Read the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) and ponder the following questions:
“ ‘And who is my neighbor?’ ” (Luke 10:29, NKJV). Does asking or answering this question from a personal perspective (“who is my neighbor?”) change the focus or the priority from the one who needs help to the one who provides it? Does such a shift in focus pose the risk of changing the message and principle that Jesus wants us to understand and practice?
“ ‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ ” (Luke 10:36, NIV). Jesus’ question focuses on the man who was robbed, his wounds, and his needs. Jesus fixes attention on the person who was robbed and mistreated and for whom help was provided. Jesus also contrasts the neighbors who had the opportunity to help but neglected to do so.
“The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise’ ” (Luke 10:37, NIV). As Jesus shows, answering the question right is not enough. In His instruction to the expert in the law, Jesus emphasizes the importance of action, of putting the gospel into practice. That is, we must be the hands and feet of the body of Christ.
“Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”
As we become part of God’s community, we will see the problem of each of its members, and we will experience what it means to live with them and to suffer with them, as well. We can hope that as we suffer with the community, we also will provide for their needs. We must be neighbors to those in need. Many in the community are suffering and in need of help. Can we find out who will need our help as a neighbor? Is my church alleviating the suffering of those in need, or are we contributing to the suffering, either intentionally or through ignorance?
It is worth noting that Jesus’ words, in Matthew 23, were severe, weighted with the truth regarding the situation, and content, of Israel’s religiosity. Jesus’ words also were aimed toward the restoration of His people so that His people could be compassionate neighbors. Jesus wanted His people to understand His law in a new way. He wanted Israel to focus on God and on their neighbor, as well. Jesus’ intention was that Israel should “ ‘ “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” ’ ” (Matt. 22:37, NIV). This precept is the first and greatest commandment. But the second commandment is an extension of the first: “ ‘ “love your neighbor as yourself” ’ ” (Matt. 22:39, NIV). Fairness and justice, love and care, cannot be practiced by individuals only; they also need to be practiced and implemented by the church, the body of Christ.
Old Testament Prophets as Defenders of the Neighbor
The prophets of the Old Testament were quite outspoken regarding the laws and regulations dealing with one’s neighbor or with those who needed healing and salvation. Such laws and regulations, spoken through the prophets, were God’s way of communicating His will for Israel to witness to its neighbors, to be a light to the nations. The prophets were to serve as heralds of the gospel and to be spokespersons against all injustices and evil.
The prophets urged the people and their leaders to “seek justice, defend the oppressed. Take up the the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isa. 1:17, NIV) and forbade the oppression of “the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor” (Zech. 7:10, NKJV). The prophets also were fierce in their condemnation of all injustice. Elijah rebuked King Ahab for murdering Naboth and stealing his vineyard. Amos fulminated against the rulers of Israel because, in return for bribes, they trampled on the heads of the poor, crushed the needy, and denied justice to the oppressed, instead of letting “justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream.”—John R. W. Stott, Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today (Tarrytown, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1990), p. 236.
The structure and society of Israel “exalted labor, denounced idleness, expected fathers to train their sons to acquire skills with their hands, furthered human reciprocity, and justice, and demonstrated an active concern for one’s neighbors,” and, notably, “it respected the dignity of both men and women, the bearers of the divine image.”—Arthur F. Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), p. 88. Moreover, worship and obedience to God are directly related to justice and philanthropy. These sets go hand in hand, just as justice and mercy to one’s neighbor are related to walking humbly before God. All instructions and regulations for the well-being and fair treatment of the poor, alien, orphan, widow, and vulnerable have their origins in God, the One who cares for His children and shows compassion and mercy to whomsoever needs Him. In an echo of the biblical message, one writer sums up in this way the gospel directive to care for the poor: “to speak about poverty is to touch the Heart of God.”—William Robert Domeris, Touching the Heart of God: The Social Construction of Poverty Among Biblical Peasants (New York: T & T Clark, 2007), p. 8.
Oftentimes a question is asked: How can my neighbor, who is often the poor, the homeless, and the unemployed, be helped to secure the blessings of God’s providence and to live the life Jesus intended humans to live? Here is a statement from Ellen G. White that provides light on the subject:
“If men would give more heed to the teaching of God’s Word, they would find a solution of these problems that perplex them. Much might be learned from the Old Testament in regard to the labor question and the relief of the poor.
“In God’s plan for Israel every family had a home on the land, with sufficient ground for tilling. Thus were provided both the means and the incentive for a useful, industrious, and self-supporting life. And no devising of men has ever improved upon that plan. To the world’s departure from it is owing, to a large degree, the poverty and wretchedness that exist today.”—The Ministry of Healing, pp. 183, 184.
The lessons and instructions of the Bible help us to understand the intention of God regarding the needy neighbor. God wants us to be in connection with His Word so that we can be His instruments of mercy and love to those who are suffering and in need of hope. Moreover, “it is God’s purpose that the rich and the poor shall be closely bound together by the ties of sympathy and helpfulness.”—Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 193. This togetherness will prove to be a blessing to both groups. It will help the poor, as well as the rich, in understanding God’s plan of salvation and will establish the fact that a life of benevolence will reveal spiritual truths than can be understood only amid distress and suffering.
Only by our love and service for our neighbor who needs help can we prove the genuineness of our love for Christ. True mission service comes from our true love for our Savior, a sentiment that reinforces the notion that being is oftentimes more important than giving or just doing good deeds for the needy or the poor. “The message of the Old Testament is a call to an ethical lifestyle modeled in what God has done for us in Christ. It has to do with following God’s principles through living a life of witnessing to, helping, and loving the neighbor and those in need as yourself.” —Jiˇrí Moskala, “The Mission of God’s People in the Old Testament,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 19, nos. 1–2 (2008): p. 58.
The Life and Mission of Jesus
The ministry of compassion manifested in the life and ministry of Jesus was the best possible example provided for the disciples, apostles, followers, and new believers of the early apostolic church. Jesus (Immanuel) dwelt among men and women to restore and save, to heal and forgive, with a love that was even stronger than death itself. His special attention toward the neighbor, the other—which included the needy, the poor, the sick, the demon-possessed, the foreigner, and many others—caused the Son of God to devote a large portion of His time and energy to healing and caring for them all during His earthly ministry.
Jesus’ teachings were always confirmed by His actions, and His ministry of healing (salvation) affirmed what He preached. His was a ministry of restoration, which made human beings wholesome in body, spirit, and mind. Jesus came to reveal God’s character to the fallen human race, and by doing so, He made possible the restoration of the image of God in His creatures.
When the needs of both church members and nonmembers are met, when we become neighbors to the poor and attend to their needs, when we see the hungry and thirsty and feed them, when we clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned, then the members of the body of Christ have true fellowship with God and with one another. This fellowship demonstrates that we are no longer selfish but can share together and live out a life that testifies to a true and pure religion and life, the life of Christ.
The apostle Paul encouraged mission to the neighbor by urging church members to do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal. 6:10). But Paul also had a broader view of this mission of compassion to the neighbor, who included even our enemies: “ ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink’ ” (Rom. 12:20, NKJV).
How can the whole gospel of Jesus Christ—a gospel that is able to heal and to save, to protect and to restore—transform our neighbors into heirs of God’s kingdom? We believe that this transformation is work, or ministry, that must be done through the power of God’s Spirit, in order that many persons might receive the graces of Christ’s gospel and be transformed into His likeness for the benefit of families, communities, and nations for the glory of God. What a difference it would make if we would all be intentionally committed to this ministry.
Most important, who is Jesus Christ for us today? What does this question mean in practical terms?
“Real charity helps men to help themselves. If one comes to our door and asks for food, we should not turn him away hungry; his poverty may be the result of misfortune. But true beneficence means more than mere gifts. It means a genuine interest in the welfare of others. We should seek to understand the needs of the poor and distressed, and to give them the help that will benefit them most. To give thought and time and personal effort costs far more than merely to give money. But it is the truest charity.”—Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 195.