Welcome today to Christ’s Community Church. I am excited to share with you a message entitled “Neighbor” because if we’re of one mind, if we are united in Christ, we are unstoppable in what we can do for God. As a matter of fact, God said that very thing thousands of years ago. It’s recorded in Genesis chapter 11, as God was looking down upon mankind building the great Tower of Babel he said,
"If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6).
And so today I want to open this message looking at a prayer that the apostle Paul prayed that really addresses the unity of the family of God, the church. And this is what Paul prayed, if you want to glorify God, here’s his prayer in Romans chapter 15,
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:5-7).
He prays that we might glorify God, bring praise to God, by treating one another like Jesus would treat each of us, by thinking about each other like Jesus thought about us, and loving each other like Jesus loved us. He says, “I pray that you have a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.” And so, if you want to glorify God, and bring praise to God, what we need to do is treat each other as Christ loved us. Accepting one another as Jesus has accepted and loved us. This was the prayer of the apostle Paul said that we would glorify God.
What’s amazing is that this prayer is very consistent with the prayer that Jesus prayed in John chapter 17. Verse 20 tells us that he prayed to his Father,
"I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).
And so we find that Paul prayed for unity, Jesus prayed for unity, and the goal of our unity was that God would be glorified and the world would know that God sent Jesus to reach a lost, hurting, and broken world.
Today’s message is one that I believe is going to an address an issue that is close to so many of your hearts, because all of us want to make a difference in the lives of those people around us who are less fortunate. As we consider the theme of our neighbor I believe it is going to impact a lot of hearts, because it comes from the greatest of all commands recorded in the Gospels. Mark tells us in chapter 12, that Jesus said,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' And 'Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).
And so that is what we’re going to address today; how to love our neighbors. But what we are going to learn is that loving our neighbor is more than just a simple smile and a wave as we go on our way. And I believe with all of my heart, that as followers of Jesus, we need to lead the way in showing love to others. As a matter of fact, Jesus had an interesting encounter with a man who quoted this very same Scripture back to Jesus.
This man, a teacher of the law, came to Jesus, testing him, and asking the question,
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25).
Jesus answered the question with a question, as he often does, asking the man in verse 26,
"What is written in the Law?" he 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."
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:26-29).
He’s like, “I know I’m supposed to love people, but who exactly do I have to love? You know, do I have to love people who aren’t as educated as I? Do I have to love people that listen to the wrong kind of music? Do I have to love people who look different than me? What if they speak a different language than I do? And do I have to love someone who is different colored skin? Jesus, I know I’m supposed to love my neighbor, but I need to know who that includes, who is my neighbor?”
Again, Jesus doesn’t answer his question directly, but he tells him the parable of the good Samaritan. What he does is show us how to be a neighbor to someone. And the assumption is that everybody is your neighbor.
Your neighbor is the next person you come in contact with and you are to love them as you have been loved... That’s amazing because Jesus loved me while I was sinning and even died for me before I could do anything good or bad. He didn’t die for us because we were good, he died for us because God is good. He loved us when we didn’t deserve it, because we’ve been loved and that is what we are supposed to do to others.
The reality is that there are so many people and even people in our own backyards that are struggling financially, but if you’ve ever been to a developing nation, or seen pictures and videos, you’ve seen poverty in a way that’s much different than the poverty down the street. Is not uncommon to see an entire family living in a one room shack. Some of their homes are the size of a closet in our homes, and not only that they are made of metal scraps. They don’t have running water and there may be even be a bucket in the corner for a toilet. They might have to travel several miles to a community place to get water to bathe or water to drink.
And here, we may grumble that there’s no food in the refrigerator, but they don’t even have a refrigerator. Many of them are hoping for a bag of flour or some rice, anything to get them through the week. And so, whether it’s poverty like that, or just someone who’s unemployed down the street from us, all poverty is meaningful, it’s difficult, and it’s real.
How are we to be a neighbor to those who are in need in a way that would honor Christ?
What’s really interesting is that in Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells a story about what it will be like when he returns for his people, and basically, he said that he was going to separate those who were his from those who were not his. And he said he was going to speak to those who were his and the Bible tells us in verse 35,
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” (Matthew 25: 35-39).
Jesus said in verse 40,
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40).
Allow that to sink in for a minute. “You did for me.” Whenever you are ministering to someone, empowering someone who doesn’t have something that they need you are actually serving Jesus. That’s why it’s so important that we use what we have to make a difference in the world. As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us in Proverbs chapter 19,
“He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord and he will reward him for what he has done” (Proverbs 19:17).
So, you are serving God by serving people who are in need and so we don’t just think, “Somebody should do something.” We don’t just talk about it, because God has called us, the church, the body of Christ, to be the hope of the world and to take the resources that God has put within our care to love others out of poverty into a place of wholeness. As a matter of fact, immediately following the Day of Pentecost, the Bible testifies to the unity and the love of the church. Acts chapter 2 tells us,
“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44-45).
Later in Acts chapter 4 Luke records,
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were NO NEEDY PERSONS AMONG THEM. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:33-35).
This is so powerful when you think about the church loving one another like that and this is the kind of love that God calls us to. You see it all through the Old Testament, you see it when the church began after the resurrection, and you see it commanded again over 50 years later by the apostle John. Now a very old man, he tells us in his first letter,
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18).
He reminds us that when we are exposed to the needs of others as the followers of Christ it should move our souls, it should make us ache and drive us to do something because we care. You know, many times we don’t know what to do or how to do it, but faith requires us to do something and allow God to do the rest. We are called to this, and we need to understand that as followers of Christ every single one of us are called to love our neighbor. You and I are called to this, our church is called to this, and the global church is called this.
And number three, we are called to embrace our neighbor.
Now today is Compassion Sunday and I’ve been praying for God to stir some hearts in a significant way. I’m believing that we as a church can make a difference because there are far more followers of Jesus in the world today than children who need homes. I want to show you God’s plan to help children who are in need. In fact, the Bible is very straightforward about this, and it actually refers to the care of some of the least of our neighbors as the purest form of religion. James tells us in chapter 1, verse 27,
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
The Bible tells us that if you want to perform some sort of religious act, some sort of religious duty that would be acceptable to God, it’s not about how much you pray, how often you go to church, or how much you give. But religion that God our father accepts is to look after orphans and widows and to keep ourselves from being polluted by sin. And so, the greatest, the purest form of religion, that is closest to the heart of God is to love on your neighbor and specifically to look after and care for the orphans and widows that are in need.
Now I know many of you, this is already in your spiritual DNA, and if I were to show you some pictures and tell you stories of these children that there are many of you who would want to help. Who would ask, “What can we do?” And I would encourage you to go out to the sponsorship table in the hallway after the service and take a look. But right now, I want to share with you a quick video that shows the life of a child living in poverty and the impact that sponsorship makes.
Compassion Sunday® 2017 “Waiting for You”:
Today in America and around the world families and society are facing big problems. We find families shattered by divorce, poverty, substance abuse, incarceration, homelessness, domestic abuse, gang violence, human trafficking, and the list goes on and on and on. And yet the ones that pay the highest price for these problems are the children who didn’t cause these problems and who don’t have the ability to solve those problems. Maybe that’s why God tells us in Psalm chapter 82 that we are to,
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy…” (Psalms 82:3-4).
And all of us, you’re a good human being, this church is full of loving people, you care about those who are in need, and so when you see someone in trouble, when you see someone in need, your heart goes out to them, right? And so, when we see a need we want to save the children, we want to rescue the needy, to defend the weak, and to care for the fatherless. We want to save the children and yet it’s so easy if you’re like me when they’re out of sight there out of mind. And you know I’ve got my own children, I’ve got my own bills to pay, I’ve got my own stuff going on, and it’s like I rarely have time to care about somebody else. But this is amazing, our God cares about these children more than we could even imagine. And I believe he’s calling us, his church, to care about them as well. Listen to what the Bible says about who God is:
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families…” (Psalms 68:5-6).
Isn’t that a wonderful picture of who our God is… and I love how he says… “God sets the lonely in families…”
You know, God was looking and he sees Hilda praying, he saw my newly sponsored son Kwajo in Ghana, a lonely kid who was praying, who needs help, and what does he do? He sets the lonely in families, he looks for a family who’s willing to say, “yes” and he rewrites their story bringing the lonely into families.
Even though God is in heaven, he’s looking at families, maybe looking at your family so that the fatherless can experience true love, compassion, and care through the hands of those who love Jesus. This morning I want you to consider, what if God’s looking at your family, what if he’s looking at your home, what if you are the answer to a child’s deepest prayer?
Now I know some of you are almost uncomfortable because you’ve got so much going on. You know you’re supposed to care, but you got 1 million reasons why not to get involved. And so, before you say no, I just want to encourage you to pray and ask, “God what can I do?” “Is there something my family can do to be a blessing to someone who’s in need?” And I’ll tell you, my family has been involved in foster care, we’ve adopted four times, and we’ve been sponsoring children through Compassion International for 15 years, and it’s amazing how God can use you to be a blessing, helping and serving kids with significant needs.
God picks up the lonely and he puts them into families. Today he’s looking for people who will say, “Yes, I’ll do my part to care for the children.” And you know, it’s at that moment when you say yes, when you let that child into your heart, that you might become more like God than you ever imagined. The most godlike thing you can do is to invite someone into your family. Because if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, that’s exactly what God did to you.
You see, you and I were once spiritual orphans, we were separated from God by our sin, but because of Jesus and through Jesus God adopted us into his family. God gave us his name, now we are not our own, now we are God’s family, and he is our Heavenly Father. When you call on the name of Jesus, you are adopted into the family of God, and you become a child of God.
You are adopted, you’re in the family, not because you’re so good, not because you deserve it, but because God is so good. Because he delights in reaching out to you and drawing you into his family. This is the goodness of God and this is why Jesus came so that you might be spiritually born into the family of God.
And this is so amazing, when you do this with someone else, you are just like God, inviting someone into your family to show them the same love that God has shown you. I was adopted into the family of God, and if you’re here I hope you were adopted into the family of God, and I love the way Paul describes this in Ephesians chapter 1,
“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:4-6, New Living Translation).
It gave God great pleasure and it will do the same for us. What if we, what if in our church, every single parent, every single mom and every single dad, felt the love of God as the church cared for them and ministered to their children? What if there was a waiting list for people to serve our children in Kids Connect on Wednesday nights and for children’s church on Sundays? What if, each of us went out to the sponsorship table in the hallway and sponsored a child today? I believe that could be true if we as God’s people would simply pray and when he leads us we say yes. Even though it may cost us, even though it will be difficult, it will be worth it, because God calls all of us to care for our neighbor.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
May 28, 2017
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.