Narrowing Down Our Responsibilities
I assume most of us here today are very familiar with the story of the good Samaritan. To conserve time we won’t read it all, but let’s turn together to Luke 10:25-29 and see what led up to it:
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
First of all, you know it doesn’t bode well when a lawyer is involved, eh? 🙂
Now, this person isn’t a lawyer as we think of it…instead, the Holman Christian Standard Bible translates it as “an expert in the law” and the Common English Bible as a “legal expert.” This guy won’t be able to defend you in a modern criminal trial or sue a doctor for malpractice, but he should be able to comment authoritatively on what the Jewish Law said…well, at least what the Jews of that time thought it said.
And, as we can see in what we read, Jesus confirms the lawyer actually got it right.
Well, that is, until “desiring to justify himself” the expert in the Law didn’t stop while he was ahead.
What do you think “desiring to justify himself” means? The Common English Bible starts verse 29 with, “But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right…” and The Message paraphrase states, “Looking for a loophole…”
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Ultimately it’s hard to definitively know what the lawyer was trying to justify, but considering Jesus’ response it seems to me that he was trying to narrow down the scope of “neighbor” so that it fit who he was neighborly to. To “justify” his actions.
And although our Lord doesn’t explicitly say it, the punch-line to the story of the good Samaritan is, “Everyone is your neighbor” (see Luke 10:30-37).
Now, let’s keep that in mind as we switch direction a bit and talk about “discernment ministries.”
Does anyone here know what those are? [Give time for folks to respond]
Basically discernment ministries are organizations (or people) who, at least in great measure, have felt a calling to survey Christendom and speak up whenever they see what they consider a false gospel, errant teaching, heresy, and so on. Often they do so in entertaining ways, mixing in biting humor, ridicule, and sarcasm.
And, in fairness to them, there is a biblical basis for speaking against false teachings. Especially us shepherds are supposed to protect our flock from wolves in sheep’s clothing (see Matthew 7:15). Even “gentle Jesus” was willing to take off the gloves—just take a look at Matthew chapter 23 and you’ll get a whole load of this:
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28).
Our Lord wasn’t mincing words, was He?
But, I have grown more and more concerned about what I read on the net or hear in podcasts. Yes, we are enjoined to speak out against untruth, especially within the church…but I wonder how the plethora of discernment ministries click with these verses:
14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 22-23).
6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).
32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).
Now, you might rightly say back to me, “Alan, those are about brothers and sisters who fall into sin, not that teach lies. You should instead look to what Paul said in Galatians 1:6-9:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
And, I suppose, you could claim that Paul assigned Timothy a “discernment ministry”:
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:3-7)
It’s looking pretty bad for my views. I mean the Bible even records Paul calling out individuals by name. For instance, if you take time today to read through 2 Timothy, you’ll run into these (and I know I’ll mess up many pronunciations :-)):
15 You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes (2 Timothy 1:15).
16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:16-18).
9 Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:9-10).
14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message (2 Timothy 4:14-15).
If you were Phygelus, Hermogenes, Hymenaeus, Philetus, Demas, or Alexander…would you be a happy camper?
Not to mention, Paul even called out Peter once!:
14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14)
Well, I guess I take it all back…I have no concerns about discernment ministries after all…
The Other Side of the Coin
Well, you know me better than that, don’t you? 🙂
Let’s go back to Paul. He definitely had some harsh words about heresy and those teaching it…and yes he did name names. However, first don’t forget that three out of the four “be kind” types of quotes I shared were from Paul. Additionally, if you actually do go through 2 Timothy this afternoon to see Paul name names, you’ll also find this:
22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:22-26).
Notice words and phrases like “peace,” “must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone,” “patiently enduring evil”…
“Correcting his opponents with gentleness”?
And how about Jesus? If you read Matthew 23, you might come away thinking, “Now that’s a great example for me! Let me give my errant pastor a call!” 🙂
However, if you’ve read all the gospels…and if you haven’t you really should…would you consider Matthew 23 Jesus normal approach or an anomaly?
It is an anomaly. The vast majority of the words and actions of Jesus that are recorded are patient and compassionate whether He is teaching truth or correcting error. Yes, when push came to shove and it was the only (and best) option left to wake up Judaism’s false teachers, Jesus blasted them. But I would suggest He did so with the same hope as Paul…hoping that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
Le’t’s also not forget that Jesus did not start with the “slap you ‘side the head” tactic. Winslow and I were chatting on the way back from him kindly picking me up at the airport on Friday so my sick wife could rest, and I asked him if he could remember a different kind of interaction with Pharisees that was likely before this harsh one.
Winslow, do you remember the answer, or were you as tired as me? 🙂
We won’t turn there, but it’s in John chapter 3 where Jesus chats with Nicodemas. Even though, it seems to me, that Nicodemas was being intentionally thick Jesus was very kind to him…and we can thank that conversation for perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.
My point is that just like Jesus didn’t immediately tell the Samaritan woman she was loose with her body, it is unlikely that Jesus started off His interactions with the Pharisees and other false Jewish teachers and leaders of the time with verbal bazookas.
That was a last-ditch effort to steer them away from the eternal cliff they were speeding toward, not the first tool Jesus grabbed out of His toolbox.
And let’s not forget…
I would argue that harshly correcting people was a very small part of Jesus’ ministry and of the ministries we see in the New Testament. That is, it is the exception…not the rule.
And let’s not forget one other really important fact…the people who are biblically recorded as lobbing verbal hand-grenades of correction were directly inspired by the Holy Spirit.
That does not mean we should never call people out, but I would suggest it means we should be very, very, very…
Very cautious and considerate when we do.
And that we repeatedly consider 2 Timothy 2:22-26…first to make sure we aren’t having anything “do with foolish, ignorant controversies; [that we] know that they breed quarrels” and second to make sure we aren’t “quarrelsome but kind to everyone…patiently enduring evil…correcting [our] opponents with gentleness..”
Oh, and that we do it all hoping it’ll help lead them to repentance…not because of the emotional satisfaction we get from telling someone how it is…
And Who Is My Brother?
The reason I titled this sermon, “And Who Is My Brother?” is because the lawyer’s “And who is my neighbor” rings in my ears.
Would we all agree that, when it comes to family…well, a healthy family…we are far more likely to give some extra grace when dealing with a problem? That we would not be as severe with our words…as public with our rebukes?
It is no different within the church. Matthew 18 gives a very measured approach to dealing with an errant brother or sister, 1 Corinthians 6 clearly states we shouldn’t sue them in secular courts (thus not airing our dirty laundry in front of unbelievers), and we’ve already heard Paul’s words about how we should approach those who err.
Now, that doesn’t mean we should let them off the hook…quite the contrary…we actually have a commandment to hold our Christian brothers and sisters to a higher standard than our unbelieving friends and neighbors:
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
However, as we “do what we are told” with those verses we cannot forget all the other applicable Scriptures that temper its message. We should not rush to correct the sins of others in the body of Christ, we should not use a bomb when a scalpel is called for, and we should definitely not get enjoyment out of whatever approach we choose.
Bringing it to a close…
At this point I’d like to bring it to a close. Please do not misunderstand me…I am not condemning discernment ministries, just expressing a growing concern I have with them (and, I will admit, their effect on those who digest vast quantities of their materials).
And, as usual, there is so much more that I would like to say…but I’ve kept you stuck in those pews long enough. So, let’s wrap up with a couple more scriptures and a few thoughts:
9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes (1 John 2:9-11).
That’s Scripture #1…thought number one is:
If you hate your brother you are still in darkness…which may even mean you aren’t truly saved.
Scripture #2 is:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Unlike the apostles, that is not a new commandment for us…it has been in our Bibles from the first time we read them. Whether we rebuke or keep our mouths shut…whether we expel or embrace…we are to do so loving each other.
And it is that love that will show others we are Jesus’ disciples.
However, we have to be very, very cautious not to explicitly or implicitly do what the lawyer did and try to narrow down the scope of the commandment by asking, “And who is my brother?”
Not only because it may reveal a problem with our hearts, but because to a Muslim, an atheist, a Wiccan…to anyone who is not a believer in the Risen Lord…we are all Christians…
Whether they are Christians you willingly embrace or “Christians” that you need to correct.
The next time you feel called to publicly rebuke someone in Christendom, remember how Jesus ultimately answered the question “And who is my neighbor?”:
36 [Jesus asked] Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).
Somehow I wouldn’t be surprised if when we asked Jesus, “And who is my brother?” He would ultimately respond:
36 [Jesus asked] Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a brother to the man who fell into false teachings?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
If it is by our love for one another that people will know we are Jesus’ disciples…then getting the answer to “And who is my brother?” right takes even greater import, doesn’t it? Our behavior will reflect well or badly on the One we call Savior.
Who is your brother? Can people tell by the way you treat them? Or, like the lawyer, are you looking for a loophole?
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