“If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?”
–1 John 4:20
When I was a hospital chaplain, I had a service dog which led me around obstacles. His name was Ansel, and unlike me, he was smart. He could lead me from the heart hospital to the ICU, with no other directions needed.
I loved that dog intensely, but I sometimes grew impatient with him, especially when he ate things that he shouldn’t. Once, when I was coming home from California, Ansel ate a discarded corncob on the bus, and needed emergency surgery. And I can’t forget the day he ate my wife’s sugar-free candy, bag and all, only to get sick on the hospital floor.
I also grew impatient when Ansel walked too slowly when I was trying to hurry. I would sometimes go ahead of him, and you can imagine what must have happened then.
But no matter what you think of the way in which I handled Ansel, I’m afraid the way we can be in our Christian lives is often similar. We may say we love God and pour out pious platitudes, but when push comes to shove, all of us tend to run ahead of God, just as I ran ahead of my dog. But usually we only run into walls, and they are often the walls we erect between our brothers and sisters.
So let’s review. When embarking on our journey last time, we found that eternal joy means putting Jesus first in our lives now. He told us that He came to give us an abundant and overflowing life down here on Earth. He also promised that He was preparing an eternal home for everyone who follows Him.
However, the abundance Jesus talked about doesn’t necessarily mean prosperity as we understand it. It means rejoicing that our sins are forgiven, and that we have a God who will never leave us or forsake us. It means knowing that He is our peace when others are stressed out in the midst of life’s storms.
But sadly, self is usually our first priority, and we can only find true joy when we filter life through the study of God’s Word.
As we place ourselves under His authority, then, another factor in true joy is putting the needs of others above our own needs. But you might be asking what this means. So let’s look at that a little bit closer, as Jesus models putting our brothers and sisters first.
As the people crowded around Jesus that day, an expert in Jewish law pushed his way forward. Finally standing before Him, he asked, “What do I have to do to find eternal life?”
Jesus answered him by referring to the Bible, since the expert was very familiar with its teachings. “What does the law say?”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself,” the expert replied confidently.
“That’s right,” Jesus said.
But, yearning to justify himself, the expert replied, “Okay then, who is my neighbor?”
Then Jesus showed him the meaning of active love for others by drawing a word picture, the parable of the good Samaritan.
As you read along with me, don’t just think about this as a nice story that Jesus told one day. Think about someone in your life who is hard to be around, or difficult to love. Then we’ll break it down, and see what it has to say to us today.
“A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
“By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.
“The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
The Samaritans in the Bible were half-Jewish and half-Gentile. Therefore, they were despised by the Jewish people. The two groups had no dealings with each other, and they would go out of their way to avoid contact. The good Samaritan crossed racial, ethnic, religious and social barriers to show compassion, and answers the all-important question we still ask today: “Who is my neighbor?”
But in answering this question, it also leaves those of us who claim to be followers of Christ with a challenge, bringing us back to the first question: How can I say I love God without loving my brother or sister?
Have you been thinking about that person you have trouble loving? Take a moment to go through your day with me, as there are people we shun all around us who may be wounded. Are you and I more like the priest and Levite who crossed the road that day? Do we glibly cross the room and avoid contact with those who get under our skin? Or do we attempt to go out of our way to show compassion? (I have to confess I haven’t always been in the compassionate category myself, but I have run into some pretty interesting and annoying characters.)
Just as the Samaritan’s oil and wine refer to the medicine of that day, maybe the medicine you and I have to share with others is a smile, a cheerful word, or a listening ear. While telling others you love them through your actions may cost you, it is nothing in comparison to the eternal price which Christ paid to share His love with us. We can only be like the good Samaritan who typifies Jesus by drawing on His strength, for He poured the oil of His love into our wounds.
In conclusion, I challenge all of us to search for biblical joy, not by bowing to the god of pleasure, but by serving others as we look at the model Jesus gave us with new eyes. He told us that if we would lose our lives for Him, we would find them in Him. I encourage you, then, to step out and go on a journey of joy by looking for those who are overlooked or cast aside. For Jesus said, “when you go out of your way to serve the least of humanity, you have actually served Me.”
Thank you for reading this, and may the Lord give you a wonderful week! We are trying to reach people who are hurting, so if God lays it on your heart, please consider becoming a partner with us. If you would like to make a donation, please visit www.hcmachaplains.org and click on the Donate Now link. You can also send donations by mail to HCMA (Healthcare Chaplains Ministry Association). Our ID number is 560. The address is 101 S Kraemer BLVD, Suite 123A, Placentia, CA 92870.
Finally, you’re always welcome to join our Tuesday night Bible study. These studies are conducted by conference call, and they take place at 6:30 PM Arizona time. Our conference number is 313-209-8800. Our PIN is 8699032. We hope to talk with you soon!
If you have questions, comments or prayer requests for Timothy or Stephanie Burdick, please call 507-369-6861.