Here we are in the midst of multiple seasons upon us–Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years bundled together with just a matter of weeks between. There are terms out there to try to pinpoint the loneliness that accompanies many around these times. Though some of you reading may be experiencing a vibrant season of thankfulness, adoration, and excitement, many around us suffer in a very serious way of the "holiday blues." Yet even this term doesn't transcend deep enough to express the dark nights of so many souls in our world. Feelings of loneliness, shame, isolation, and discouragement plague many hearts this time of year. God calls us as believers with transformed hearts and renewed minds to have eyes to see and hands to help those around us.
Though I love practical lists telling me how to accomplish a good act that will bring glory to God, that's not what this post is about. I would instead like to pause rushing to the practical and settle in on the foundation behind our acts. Entire books of the Bible are comprised of gospel-transforming doctrines that lead to a changed life. The book of Ephesians, just to name one. We see three chapters giving us proper doctrine regarding our salvation and redemptive history and in latter three chapters, we are pointed toward changed lives. Therefore, we must not run to our natural man's tendency of labor before belief. In this great battle of faith we are living out until Christ returns, we are truly to be so girded and protected in faith and truth that we may not be penetrated by the evil powers at work against us. But there are many, even believers, that don't sense the war, or are enemies themselves of the cross of Christ even as we speak. So, this holiday season–and for the rest of our lives–we shall love them boundlessly because we ourselves are not bound by the observation of festivities but are instead reminded that they are a shadow of the things to come (Col. 2:17).
The Real Question
I'm the analytical type, and I have always operated best with extreme details outlining for me exactly what I need to know to not only accomplish a task but process a thought or reality properly. So if God has called me to a new and living hope to be shared with those around me, wouldn't the greatest question to consider be who is my neighbor
We aren't alone in this question. In Luke 10:25-37, we encounter a self-righteous lawyer prodding Jesus with this very same question. Yet, the most profound reality about this text is not found in this question, but the one that is asked prior. The lawyer first stands up, seeking to test Jesus, and asks, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25b). So we see clearly that pinpointing who our neighbor is only first and foremost grasped beneath the understanding of eternal life. God's means for us to do what he advises the lawyer to do, namely love Him with our heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, is not a self-mustered, pre-conversion ability.
We will recognize who our true neighbors are only when we ourselves have encountered Jesus on the road, a beaten and wounded foreigner incapable of saving ourselves. When we see that we have been shown the greatest compassion even known to man by the Son of Man, the scales drop from eyes and we can see that everyone we encounter must be held to the same regard we hold ourselves. High enough that we cannot shrug our shoulders at the hurting, passing by in haste or lack of concern. High enough that we tell even the questioning lawyers in our lives the truth in love. When we see how the Good Samaritan passed by the beaten man and looked upon him without contempt but rather full of compassion and love, we have true insight. Rather than fixate on the question of who our neighbor is, we can ask God to give us hearts to see what we ourselves have been saved from. Eyes to see Christ's compassion and work on our behalf so that we may inherit eternal life.
Why Does It Matter?
Jesus' answer to the inquiring lawyer in Matthew 22:34-40 specifically states Jesus' answer in the form of commandments. Jesus says that the second commandment is like the first: We shall love our neighbor as we love ourselves. However, we cannot run off into working at the second without recognizing and being transformed by the first. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). Here we have an impossible commandment, the greatest in all the Bible, given for the natural man to accomplish. How in the world can one do this? We can't. The channel by which such a commandment can be fulfilled is out of this world.
Verse 40 may leave us skeptical and cause us to breeze over such a verse; however, what it is saying is huge. "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." The Old Testament, comprised of narratives, history, poetry, prophecies, the law, and wisdom, can be summed up with two commandments? Yes! All that God has been working in His creation since the fall in Genesis 3 has been preparing for the coming of Christ who would fulfill every prophecy and provide a way for us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind. We see blessing for following in such obedience, obedience that led to proper living–loving your neighbor as yourself. And we see cursing for walking in disobedience and neglecting God only to live self-serving lives that hurt one's neighbor rather than help.
These commandments matter because the true Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ, bound up our wounds upon Himself on the cross, pouring over us for all eternity His blood sacrifice and clothing us with the pure garments of His own righteousness. He did the unthinkable. He fulfilled what the Law and the prophets had been speaking of for thousands of years. Jesus, unlike the ungodly priest and Levite, lowered Himself for our sakes and repaid a debt for our healing that is as far reaching as heaven is from hell. That is for us the perfect demonstration of love with all your heart, soul, and
mind and loving one's neighbor as himself.
Make room in your hearts For Them
My hope for my own heart and yours is that this holiday season, and the rest of our lives, may be so changed by the realities of God's love shown toward us through His Son that we can love and not pass by, look for more neighbors rather than focus on which is which, because our hearts are so unfettered from the ways and thoughts of this world.
So, fill your hearts with gratitude as you come to the table and feast upon the grace given by God that is continuously placed before us as the loaves and fish never ran out while feeding the 5,000. Share that grace with your neighbor. Wrap your homes with lights if you wish, but may it point you to the Light of the world that came to eternally penetrate the darkness of sin. Tell of the Light to your neighbor. Drink your seasonal drinks and be warmed by the never out-of-season reality of Christ incarnate. Offer this cup of truth to your neighbor. Prepare for a transforming new year with goals that will make you more like Christ. Help your neighbor not be discouraged and please, tell them of our Good Samaritan. Love the Lord your God more than any holiday festivity, and do so with such might that your heart can do nothing else but love and share with your neighbor.
By Melissa Dennis
Originally published in Be Still Magazine, Issue 6.