Serving God’s People

I. Introduction

I remember as a kid playing games upstairs in the hallway with my sister and brother. Sometimes we played Chinese Checkers, Monopoly, Hot Wheels, occasionally we would work on jigsaw puzzles. Or we might just play Solitaire with a deck of cards.
We didn’t always get all the pieces back in the box. Hot Wheels cars or section of the racetrack would go missing, some marbles from the Chinese Checkers. It was ok, though, we could still play.

But other games, not so much. I remember how frustrating it was to work on a jigsaw puzzle for hours and then get stuck, looking for a particular piece that was missing. Eventually, we’d have to just give up. We’d push all the pieces back in the box, probably dropping another piece or two under the table, and then put the box back on the shelf.
We’d never work on that puzzle again. Why we didn’t throw it out, I don’t know.  Probably the same logic all of us use when looking at 3-day old leftovers in the fridge. It looks ok, but I’m not going to eat it. Better to leave it in the fridge a few more days until it definitely goes bad, then throw it out.
And playing Solitaire without a full deck – and I’m talking about the deck of cards, not my brother or sister playing without a full deck. Or me. Hard to play to play Solitaire when you only have 50 or 51 cards.

You know what’s interesting about playing Solitaire with only 51 cards? It doesn’t really matter which card is missing, whether it’s the 8 of spades or the jack of diamonds. The game is crippled and unwinnable without all the cards. Every card is important.

II. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, Many Spiritual Gifts but One Spirit

Our study today is from 1 Corinthians 12 on Spiritual Gifts, so let’s open our bibles and we’ll begin with 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 –

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

I found it interesting the full Trinity is listed here. The same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God. Each one of us is unique. Some are more unique than others. We are all very different, from our experiences, our desires, our abilities. But the source of all spiritual gifts is from God. The energy to use the gift is from God. Even where we live, work, worship and apply our spiritual gifts is from God.

Biblical scholars posit that Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth to help direct their spiritual gifts. The Corinthians apparently were using their gifts for their own benefit and to try build themselves up, perhaps saying that one person’s gift was more important than another’s, sort of like the 9 of clubs saying that it’s more important than the 8 of hearts. But Paul says here that the purpose of the gift given to each believer is for the common good. You can tell it’s a spiritual gift if it benefits others, not yourself. The gift each person is given is for the common good of God’s people.

Does everybody have a spiritual gift?

When I was a younger Christian and first heard about spiritual gifts, I thought it sounded like a good idea. Maybe they sold them in the gift shop. Or maybe spiritual gifts were something only spiritual people had. And being a young Christian, I just didn’t have any. Or if I did, maybe this was my spiritual gift:


I don’t think “pew sitting” is a spiritual gift. Maybe I didn’t have a spiritual gift.
But 1 Corinthians 12:12 says, “but to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Not to some people. Not even to most people. But to each one. Including me. Including you.

Corinthians 7:7 puts it this way,

But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

The NASB version translates this as “his own gift;” the King James translates it as “his proper gift from God.” The Greek word used is “idios” (ἴδιος) and implies that the gift has been “fitted” to you. Like going to DSW to buy shoes. One person may be buying hiking boots in size 10, and another person is getting running shoes in size 8. They are fit for the purpose, unique to you and the purpose God has.

III. 1 Corinthians 12: The Various Gifts

What are these gifts? Let’s continue with verses 8-10,

For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.

This isn’t the entire list; Paul only listed some of the spiritual gifts here. If we look further down the page in verse 28,

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

Is that all? No, Paul also wrote about gifts in Romans 12:6-8,

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Some study guides also list some gifts described in Ephesians 4:11:apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, but those seem to be describing church leadership positions more than gifts. But in any case, in none of these verses does Paul say this is an exhaustive list of the spiritual gifts, and differing biblical studies may list anywhere from 16 to 26 spiritual gifts.

I debated about whether to get into the gifts themselves. Maybe I’ll just talk about the most important ones. But if we get anything out of this lesson today, I think it’s that each one of us is uniquely valuable with unique gifts given to us for the purpose of building the church up. I couldn’t even decide how to limit the discussion of gifts; could I prioritize them? And that means I’m not understanding my own lessons, like somehow that 7 of spades is more important to the church than the 9 of diamonds. Every gift is important, duh. And no gift is more important than another.

So I selected the gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, bearing in mind that there may be other gifts that may be used for building up the church that are not specifically spelled out in scripture. And also I want to stress that a gift is not the same thing as a talent. One can have a talent for singing, for instance. But singing can be exhibited in a way that can does not bring glory to God. But this is a fairly complete list and as we go through these, see if they stir up a passion within you.

The ones listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 include word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.

Slide12• Word of Wisdom. This is described as a “word” of wisdom so it is likely Paul was describing a speaking gift. Biblical wisdom is available to all believers and is different than human wisdom – you probable remember Proverbs 3:5,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

If you lack biblical wisdom, just ask. James 1:5 says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

So when Paul says “Word of Wisdom,” Paul probably means someone gifted in understanding and speaking forth biblical truth in such a way to apply it to life situations.

• Word of knowledge. Also a speaking gift, this gift involves understanding truth with insight from the Holy Spirit, who understands biblical text and can explain it to others. At my wife’s church is a pastor that can explain the book of Daniel using the book of Revelation in a way that makes me go “wow, so that’s what that meant.” I believe he has the gift of the word of knowledge.


• Faith. Don’t all believers have faith? Of course they do, or they wouldn’t be believers. In fact, some of these gifts are shared by all believers to some extent. But some seem to be ably to rely on faith, depend on faith, exhibit faith with a strong, unshakeable confidence that God will answer. Remember the movie, “War Room?” Miss Clara has just heard that God has answered a prayer, and this was her reaction:

That is somebody with the gift of faith.


• Healing. God still performs miracles, especially in healing. In the first century, the apostles healed the lame and raised the dead as evidence their message was from God. Most biblical scholars put this gift in a special category of gifts called the sign gifts, available only to those that preached the word in the first century and had direct contact with Jesus. When people are miraculously healed today, God now does it directly and miraculously and not through men, otherwise the hospitals would be full of these gifted people raising people from the dead. Another of the “sign” gifts is –


• Miracle powers. This involved performing supernatural events that could only be attributed to the power of God. Paul, Peter, Stephen, and Phillip all exhibited this gift in the book of Acts.


• Prophecy. This doesn’t mean telling the future; the Greek word is “prophēteia” (προφητεία) and means to talk with “divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden.” The gift of prophecy is the gift of preaching the Word of God. In many ways, Dr. Young prophecies when he speaks from the pulpit. Peter puts it this way in 1 Peter 4:11 –

“Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; . . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.”


• Distinguishing between spirits. This same gift is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:29,
Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said.

This gift is dedicated to spiritual discernment in the truth because many false prophets twist and distort the truth. Those with the gift of discernment can help separate truth from error, as it is said in 1 John 4:1,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.


• Speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. This gift has differing opinions, some saying that it is a speaking gift of earthly languages like those mentioned on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts, and others say it is an “ecstatic” or “heavenly” language like those taught in the Pentecostal churches. It is a legitimate gift of the spirit, but speaking in tongues comes with a lot of guidelines described in 1 Corinthians 14. Many misinterpret the gift of tongues as a sign of salvation or of a special closeness to God, which it is not.

Romans 12:6-8 has another list of gifts from Paul –

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Some of these duplicate those we just reviewed, but there are some new ones listed –


• Service. This is a general term for all ministry within the church. Those wonderful classmates of ours that write us cards and letters during Wednesday night outreach or handle our class administration every week or write our weekly newsletter or arrange lunches or welcome new visitors or direct our class or lead us in prayer or any other effort that provides help to one another in the church.


• Teaching. This one isn’t important, let’s skip it. Ok, no seriously, this gift is much like prophecy that Dr. Young has, and certainly one who prophesies probably also has the gift of teaching. But while prophesying involves proclaiming God’s revelation, teaching is the systemic and regular instruction in God’s Word, any place where God’s Word is taught. I certainly don’t claim any special revelation, and I am not a preacher, but with the good Lord’s guidance, perhaps I can faithfully share what God says in His Word. The Great Commission tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” For all of us whenever we tell someone about Jesus, we owe it to them to give a faithful and truthful message about the good news.


• Exhortation. This is from the Thesaurus version of the bible. Most people would use “encouragement.” This gift enables one to advise, plead, warn, strengthen, comfort one another. I think the talent of singing, when used in worship, usually is part of the gift of exhortation, to encourage others. The Christian walk is not always a walk of roses and sunshine. We go through thorny patches, we go through storms. And we need those in our lives with the gift of encouragement to stay faithful, trust in the Lord’s goodness and mercy. I thank the good Lord for those that have an uplifting word of encouragement during difficult times. Sometimes the gift of encouragement can strengthen a weak believer into resisting sin. In Hebrews 10:24-25, the gift of encouragement is described like this –

Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Should the gift of encouragement be used sparingly or only in emergencies? Hebrews 3:13 says,

Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,”

So only encourage people today.


• Giving. Like most of the other gifts, we are all to give generously to one another. Luke 3:8,11 says,

Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise.

But some have the gift of giving that gives sacrificially. And one with this gift gives *of* himself, not *for* himself. Most that have this gift never receive recognition because they feel all the recognition should go to the Lord. And while giving can refer to money, it can also refer to time and effort. Any time somebody gives up something sacrificially to a brother or sister in Christ to bring glory to the Lord, they are exhibiting the gift of giving.


• Leading. This is also sometimes called “administration” and the Greek word used means “to guide” and refers to someone who pilots or guides a ship. Here’s a favorite poem of mine about leadership, I saw it years ago on a business trip, it’s called “The Leader,” by Roger McGough:

I wanna be the leader
I wanna be the leader
Can I be the leader?
Can I? I can?
Promise? Promise?
Yippee I’m the leader
I’m the leader

OK what shall we do?


The funny thing about those with the gift of leadership is that most of them didn’t ask to lead. They just led. They saw something that had to be done, and they made it happen. They made it happen now, they made it happen as soon as they saw the need.


• Mercy. Demonstrating sympathy, genuinely caring about the needs of others to strengthen and encourage them. They may visit hospitals or jails or the homeless or the poor or the handicapped, those with this gift find joy in ministering to others who need help.

IV. 1 Corinthians 12:20-27, We Are All the Body of Christ

In the rest of today’s scripture, Paul describes how all these gifts fit together. 1 Corinthians 12:20-27 says,

As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

And the 10 of spades cannot say to the 9 of hearts, “I don’t need you.” No gift is greater than another; the director and the pastor and the janitor and the secretary and the trombone player all work together to bring glory to God. Whatever gift you have, use it. The more you use it, the more God will give you opportunities to use it. It’s like learning to play the piano. You may have the gift, but you have to practice.

V. Conclusion

Of course you have a spiritual gift that can be used for the common good of the body of Christ. It’s like a muscle, and some muscles atrophy and shrivel if they are not used. But if you exercise your spiritual gift for the glory of God, you will find that God provides more and more opportunities as your spiritual muscle grows stronger.  Together, the muscles and the eyes and the hands and every part of the body grow stronger when we all practice our spiritual gifts. What is your gift?

Bree shared this link a few months back; it’s a questionnaire that you answer that will help you figure out your spiritual gift. Everyone has one; find yours and share it with us because the rest of the body needs you.

Spiritual Gift Test


To God be the glory. Amen.

Be a Good Neighbor

I. Introduction

Sometimes it’s difficult to teach a familiar parable; we have pre-conceived notions, or perhaps previous bible studies left in our heads. The Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep, the Faithful Servant, the Ten Virgins, and so on. Even non-Christians have heard the phrase “good Samaritan.” Let’s see if we can look at this parable with fresh eyes today, and see if perhaps we’ve become complacent, and really look to see if there is an application for us today.

Through a powerful parable, Jesus lets us know that the good Samaritan exemplifies an important facet of the Christian character: How to be a good neighbor. So what makes a good neighbor? Someone who sells State Farm insurance? You know, “And like a good neighbor….”

Who has a neighbor that they consider to be a good neighbor? What makes that neighbor special to you?

I have a neighbor, sometimes I think we’re competing with, and losing to. On the day we moved into our new house in Sugar Land, it took longer than we thought it would. The truck wasn’t quite big enough, so it was like after 9pm when we started the second run back to the old townhome. Our next door neighbor Fai stopped by to meet us, found out we hadn’t had any dinner, and immediately brought over dinner for the both of us. And she hasn’t stopped, she brings vegetables from her garden, she weeds our garden, she sweeps our sidewalks, and so on. And if we should every try to do something kind for her, she redoubles her effort to bring us groceries. Everybody should have a neighbor like Fai.

Who is a neighbor? Or for that matter, who is a Samaritan?

The Jews considered the Samaritans to be a corrupted religion that in many ways mirrored Judaism. Well, “corrupted” might a kind way of putting it. One text I read said the Jews considered the Samaritans as ignorant, superstitious mongrels. Way back in 2 Kings 17, the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel, killing most of the people living there. Anybody who survived we taken away to foreign lands, and eventually became known as “the lost tribes of Israel.” Only a few stragglers, mostly poor, sick or unskilled people, were left behind with Israeli identity or culture. To finish them off, the Assyrians sent five eastern pagan tribes to settle in Northern Israel and intermingle. They became a sort of hybrid people, part Israeli, part pagan. They developed their own customs; they still worshipped Yahweh, but their holy books were in Aramaic, not Hebrew, and didn’t contain many books the Jews had, especially the poetic and prophetic books of the Hebrew scriptures. They eventually became known as the Samaritans. They built their temple to the Lord on Mount Gerizim instead of Jerusalem, which irritated the Jews, so the Jews destroyed Mount Gerizim in 128 b.c. In both the books of Ezra 4:1-3 and Nehamiah 4:1-2, Jews and Samaritans were at odds with each other.

So you see, “good Samaritan” was an unlikely phrase. Jews expected animosity from Samaritans. To the Jews, there was no such thing as a good Samaritan. But funny thing about people, they’re all made in God’s image, and Jesus didn’t feel the same way about the Samaritans. Or the Gentiles, fortunately. Later, in Acts 1:8, Jesus will tell his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” God still had a great deal of affection for the Samaritans.

So we begin our study, starting at Luke 9:51 –

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

I love that part – Jesus is on a mission, determined to go to Jerusalem, and teach all along the way.

And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

There’s a lot of new perspective here – the disciples wanted to rain down fire and destroy the Samaritans, the Samaritans not especially happy with Jesus going to Jerusalem to the temple there. And Jesus seems concerned about the Samaritans, even when His disciples don’t.

II. Follow the Scripture, Luke 10:25-28

So Jesus resolutely continues to Jerusalem, teaching along the way, until one day a lawyer stands up to question Jesus. It’s a trick question from a lawyer, but I repeat myself. It’s designed to trip Jesus. Turn to Luke 10:25-28 –

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The lawyer didn’t just ask a question, this isn’t idle curiousity. The lawyer “stood up to test him.” The lawyer has a serious question, knows the law, but he wants to see if Jesus is authentic. He’s challenging Jesus. What does Jesus know?

And it’s one of the great questions of all religions. What must I do to live an eternal life? What happens when I die? What must I do, what must I say, how should I act, what do I believe? It’s an expert question, coming from an expert lawyer. What must I do?

Jesus responded like a rabbi, and answered the question with a question of his own. Now Jesus is testing the tester. Jesus challenged the lawyer back, but to answer his own question from scripture.

The first part of the lawyer’s answer comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, what the Jews would understand as the Shema Yisrael, or just Shema. Shema Yisrael means, “Hear oh Israel,” and observant Jews would say this prayer as part of their morning and evening prayers. The Shema encouraged Jews to love God, and it was a twice daily affirmation of God’s place in their lives.

Notice that it doesn’t just say to Love the Lord God. It says to love the Lord *your* God. It’s personal, the relationship between you and your Creator. Love Him with everything you have, with your whole person. Heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love God with your emotions (heart), your consciousness (soul), your motivation (strength), and your mental capacity (mind).

Some have misinterpreted the scripture here. What must I *do* to inherit eternal life? Do this and live. Is this a philosophy of works? Is there a way we can earn our way into heaven by a life of good works and good deeds? No, there is not – our works, our deeds, even our very selves are like worthless rags compared to the almighty glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. But because we love Him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, we *do* these things to show this love to others. Our feisty lawyer answered correctly, but he did not affirm a theology of works.

Jesus said, “Do this and live.” This is abundant life. Practice what you know out of love for Lord, expressed as love for others. The real test is a right heart with God, not knowledge or works, but putting into practice, love in action, a grateful response to God’s love.

III. Listen to Jesus, Luke 10:29-35

Was our feisty expert embarrassed by Jesus’ response? And if so, did he feel the need to repair his reputation? Or was he trying to find out whether there were any limits? In other word, how much is enough to get into Heaven? The lawyer asked a follow-up question, “who is my neighbor?”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

The question from the lawyer implied some people could be excluded. Gentiles, Samaritans, tax collectors. In this case, especially those backward, disgusting Samaritans. I mean, certainly we can exclude those people, right?

Who do we exclude today, that we do not consider a neighbor? Are we putting a limit on God’s love?

Jesus didn’t answer directly, told a parable that illustrated what it meant to demonstrate the love of God. Who was the traveler? We don’t know, he’s never identified. Might be a Jew, maybe a Gentile, might even be a Samaritan? The only thing we know for sure is that the traveler is human and therefore made in God’s image.

This man was beaten by robbers on the road from Jerusalem. This would have been a well-know road for the Jews, from Jerusalem 2500’ ASL to Jericho which is actually below sea level, winding through mountains and rocky terrain with many hiding places for robbers. The man was not just robbed, but stripped of his clothing and beaten and left for dead. The attitude expressed by the robbers is, “What’s yours is mine, and I’ll take it.”

What were the motivations of the priest and Levite? Jesus doesn’t say. Priest may have refused because the man was dead, didn’t want to defile himself. Touching a corpse would have entailed a lengthy cleanliness process to become pure again. We don’t really know their motivation. Bottom line, though, is it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the motivation was, it was a convenient excuse to absolve them from being a good neighbor. Both the priest and the Levite considered themselves religious people, knew the love your neighbor statement. And both refused to help.

In fact, they went out of their way to avoid helping. They passed by on other side. The priest and the Levite expressed an attitude of, “What’s mine is mine, and I’ll keep it.” This attitude is hardly better than, and in many ways worse, than the robbers who beat the man up.

But the Samaritan helped. This startled the listeners. This *Samaritan*, they would have spit out, isn’t Jewish, isn’t to be trusted, doesn’t know the law… but he was helpful. The Jews expected animosity, but received compassion instead. In fact, this Samaritan gave up his own ride for the injured man, and in so doing expressed an attitude more pleasing to God, “What’s mine is yours, and I’ll give it.”

The second half of our lawyer’s question is much like the first. Love your neighbor as yourself. This comes from Leviticus 19:18. Not a selfish love, or a love of oneself, but how much you love others based on how much God loves you. A “neighbor” means someone of our own kind, not an outsider. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp that this outside we pass by on the other side of the road is not an outsider to God. God loves everyone, not just believers. God gave His life to us while we were still unbelievers, still sinners.

We can’t help everyone, of course. Our resources are limited, we have to pick and choose. But on what basis do we pick and choose? Do we withhold our help from outsiders just because they’re outsiders? They are not outsiders to God. Who we are neighborly to should not depend on this. Jesus admonishes us to do this and live, practice what we know, put love in action. Our salvation involves faith expressing love to God and neighbor. James 2:17 says that faith that does not show itself to our neighbor is dead.

IV. Show Compassion, Luke 10:36-37

Jesus turned the question around perfectly, of course. The lawyer had asked, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered by describing who *is* a neighbor. In other words, the lawyer asked about others, who qualifies to be his neighbor. Jesus answered by examining the heart of person asking the question.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

So Jesus challenged the lawyer. Now who is your neighbor? While the lawyer tried to enact boundaries, Jesus used this parable to remove boundaries. A merciful God we should imitate by showing mercy. Go and do likewise. Any person in need gives you a chance to show you are a good neighbor and being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Emergencies aren’t always convenient. They don’t happen at planned times. I suppose if we could plan them, they wouldn’t be emergencies. I think about another example from Jesus about showing compassion even at inconvenient times. In Mathew 14 is the story of Herod and John the Baptist. John apparently had been hanging around outside Herod’s place, telling Herod that there was something wrong with Herod for taking his brother’s wife. I can’t help but think of how awkward that would be at family get-togethers, Herod and Philip and Philip’s wife Herodias. So one night after dinner and dancing by Herod’s daughter, Herod decides to behead John the Baptist. John’s disciples buried the body and then came to tell Jesus.

Look what it says in Matthew 14:13-14 –

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

John is the second cousin of Jesus, and John was the one that paved the way for him, a voice crying out in the wilderness. You know Jesus is grieving the loss of John. And yet, He found the time and energy for compassion at that moment, to heal the sick people that had come to see Him.

Our role model for compassion is God. We were sinners, opposed to God, but He showed compassion for us, even while we opposed him.

Compassion isn’t obligation; compassioning isn’t doing something out of duty. Compassioning isn’t even caring for somebody or taking care of them when they’re hurt.

I went looking for the root word of “compassion,” and found enough to rethink my idea of what compassion is. The root words in Latin are “cum”, which means “with” or “along side”. “Passion” originally didn’t mean anything like the ardent love we associate it with today, it comes from the Latin “pati” which means “to suffer.” It’s the same root word that gives us a hospital “patient,” somebody suffering. So how did we associate this with passionate love? Perhaps from the “Passion of the Christ,” the suffering Christ went through on our behalf. Christ’s love and suffering, His passion.

So “compassion” means to suffer together. It’s not just caring for somebody. It’s suffering with them, making their pain also your pain. How difficult is that to love a neighbor that much that we would suffer as though their pain is ours.

One of the clearest examples of compassion was Mother Teresa. Nobel prize winner, she eventually opened 517 missions in more than 100 countries. One of her early ministries confounded people in Calcutta, to help people nobody else would help. Poor people dying of Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. These people, even if they lived, would still be a burden on society. Mother Teresa converted an abandoned Hindu temple into a free hospice, the first Home for the Dying. People brought here received medical care and given an opportunity to die with dignity. Hindus received water from the Ganges, Catholics received Last Rites, Muslims were read to from the Quran. “A beautiful death,” she said, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels — loved and wanted.”

In a book about her life, “Mother Teresa, In My Own Words,” are hundreds of inspiring stories and quotes from this amazing woman. She said, “Someone once told me that not even for a million dollars would they touch a leper. I responded: ‘Neither would I. If it were a case of money, I would not even do it for two million. On the other hand, I do it gladly for love of God.'” She was truly a person of compassion, demonstrating God’s love daily and seeing God in those suffering.

V. Conclusion

So who is your neighbor? How can you love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind? Do they have a need, and can you go beyond the “bring them a casserole” and truly show compassion, to suffer along with them, to bear their pain? The story of the Good Samaritan tells us that we are challenged to be the good neighbor, regardless of their culture or how we feel about them. To show compassion for those around us, in glorious imitation of the compassion Jesus showed for us. As He loved us, let us love others.



Last year I traveled more than usual. I mean, I traveled a lot. I paid Italian income taxes, and the Customs agents at Schipol Airport know me by name.

And when I started traveling, I stepped down from teaching bible study at my church. They have this weird rule that if you’re not there, you’re not allowed to teach.

But last night I had a dream. You know that dream almost everybody has that they’re just arrived in their university class and they didn’t study for the test? I had that dream, except I showed up to teach but I hadn’t studied. The topic was on ‘Trust’ and I was going to have to wing it.

I think that means it’s time to volunteer again.