Sunday, April 24, 2016

The "Each Other" Teachings of Jesus - Part 3 - Be Fair to Each Other


It seems to be more the rule than exception these days, that even Christians have trouble getting along with their neighbors.  A little girl wrote a note to her pastor, Dear Preacher, I heard you say we should love our enemies.  I am only six and do not have any yet.  I hope to have some when I am seven.  Your friend, Love, Amy.

Who can argue that good neighbor is often today a contradiction in terms?  We have a fortress mentality in our society that separates people.  Barricaded in our air-conditioned forts, we get our information via the tube and newspapers.  We shop for stuff on our IPads. 

I call it Isolation-itis, a form of modern day social leprosy.

The Bible says that we must love our neighbor (Lev 19:18).  The two questions that immediately come into focus are:

       1.     What is it like to love a neighbor (or be fair), and,
       2.     How do I go about doing just that? 

Two texts address these questions,

Leviticus 25:14b gives the principle,
…you must not take advantage of each other.                           Leviticus 25:14(NLT)

In the ancient Hebrew culture God had given the Levitical law for the purpose of making certain there was no question where He stood regarding the treatment of the poor.  There was a law of Jubilee.  Every 50th year, lands sold out of families, especially because of debt, were to be returned to the original owner.  One writer sums up this practice: 

The main purpose of these laws is to prevent the utter ruin of debtors....about once in any man's lifetime the slate was wiped clean.  Everyone had the chance to make a fresh start."[2]

The prophet Amos said much about oppression of neighbors,

This is what the Lord says:  “The people of Israel have sinned again and  again, and I will not let them go unpunished!  They sell honorable people for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals.   Amos 2:6(NLT)   

Isaiah also despised the high handed treatment of the poor:

What sorrow for you who buy up house after house and field after field, until everyone is evicted and you live alone in the land.  Isaiah 5:8(NLT)

Good neighbors are fair in their dealings with everyone, not just the poor.

Our second text, Romans 12, tells us how to act fairly with our neighbors: 

#1. Humble Enough To Recognize Others' Worth

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning:  Don’t think you are better than you really are.  Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.  Romans 12:3(NLT)

Paul was specifically talking to believers when he encouraged humility at the point of respect to the value of other human beings.  We are a body, and the eye is no more useful than the foot.  But this thinking also extends to those outside the church; God also created them.

We can either choose to stay humble, or we can fail to live into God’s plan for our lives. 

Boasting mouths often vacuum-up all sorts of neighbor problems.

#2. Saved Enough To Be Useful

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.  So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.  If your gift is serving others, serve them well.  If you are a teacher, teach well.  If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging.  If it is giving, give generously.  If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously.  And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.   Romans 12:6-8(NLT)

Paul's litany of the gifts (giving, prophesying, etc.) should not obscure the exhortation to USE those gifts.  And they are to be used for God's glory! 

There is an apocryphal story of Abraham that tells of a traveling stranger.  Abraham saw the old man coming along the way, very weary, and his feet bleeding.  With true Eastern hospitality he invited the old man to share his meal and to stay with him for the night. 

When Abraham noticed the old man didn’t ask a blessing on his meal, he inquired why, and the man said, I am a fire worshipper and acknowledge no other god.  At this Abraham grew angry and sent him out into the night. 

Soon after, God called to Abraham and asked Where is the old man I sent to you?  Abraham told God he'd sent the infidel away.  The Lord answered in reply, I have cared for him for over a hundred years, even though he has dishonored me.  Could you not endure him one night and so prove to him God's love?  

Servanthood is not popular these days.  However, Jesus never claimed that following Him would make us popular on this earth.  He DID say that our reward in HEAVEN would be great!

#3.  Loving Enough To Be Involved

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.   Romans 12:9(NLT)

Love must be sincere.  There is nothing less sincere than a faith that says, I love you, and want the best for you, and then ignores the other person’s needs; that’s more a description of hypocrisy. 

The most captivating aspect of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that he acted upon the compassion he felt!  He was hands-on and vulnerable

When you get involved with helping others, there will be an element of risk involved.  That’s because involvement is uncomfortable. 

Mostly we prefer isolation.  If you think Christians are immune to this, you have not taken a long look at why we have a trend towards mega churches today.  When you gather with several thousand others, you can be very anonymous.  You don't have to be involved.  I'm not saying large churches are wrong.  But some people use the large crowd as a place to hide.

#4.  Joyful Enough To Share

When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.  Always be eager to practice hospitality.   Romans 12:13(NLT)

Mature, patient believers realize who provides everything.  

Thanksgiving is not just another Thursday off from the job.  It is a lifestyle for believers. 

When we understand the ultimate sharing that God did for us in Christ, it is not too difficult to then become sharers of both spiritual and temporal gifts with a world that needs both desperately.       

#5.  Christ like Enough To Build Harmony

Near the end[3] of his letter, Paul restates our task:  We are to build-up our neighbor. 

There are many commands about treatment of neighbors that will create harmony.  And indeed, we would all love to live in harmony.  The background for all he says is found in Leviticus (19:17)...

Do not hate your brother in your heart..."

Other scripture reinforces the thought:

The seeds of good deeds become a tree of life;
    a wise person wins friends.     Proverbs 11:30(NLT) 

There is no better way to create harmony than to make a brother out of a neighbor.

Question:How do I Cultivate these Qualities?

It is important to note that you cannot hope to cover all of these qualities.  In strictly human reasoning, there are too many possibilities for error. 

Spiritually speaking, you are also not Jesus! 

So, don't go on overload if you fail at any point.  It isn't failure that offends Christ; what offends the Lord is when we fail to try.  Obedient submission to Christ is the beginning of becoming a great neighbor. 

So the question is a matter of the condition of your heart: 

Do you WANT to be a good neighbor, humble, useful, involved, joyful and Christ like? 

Do you WISH to live in harmony? 

The primary consideration is to RESOLVE to have your heart right with Jesus...the rest will come.

When Cortez landed at Vera Cruz in 1519 to begin his conquest of Mexico with a small force of 700 men, he purposefully set fire to his fleet of 11 ships.  His men on the shore watched their only means of retreat become a pile of ashes, sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. 

With the bridge closed off to the Old World, they confidently pressed on in the New World.

Resolve to give your heart and life to Jesus that way now.  

The old world of sin and strife will sink like one of Cortez' burning ships.  Ahead will appear the New World of new life in Jesus, with all of its challenges and conquests.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

[1] Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
[2]Gordon J. Wenham, Leviticus, (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Co., 1979), 317
[3] Romans 15:2

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