If you’ve seen the State Farm Insurance commercial, you’ll probably recognize that I’m leveraging their little jingle about a topic I’ve been reflecting on over a conversation I had recently with a lady at my church. She heads an outreach ministry that we do with a local elementary school. Basically, she coordinates donations and other needs that teachers and/or students have. The thrust of the ministry is to be a good neighbor.
At our monthly fellowship meal, she showed me a card that the church received from a 3rd grade class at the school. It was your typical grade school homemade card with cute little pictures and kids signatures. But one thing stood out about this card that she wanted to highlight: the drawing of the church had a smile on the door. That is how these kids saw the church.
It strikes me that this is how people should see the church. Now that doesn’t mean that we get sloppy or neglectful of the message that we proclaim. It doesn’t mean going soft on the gospel. But, that this group of people who seem to hold to a different life paradigm than society are actually loving people.
Now, for those who don’t know, I go a Reformed (PCA) church. It is one of those churches that at one time I would have labeled as cold and stodgy and irrelevant (glad for the correction now!). The theology is conservative, the Word is clearly preached and the gospel is always proclaimed. It could never be confused with liberalism.
Why do I make that qualification? When it comes to the relationship of the church to the world, there is a tension between what has been labeled as word ministry vs. deed ministry. And I think that is an unhelpful dichotomy. Of course the push back is reaction against liberal churches who have exchanged the good news of Jesus Christ with deeds.
But the more I reflect on this topic, the more I am convicted by Scripture that the church needs to be neighborly. And by neighborly, I mean helpful to her surrounding community. And by helpful, I mean no strings attached, no hidden agendas, no bait and switch tactics, just willing to help out where needed. I’m convicted by this because of Jesus’ own words that the whole Law hinges on the two great commandments: to love the Lord with all your heart, strength and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. I’m convicted because of the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him 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.”
Now notice that he was approached by a teacher of the Law. No sorry, he wasn’t just a teacher but an expert. We know these types well in our conservative circles: all knowledge, crossing every doctrinal “t” and dotting every “I”. Let’s make sure we are in theological compliance and professing that which is sound (I know, I have been that way myself). Ok, so that’s a bit of a stretch of the context but applicable all the same. This guy was concerned with making sure he got it right. But his motive was to test Jesus and stump him – let’s see how fast this man who claims to be the Son of God falls on his face. So he challenges Jesus by asking what must he do to inherit eternal life.
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.”
In typical Jesus jiu jitsu fashion, he turns the tables on this “expert” (and probably snickering at the same time considering he was the author of the Law) and relaying the significance of the two greatest commandments by telling of a story about a man in need of help. Really, it was just that simple. The moral of the story was that loving neighbor meant to see their need and to help them.
See that expert is like us sound theology, correct doctrine folks who often end up straining gnats through camels to make sure we aren’t succumbing to liberalism. Make sure you are proclaiming the gospel! Don’t just rely on deeds! Don’t go down that slippery slope! So even if we do good, it can be motivated by our “need” to make sure they know we aren’t just giving out goodies or help. One thing I discovered about people is that they are pretty alert to masked motives, eventually. Many can smell a scam a mile away. And make no mistake, if help is just a ruse for an agenda, that is not too much different than a scam.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the gospel does need to be proclaimed and heard. But I wonder what it would look like if we just focused on being a good neighbor and let the Lord work through that to direct people to his redemptive message of hope. What would it look like if when we saw a need, we just looked at meeting it for no other reason than being a good neighbor. And can’t help but think that more people might put smiley faces on church doors and may even want to hear what we have to say within them.
What has always struck me about the Parable of the Good Samaritan is the Scribe’s question is exactly reversed. The question at the end was not “who is your neighbor?” but “Who are you a neighbor to?” No one has to prove himself to be a neighbor to you, you are the one with neighborliness to show.