September 25, 2022
What does it mean to love one’s neighbor? Luke 10 records how Jesus answered this question with a story about a Samaritan who helped a robbed and injured man. Alistair Begg reminds us that while the unexpected and sacrificial actions of the Samaritan are not presented as the way to life, they are nevertheless, for those who trust in Christ, evidence that we have truly been born again. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can believers truly love our neighbor as ourselves.
Sermon Transcript: Print
“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And 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.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’
“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’”
And a brief prayer:
Father, help us now, as we continue to think about this Great Commandment to love you and to love our neighbors. For Christ’s sake we ask it. Amen.
Well, we pick up from this morning. Some of you were not present this morning, but we took a somewhat circuitous route to finally get to the verses themselves. We were working not from this passage in Luke, nor were we working from the parallel passage in Mark, but we were working from the passage in Matthew and in chapter 22. Not in 22… You know, it’s fascinating. My wife said to me last week, she said, “Honey, how many times are you going to say there’s a verse in the Bible and look down and find that it’s not actually there?” And I said, “Well, apparently quite a lot, honey.” It is 22. I knew it was 22. But we were working from Matthew 22:34. And you will notice a slight difference between the way in which this man answers the question and what we read this morning. He adds to it “all your strength.” And it doesn’t change it in any particular way at all. But let’s just pick up from where we were.
We ended this morning by recognizing the fact that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to shed God’s love abroad in our hearts as believers. That’s what Paul is saying in chapter 5 of Romans. In chapter 8, he says to the readers,
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
So faith in Christ is, if you like, the true spring of our love for God. And the statement that is made here concerning the nature of our love, you will notice, is comprehensive: “And he [said to him], ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.’” In the Bible, the heart is essentially the epicenter or the hub of our human experience. It is central. For example, in the Proverbs, it speaks about how the heart is the wellspring of life, how it is important to guard our hearts. So when we think “heart,” we probably think Valentine’s cards. We probably think in terms of emotion. It does involve emotion, but it involves also our minds, and it also involves our wills. After all, it’s in the Gospel of Luke that we’re reminded that it is out of the heart and “out of the abundance of the heart” that the mouth speaks.
So, “all your heart,” and “all your soul,” which is synonymous with our spirit. The way in which spirit and soul are used interchangeably throughout the Bible helps us with this. And if the heart is the epicenter of life, and if it contains that dimension of emotion along with will and intellect, the soul is expressly the place for our spiritual exercises. You will remember that in the garden of Gethsemane, we’re told that Christ’s soul was very sorrowful. And the psalmist is found with relative frequency speaking to himself, and when he speaks to himself, he speaks to his soul. For example: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you [disquieted] within me?”
All of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our mind: “with all your mind.” The faculty of the mind is a gift from God—our ability to bring our minds under the constraints of God, to submit to the word of God, to recognize that by our attitude, by our disposition, and with our intellect, we are brought underneath God’s jurisdiction. We often sing, “May the mind of Christ my Savior live in me from day to day.”
So when we take this and we look at it in its totality—and we should look at it in its totality, rather than seeing each of these pieces as separate parts and bits, as it were, of life, of our human psyche—what it’s really saying is that the Great Commandment is that we are to love God in the totality of our love; we are to love him in response to the love that he has shown to us; that the whole of our lives have become the object of his divine love, and therefore, the whole of our lives are thereby claimed by God himself.
I remember years ago, we had a teacher. Peter Cottrell was his name, and I remember sitting in on a talk that he gave. And as he gave this talk, he was describing what had happened to him when he enlisted for the British Army in the Second World War. And he said that the strange thing, and yet the compelling thing to him, was the initial encounter that he had, along with the new recruits, with their sergeant major. And as the sergeant major outlined for them what was going to be involved, he said to them in no uncertain terms, “And wherever you’ve come from, and whatever you were doing yesterday, and whatever you were planning on doing tomorrow, you need to know: as of this moment, you’re mine. You’re all mine.” And he said it kind of put the thing up his back, you know—he wanted to go home to his mom. But in a beautiful way, that is exactly what Christ is saying to us. He’s saying, “You are mine, and you’re all mine”—no parts left out, no areas sequestered for ourselves.
And so it is that when Jesus completes that piece, he immediately goes on from there, and in verse 39, here in Matthew 22, having outlined this great and first commandment, he adds, if you like, a second part to it. And these two elements, if you like, are inseparable.
And again, as we said this morning, it’s very, very important that we keep in mind what’s being said here. The law is fulfilled by love; the law is not replaced by love. I hope that came across this morning. It is fulfilled by love; it is not replaced by love. You will meet people who say, “Well, we used to have a law. We no longer have a law. All we have now is love.” Basically, “Love God and do what you want.” No, it means “Love God, and do what you’re told,” or “Do what you’re asked.” And so the point is that whoever loves God with the totality of love, then he will love his neighbor as himself. And this, of course, again, is a love in action. What is being described here is not a sort of minimal interest in the concerns of other people, but rather, it is a love that takes the initiative.
And the reason that this is so foundational to the commandments of God is because man—men and women—have been made in the image of God. Incidentally, some people turn this into three commands: that is, that we love God, we love ourselves, and we love other people. There are not three commands here. There are two commands: the command to love God and to love neighbors. How are we to love neighbors? The way in which we love ourselves. That’s not a call to self-love. It is a recognition of the fact that when we discover who we are, how we have been fashioned by God, when we recognize that the care that we take of our bodies—we’re taking a care of that which has been made in God’s image, created by him. We’re not a random collection of molecules. We’re not held in suspension. We have been absolutely put together in our mother’s womb according to the plan. And when we look at someone else in the street, the same is true of them. So the same care that we take to feed our bodies, to wash, to look after ourselves, and so on is to be the expression of our love for other people.
Now, it is love that provides the motivation, but it is the law that provides the direction. So, if you say, “Well, what would it mean to love my neighbor?”—well, you could just go back to where we read from Exodus chapter 20, and you could say, “Well, it means that I honor my father and my mother. They may be my parents, but they’re my neighbors in the image of God. I’m not going to kill anybody or think about it. I’m not going to commit adultery. I’m not going to steal. I’m not going to just tell a bunch of lies. And I’m not going to covet anything that my neighbors have.” That would be part of it, wouldn’t it?
So in other words, instead of immediately saying, “Oh, I’ve got a very strong feeling about, you know, Mrs. Jenkins up the street,” or whoever else it is, “and I feel like I ought to run over and make her a pie”—that’s fine. That’s good. Make as many pies as you want. But are we going to reduce the immensity of this to that? I don’t think so. We have been made by God. We’ve been made for God. And that is true of all to whom we go who are our neighbors.
This morning, one of the sisters gave me a piece. She asked if I would give it back to her; I said I couldn’t promise. But I like it very much. I might keep it. But she came to tell me that this is her little manual for making sure that she approaches telling others about Jesus in a way that takes care both of the Great Commission and also about care for the neighbor. I won’t go through it all. She has ten points. And the first one is “Always, always, always pray before witnessing to anyone. Whether it is one person or a group, you need to pray.” Good. And then she goes further down. She says, “Never debate God’s Word. Don’t argue about doctrine or other organizations. You can’t teach anyone sound doctrine in five minutes.” Good. But then it was number nine that struck me. She says, “Homosexuals, drug addicts, prostitutes, etc.—these people will sometimes tell you things. Love them. Jesus died for them.” And she doesn’t say it, but she might have said, “They are your neighbors.”
You see, here again, the Bible makes it clear. It says, “If you love those [that] love you, what reward do you have?” That’s just normal. Because the people in the same social category, or the people in the same financial framework, or the people with the same level of academic ability, or whatever it might be, that makes perfect sense. We all like to hang around with the same kind of people.
And that, you see, is why I read from the parable that Jesus tells to this man who had come to test Jesus. Once again, Jesus is put on the block, as it were, as these religious leaders want to test and see where he is with things: “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, ‘… What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” Jesus said, “[Well, let me ask you a question:] What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” He comes back: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … with all your soul … with all your strength … with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Good. “And he said to him, ‘You[’ve] answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’”
Does that disturb you a little bit? It should. It should make you wiggle in your seat just a little. Because you immediately want to correct this. You immediately want to say, “Oh no, no, you can’t do this and live, because we know that no one will be justified by the work of the law.” But the interesting thing is that in the New Testament, it never, ever interacts with it in that way. Because, you see, what Jesus is going to point out to this guy is not that he has a theological problem; he has a moral problem. His problem is not that he has an inaccurate understanding of the work of God but that he is morally on the wrong side of the fence. And that’s how it goes on.
You see, the religious leaders, of which this man is one, had status just because they were religious leaders. They would make a big show in the public arena. They would wear the right kind of clothes. They were identified as card-carrying members of the religious elite. They were legitimized, essentially, in the minds of people by the work that they did, by their temple work. They were regarded, by virtue of those activities, as probably men of exemplary piety. And so their actions would tend to be regarded as just self-evidently righteous. And so, this is the spirit with which this man comes to Jesus.
If he’d been smart, he would have quit at that point. But he comes back a second time. And he comes back revealing what’s really going on inside of him: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said … ‘[Yeah, but] who is my neighbor?’” “Who is my neighbor?” In other words, “How many people do I have to include in the neighbor thing? I mean, is it just like my next-door neighbor? Or is it the whole street? Or, I mean, is it just my group, my small group, my neighbors? What is it?” And clearly, he is coming from the perspective that the tighter the group can be, then the better it will be for him. And, of course, Jesus says, “Well, let me tell you this.”
And when I read this, it fills me with an amazing sense of wonder, because this is one of the first Bible memorization passages that I ever had as a schoolboy in Scotland going to a secular school. And my teacher made the entire class memorize this before we started the work of the day. We had to come out to the front and say it, and you couldn’t get started until you said it: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his raiment and departed, leaving him half-dead.” And then it goes on from there. You can read it in the text. But I was in the King James Version. This is the ESV. So I have to pay attention.
“Who is my neighbor?” Jesus says, “Well, let me tell you. A man was going down…” Just “a man.” He’s not a special man; a no-name man, going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Two and a half thousand feet down to eight hundred feet is the drop. Routine journey, place, and a dangerous place, obviously. The robbers were there. They stripped him, they beat him, and they left him half-dead.
And “by chance…” Don’t you love that? You say, “By chance”? Yeah, from a human perspective, “by chance”—but the overruling hand of providence in it all. “By chance a priest was going down [the] road,” and when he saw him, he slipped over to the other side of the road, because the guy was a mess. He didn’t know whether he was dead or half-dead or whatever else he is, but he does know this: that if he goes over to get near him at all, he will become ceremonially unclean, and that will really mess up wherever he’s going. It’ll certainly remove him from the temple precinct for at least ten days or two weeks. So, for whatever reason, he goes by on the other side. And “likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him,” he “passed by on the other side.”
But then “a Samaritan…” How the fellow’s ears must have perked up when he said, “a Samaritan”! “A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion [on him].” And “he went to him,” and he “bound up his wounds, pouring [in] oil and wine.” And “then he set him on his own [donkey],” or “on his own animal,” and he “brought him to an inn,” and then he “took care of him.” And then the next day he took out his wallet or his credit card, and he said, “Look, I’m going to leave this here with you. When I come back through, we can settle things up. But I want you to make sure you take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond what I’m giving you now I will repay you when I come back.”
And so Jesus says, “Well, I want to ask you just one question: Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” See, what Jesus is doing is masterful, isn’t it? Because this man wants to know, “Who’s my neighbor? Who do I have to deal with? I want to make sure that I don’t have to get really stretched on this.” And Jesus says, “No, I want you to consider it another way around: What kind of neighbor are you to anybody?”
He said, “Well, I suppose the one who showed him mercy.” It’s almost as if he can’t use the word Samaritan, because the Jews and the Samaritans have no time for each other. He should have said, “Well, the Samaritan.” He said, “No, the one who showed mercy.” And Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise.”
Now, we have to be very, very careful with this. The action of the Samaritan is not the way to life. But it is, for those who love God with an undiluted love, to be a way of life. Right? Jesus is not suggesting for a moment that he’s setting aside all that he has come to do. It would be ridiculous. And so the real test is a bit like the parable of the sower: “And the seed fell on stony ground. The birds came. Some fell among thorns. It got all messed up. Some fell on good soil and brought forth fruit.” “Brought forth fruit.” So that the evidence—the evidence—is in the fruitfulness; not in the dramatic nature of the response but in the fact that God has done a work in the soil of a man’s soul and has made him different. And he’s saying to these characters, and this character as he represents the group, “The problem with you guys is it’s all on the outside. It’s all on the outside. And that’s not the way that God chooses to work.”
I don’t know about you, but I find this very hard. I found this… This is a tough day for me. It was a tough day because it was a tough yesterday. I found myself struggling with this, and for all kinds of reasons. Maybe it’s just me, but perhaps some of you are prepared to join me in being prepared to admit that too readily, we see ourselves in the reaction of the priest and the Levite. And in recognizing that, we’re then forcibly aware of our need for the pardon of the Lord Jesus Christ as we seek the power of the Holy Spirit to do what is stated here—that is, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
I said this morning—and I don’t think it really registered—the whole idea of, you know, “from great to good.” But I do think that this is timely: that as a church, at this juncture in the context of our world, in the brokenness and confusion of it all, in the animosity of it and everything else, it is definitely time for us to reenergize our spirits in terms of taking seriously the commission that Christ gives to his followers, and then at the same time to take seriously the commandment, this Great Commandment, that he gives to those whom he commissions.
How good it is that we’re able to sing these songs, to remind ourselves that Jesus has silenced the condemnation that comes by way of the law and that the Holy Spirit actually, in a way that is quite striking, makes God’s law a means of grace, makes it for us a mechanism, makes it a path for us to walk in so that we might please him.
Actually, what happens in the gospel—and I got this from my old friend Alec Motyer in his Old Testament piece from somewhere—he says that the wonder of grace is that in Christ, the prohibitory “You shall not” becomes the promissory “You shall not.” You get it? That it says to you, “You shall not…” And in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it says, “I promise you, you shall not…” Because it is the work of God within us. For what God has done the law was unable to do: sending us Jesus.
One final PS, going to the passage that I didn’t read from in Mark. Actually, I’m hoping dreadfully it will actually be there when I look for it. In the passage in Mark, the statement is made: “to love … with all the heart … understanding and … strength, … to love one’s neighbor,” and so on. And that answer is provided—in this encounter with the scribe in Mark 12—that answer is provided by the scribe himself. He answers Jesus, and he tells him this: “Jesus,” he says, “you’re right. You’ve truly said that he’s the one. There’s no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the strength, to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And Mark says, “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
You see, just being aware of it is not the same as living in the truth of it. He was convinced. But was he converted? It’s not uncommon, when we tackle material like this, to have people say, “Well, I agree with that entirely. I think it’s super—I mean, the idea of loving God.” They might add, “You know, whatever that means to you.” You know, they can contextualize it in their own way. “I think it’s good to love God and to love your neighbor too. I would say I agree.” Well, I suppose what Jesus said of this man I could say to you: you’re not far from the kingdom of God. You’re close. But entry to the kingdom of God is not on the basis of being able to articulate correct theology but is on the basis of becoming like a little child, repenting of our sins, trusting in Christ and entrusting ourselves to him so that then we can go out, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill not only the commission but also to obey the command.
Well, a brief prayer before a song:
We thank you, gracious God, that when we turn our attention to your Word, that the Holy Spirit brings it home to our hearts. And we thank you again for the joy that it is to listen to those who are prepared to declare that they believe in you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They’re able to testify to the transforming power of your grace within their lives, so that their love for you and their love for others may simply be an emblem of the fact that you have first loved them, drawn them to you, made them your own, and, as members of your forever family, now send them out to love you totally and to love neighbors and unknown people as we meet them along the way so that they, too, might understand who Jesus is and all that he has accomplished. Hear us, O God, as we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 See Romans 5:5.
 Romans 8:3–4 (ESV).
 See Proverbs 4:23.
 Luke 6:45 (ESV).
 See Matthew 26:38.
 Psalm 43:5 (ESV).
 Kate B. Wilkinson, “May the Mind of Christ My Savior” (1925).
 Matthew 5:46 (ESV).
 Matthew 13:3–8; Mark 4:3–8; Luke 8:5–8 (paraphrased).
 Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1996), 135.
 Mark 12:33 (ESV).
 Mark 12:32–33 (paraphrased).
 Mark 12:34 (ESV).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.