Loving the Neighbor

June 19, 2005 / No. 3259

Dear radio friends,

     I count it an honor and a joy to be with you today and the next several weeks as we give our dear radio minister, Rev. Haak, a much-needed break.  I also count it a privilege because radio work is a delight to me, not only here in Pittsburgh where I labor as Eastern Home Missionary, but also to our Eastern Home contacts and to our other radio listeners throughout the country.  I count it indeed a privilege to minister the Word of God in this way.

     I have in mind today and for the next several weeks — in fact, in thirteen messages — what has been heavy on my heart and what I have preached in missions in the last year or so, a subject that I hope will be of great concern and blessing to you.  It has to do with love — the love of God in our hearts — but, especially as it is manifest in our love for strangers, love that would be motivated by the love of God, so that as we have been shown His mercies, we are a merciful people.

     I believe that, of all people, Christians, and especially Reformed Christians who have come to an understanding of the sovereign grace of God and the gracious covenant of God, ought to be the most gracious and friendly people on the face of the earth.  Not in a compromising way — do not get me wrong.  Not in a superficial way that everything is love and now we are going to ignore the truth.  Not at all.  We must be men of conviction.  We must be women who love the truth.  We must uphold, as men and women, those truths in our homes, with our children, in the churches.  But in the way of love, for are we not told to speak the truth in love?

     I would propose that today I introduce this somewhat different matter of instruction by giving you an overview.  The general theme of my messages is:  “The Love of Strangers, the Love of Brethren, and the Love of Children.”  We will have a couple of messages on each.  But I would like to bring it all together, I would like to show that Scripture teaches all these different spheres of the calling of the child of God to walk in love.  The first message will go right to the Levitical law in the Old Testament.  We must not be surprised with that, because already in the Old Testament God commanded His people, with all the restrictions they had in the ceremonial law and in the nation of Israel, that they must never forget to love the stranger.

     Maybe you want to look up already beforehand what we will examine next week, Leviticus 19:33, 34, where the Israelites are commanded to love the stranger whom God brings into their midst.  They must never vex that stranger, but they must love the stranger even as they love their own.  An incentive is given there — not only that “I am the Lord your God,” but the reminder that “ye were also strangers in the land of Egypt.”

     Is that not marvelous?  Is that not what Jesus Christ taught us, too?  It is out of the love that we have experienced from the hand of God that we now turn around and love our neighbor.  Jesus says that if we do good only to those who do good to us, if we know how to love only those who love us, then we are no different than the publicans.  We must learn to love even those who are strange to us, even those who are our enemies, for then we show we are like our heavenly Father, who loved us while we were yet sinners and while we were yet strangers to His kingdom.

     So I would like to start with that concept of loving the stranger, because the word “hospitality” in the New Testament literally means (you might be surprised by that) “love for the stranger.”  We are told to show hospitality to the saints and we are told to show hospitality one to another, but, literally, the word “hospitality” is a call to love the stranger.  We will see that, even with one another, we should exercise hospitality, because oftentimes we begin to take each other for granted.  But the point remains the same.  Whether it is a newcomer, whether it is someone we do not know very well, whether it is someone we think will not really come to the saving knowledge of Christ because he has so much baggage with him, or whether it is someone who grew up in the church — we must have that same attitude of compassion and kindness even as God has loved us, we must love the neighbor as we love ourselves.

     Our Lord Jesus Christ, and that will be my second message in this series, gave to us a beautiful parable illustrating this.  You will find it in Luke 10:30-37.  You can guess what that parable is, can you not?  Yes, it is the parable of the good Samaritan.  Think of the priest and the Levite.  They had no time for that man dying along the way.  They had to go to temple service.  They had to go to their busy labors.  But then came, of all people, a Samaritan.  He stopped.  He could have said, “Oh, no.  I’m a Samaritan.  How dare I stop and help an Israelite?  I could get in trouble for this!  I might be attacked by the thieves.  I might be falsely accused.  I might be told I was the one who did this.”  But, no.  Putting all those selfish thoughts aside, he stopped in his tracks, he bound the wounds of this man, put him on his donkey, brought him to the inn, took care of him overnight, and said to the innkeeper, “I must run on my errand, but here is some money, and when I return I will take care of the rest.”

     Jesus gave that parable in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  It is easy to ask, “Who is my neighbor?”  But Jesus turned it around and said, “Don’t ask who is my neighbor?  Ask to whom can I be a neighbor?”  We have lots of neighbors.  The question is, “To whom am I being a neighbor?  To whom can I show neighborliness?  To whom can I show friendship, kindness, and compassion?  Who is in need?  Who around me can I pray for and think about and assist?”  We will consider that question in our second message.

     Then I would like to proceed in our series with some examples, because I think scriptural examples can press home the point, even as God gives to us those examples in the Old and New Testament.  There is the great woman of Shunem in II Kings 4 — how she cared for the prophet.  We can learn about how we should show kindness, as Jesus also said, to those who bring to us the gospel.  He said that, even when you give a cup of water to one of the least of His disciples who serve Him, great will be your reward in the kingdom of heaven.  We ought to remember those, and communicate good to them, who bring to us spiritual things.  The great woman of Shunem stands as a shining example in the Old Testament (II Kings 4).

     Then we have a New Testament example.  I think of Stephanus.  He was “addicted.”  Yes, that is the only time that the word “addicted” is used in the Scriptures — one and only time!  Addiction means giving yourself over to something.  Paul commends Stephanus that he was addicted to the ministry of the saints, he and his house.  When saints passed by, when they needed their feet to be washed, when they needed a meal, when they needed some refreshment, or they needed some comfort, Stephanus would take them in and would minister to them.  What a good example for us to follow and submit unto.

     I have in the series also a passage out of I Peter 4:9-11, where we are reminded, in fact, given the mandate, to show hospitality one to another.  How important that is to remember, because, as Jesus said, it is by our love one for another that the world will know that we are His disciples.  We must not forget that.

     This series is not going to exhort us somehow to do evangelism and be a witness to others — and then forget about the communion of saints.  How can we be a solid witness to others when we do not know how to love one another?  Imagine when a newcomer comes and all he finds in the church is bickering and in-fighting and there is a lack of warmth and hospitality one to another.  No, we must ourselves learn to exercise hospitality daily and on a regular basis.

     Then, in the halfway point of our series, we will have a sermon really on the great Judgment Day of which Jesus warned us in Matthew 25.  It is a passage that is one of my favorites.  I will tell you why.  It is a passage that speaks of the sheep and the goats and the separation of the sheep and the goats.  Jesus says, “Yes, ye are blessed from before the foundation of the world.”  That the sheep are blessed is thus not based on any of their works.  Then He goes on to commend the saints because their life manifested that they were indeed blessed of the Father.  And do you know what was the manifestation, the chief characteristic, of the people of God in this world?  Jesus says to the sheep, “I was hungry.  Ye gave me food to eat.  I was thirsty.  Ye gave me drink.  I was in prison.”  The sheep are bewildered and ask, “When, Lord, did we do such a thing?”  And He says to them, “In that ye did it unto the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

     You know, when I was in seminary several years ago (my wife and I have been blessed with eight children, by the way), our first children (the twin boys) were born in Zeeland, Michigan in 1985.  We had a doctor who was a member of our church and he knew we were in seminary and could not work because we were from Singapore and did not have a work permit.  He said, “This one is on me!”  We were so thankful for his graciousness and because he was giving it to us for free.  I think, perhaps, because he was Dutch, he would not let us go for an ultra-sound.  I kept saying, “We need an ultra-sound, because I think my wife has twins.”  He says, “Ah, don’t wish that on a first-time mother.  She’s fine.”  Then, seven and a half months later, he says, “I think you had better bring her for an ultra-sound downtown to Butterworth Hospital.  She might be toxic.  Or you might be right, it might be twins.”  So we went to the hospital the same day.  We saw one heartbeat, and we saw another heartbeat.  And of course I called our doctor and said, “We have twins!”  To this day there is a memento in his office with a picture on a metal plate with Jonathan and David’s birth pictures.  And underneath that picture is this passage of Scripture, “In that ye did it unto the least of my brethren, ye did it unto me.”  How we thanked God when we received the love and compassion of God’s people.  Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  May we learn truly to show that kind of love and kindness to the brethren.

     In the middle of my series, I hope to bring the theological basis for this entire series.  I will preach from Acts 2:39 and share with you a message that shows to us that this idea of having a balance between our love for strangers and our love for our children and for one another is indeed scriptural.  For the promise, Peter proclaimed, is unto you and to your children — and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.  Already in Genesis 17 we read that Abraham had that instruction, that he must care for his children because God would establish His covenant with them, but that Abraham must know too that he will be the father of many nations.  Not only from his loins would God will gather His people, but from all nations — that is, not just from the Jewish nation.

     That tells me that already in the Old Testament, and if you read the psalms and the prophets you will find it there all over the place, that God, already through the prophets, made known that in the new dispensation, with the coming of the Messiah, the gospel will go to the nations.  Peter, of course, emphasized that when he said, “The promise is to you and to your children.”  It remains in the New Testament what it was in the Old, notwithstanding what the Baptists would say today.  We must understand that God’s covenant is always in the line of generations.  Nevertheless, we must include in all of our labors the work of missions because God is pleased to call from afar off, too.  Look at me.  I was born a Hindu.  My wife was born a Buddhist.  Without Protestant Reformed preaching on the island of Singapore, where would we be?  Now, do we turn around and say, Oh, we are just individuals — forget about our children?  No, we raise our children in the fear of God, by the grace of God.  But at the same time we must reach out to others zealously and faithfully as Christ commands us.

     So, the promise is unto you and your children and to those who are from afar off.  But the qualifier is this, you see, “even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”  This is the Reformed Witness Hour.  I am a Protestant Reformed missionary.  We make no bones about it, and we are not ashamed to preach and to teach, that God is sovereign and God will call whomsoever He will, whether it be from our children or whether it be through mission work from those outside.

     That is a wonderful gospel.  It presents God as the Scriptures do, as the sovereign God who calls.  He calls and all things come to pass.  He calls and the dead come to life again.  He calls His sheep by name.  What a comfort and assurance for the child of God.

     Then, finally, in the last few sermons, if I may briefly point out in this introductory message, we would like to discuss very practically the covenantal responsibilities of godly, Christian parents.  We are to train our children (Prov. 22:6).  We are to pity our children (Ps. 103:13).  We are to show to our children, not only by our example, but also by our instruction daily, how important it is that they put God first — right from their tender youth on.  They must make confession of their faith.  They must come to years of discretion, of course.  But right from the beginning we sow the seed that they ought not to be ashamed of God, even as God is not ashamed of us.  And we ought to show them that it is only by the grace of God.  We must talk to them about these things — as Deuteronomy 6 tells us, on the highways and byways of life, on our doorposts, at our dinner table.  Those devotions are so necessary in the training of our children.  We must pity them.  We must recognize that they are frail just like us.  They are sinners just like us.  We must forgive them and show them the way of forgiveness, and at the same time discipline them.

     That is why we are also going to remember Eli (I Sam. 3), that although he did tell his children that they ought not to be committing such sins, he restrained them not.  There is a severe warning there (I Sam. 3:13), and I would like to give you a message on that, how we must also discipline our children.  We must bring them the Word of God and the admonition of God.  When they go astray, we must discipline them — not only ourselves but, if necessary, even the elders in the church.  We must not look at that as something negative.  We must look at that as something positive — that Christ provides for us that haven, the church of Jesus Christ, godly elders who come and help us in our homes.  We must not fail to discipline our children, because discipline works, and because God Himself disciplines us, because He loves us.  Because we love our children, we must discipline them too.

     The Scriptures tell us that we must be at home with our children.  In Titus 2:4, 5, older women are instructed to remind younger woman in the church to be “keepers at home.”  We must rear our children; we must spend time with our children.  Mothers, but also the fathers, must take the time, quality time, to be with their children.  I am sure that this is not something new, this is not something you have not heard about, but I would like to focus on that passage of Scripture because, as we all know, we live in a generation where it seems that parents are just too busy for their children.  We cry out, do we not, “Why are there so many child delinquents?  Why do we have so many problems with this generation and so much crime and so much adultery?”  The Scriptures actually give to us solid instructions and warnings and guidelines.  I hope that this practical aspect of my series will prove useful to all of us.

     I hope then to conclude my series with a sermon on praying for our children.  We will look at II Samuel 12, where David prayed for his son who was about to die.  It is a sad story because David, who had committed sin with Bathsheba and even murdered Uriah her husband, was told that his child will die.  We see that the consequences of our sins are great.  But David prayed.  He besought the Lord.  He cried day and night.  And then, when the Lord took the child away, then David got up, washed himself, went to the temple, and worshiped God.  And he said those remarkable words that, though the child will not return to him, he will go to the child.  I believe that David, already there, was expressing the hope and confidence in God’s covenant — that even our own sins cannot hinder God’s covenant.  He knew that God had taken this child away, but that God had a good purpose.  And David submitted to the purpose of God.

     I think that that is such a comfort to godly Christian parents who, perhaps in their weakness and sin, fall and then sometimes are on a whole lifelong guilt trip.  I can tell you, my wife and I, having been married 22 years, look back sometimes, and in many ways we say, “Oh, we should have done it differently.  We should have done this.  We shouldn’t have done that.”  But then we had to learn that God’s covenant will be established and He will perform His will.  And, instead of living in regret, we pray.  That is the point of the last sermon in this series.  We must learn to pray.  We must learn to cast all of our cares upon God.

     What, then, should we do?  We should pray.  We should realize that our heavenly Father knows.  But then we must also realize that our heavenly Father would have us go on our knees and beseech Him.  How easy it is for us even to take this whole covenant responsibility and try to do it in the arm of flesh — thinking it is our training, it is ourpersonalities, our discipline — instead of praying for our children and with our children daily.

     The same thing is true in the communion of saints.  We see strife, we see difficulty.  What do we do?  Do we pray one for the other?  What about missions?  Oh, we can become so discouraged and  troubled with lack of laborers or lack of zeal.  But Jesus said, “The harvest is plenteous; laborers are few.  Therefore, pray.  Pray the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest field.”

     So I will conclude today with the calling that God gives to us, that we as we learn to love the stranger, to love the brethren, and to love our children, we be found often praying.  Let us pray that God in His mercy will continue to work in our own heart, first of all, His love.  Then also that He will work in our hearts love one for another.

     May I conclude with some practical tips?  When you wake up tomorrow morning, pray, “Lord, whomsoever Thou wilt put upon my pathway today, give me the words of grace and wisdom to speak.”  Pray, “Lord, make me a blessing in the congregation, so that this Sunday, when I go to church, I not only receive but I be a blessing and give of my love and of my time and of my support and of words of comfort to my fellow saints.”  Pray tonight, with your wife, “Lord, give us grace that we together, as husband and wife, may with renewed love one for another be a rich blessing to our children and raise them up in the fear of God.”

     May God give us grace as we continue to learn to love the stranger, to love the brethren, and to love our children.

     Until next time, God’s blessings upon you.

     Father, we thank Thee that we could spend this time together.  We ask for Thy rich blessing, that Thy face will shine upon us as we continue to glean precious truths out of Thy Word.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.