say we are doing so good. Not to say we are loving and that we love God. We get defensive when we are corrected even a little. "Don't challenge me, don't make me uncomfortable'. 'Yes, I'm sacrificing so much and I did this and I did that and I helped that person'. That's how we are -we justify ourselves. What does Paul remind us in Romans - we have a continuing debt to love our brothers and sisters.