Allen Jackson - Help Your Neighbors - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you again. We're continuing our study on "Big Trouble Ahead". You know, the biblical word is tribulation, and it frightens many of us. It just means big trouble, and whether it's the ultimate tribulation at the end of the age or just the trouble of this season, the reality is we're not through the troubled season yet. Covid is receding but stability hasn't returned to our lives and our world, and we don't want to imagine that it has.
The topic in this session is, "Helping Your Neighbors". It's not a burden, it's a privilege and an opportunity. God has given you a sphere of influence and there are people around you that care about your opinion. If you will open your heart, God will use you in a powerful way to bring hope and freedom and deliverance to our world. Our nation needs a heart change. More than we need a political change or an ideological change, we need a heart change. The good news is, that's the assignment of the church. You and I are integral players in that unfolding purpose of God. Grab your Bible and a note pad, and most importantly open your heart and say yes to God's invitations today.
I think more than an economic need we face, any medical needs we face, any political changes we need, America needs a heart change. Now that's tremendously empowering because heart changes can start with us. We have very limited input in most of those other arenas but we have tremendous influence if, together, we'll say, "We're gonna make a difference in our world". All right? Now there's a lot of confusion that exists regarding the role of the church in the world, a lot of confusion that exists within the umbrella, under the umbrella of the church. You know, the fact that the sign says, "The church," and the building looks like it's ecclesiastical in its architecture, it doesn't necessarily mean that the people gathered in that place are under the lordship of Jesus.
We're gonna have to be a bit more sophisticated consumers, because the season ahead of us is gonna be a season filled with a great deal of deception. And the church is defined by some very specific characteristics, Jesus is the head of the church, which means there's some things about Jesus that are necessary for us to be at least a biblically oriented church. We have to believe that Jesus is the incarnate son of God. That means that whole virgin birth narrative around Mary and Joseph has to be true, or the whole narrative is fraudulent. So it means we believe in that virgin birth, we believe that Jesus was the sinless, obedient Son of God; that he came into this world that we might have a revelation of the living God; that he died on a Roman cross, not because of any failure on his part, but on that cross he took the punishment that was due my godlessness and wickedness and rebellion, and yours too; and then he was raised to life again that you and I might be justified in the sight of God.
And any person that will choose Jesus of Nazareth as Lord of their lives and yield our will to his can receive the benefit of that redemptive work and be made righteous in God's sight. And that is the only pathway. Amen, that deserves a hand. That's the essence of the story of the church, and that's such good news, it changes our eternity. Jesus said, "Don't be afraid of those people that can kill your body". I don't know but I've been trained all my life, that's who you should be afraid of, right? That's the group you should be concerned about, somebody coming at you with a big stick, says, "I'm going to hurt you". Warning. Warning. Jesus said don't really be afraid of that group of people, be afraid of the people who have the power to throw your spirit into an eternal place of destruction.
So the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about Jesus, is that your eternity can be transformed. And you don't have to earn it, you don't have to pay for it, you can't qualify for it, it's not about your race or your gender or your height or your IQ or your income or the accent with which you speak, the ground at the foot of the cross is level and available to everyone. It's really good news. But that point, as surprising is it may seem, is not universally accepted amongst those buildings where the sign says church. And we've got to be a bit more aware. In fact, I have discovered that unbelievers are very willing to tell believers how Christianity should be practiced. Those who aren't practitioners will tell you how you should behave because you are a practitioner, they're pretty quick with that. There's an enormous difference between attending services and practicing Christianity, don't be confused. You can sit in church with regularity and have no intention of honoring Jesus with your life or him being Lord of your life.
And please don't imagine that hiding in the church building makes you a Christ follower, we all understand the fallacy of that. If I sit in the garage all afternoon, it doesn't make me an automobile. If I sit in the barn, it doesn't make me a tractor. You can keep, you know, I can go sit in the cookie aisle in the grocery store and he won't make me an Oreo, it's just not gonna work. The evidence of your faith is in the fruit of your character, it's in the fruit of your character, it's an important premise. Now Jesus gave us some specific instructions regarding our neighbors and that's where I'd like to start. In Luke chapter 14, in verse 7, "When he noticed how they guests to pick the places of honor at the table," Jesus is gonna speak up. He's watching the people and he was watching them jockey for positions of preeminence. He says, "I need to talk to you for a minute". "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, don't take the place of honor".
That's interesting, don't strive for the place of honor, don't make that your objective. "For a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. And if so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Get out of the seat.' Then, you'll be humiliated, and you'll have to take the least important place. When you're invited, to take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he'll say to you, 'Friend, move up to the better place.' Then you'll be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted".
Verse 11 is the punchline, humble yourself. Don't give yourself to self-promotion, don't always imagine that you need preferential treatment. I'll give you some practical ways, in the church world I think we fall prey to this. You want privileged parking. Stop, come early and park away from the building, radical. And then, as you walk into church, pray for all the people that are coming later. Don't park against the curb, where it says, "Don't park," 'cause you're so privileged, and then as you enter the building, mumble, "Jesus bless me". We miss the point. Being a Christ follower is not complicated, we just haven't paid attention. Don't just come to service. Don't decide you're gonna be an attender at a worship service and want the musical people to entertain you and the sermon to be brief enough to not make you late to the restaurant.
Find a way to be a part of that community and give time and energy to serve there. I'm not recruiting today, there's no cards taped under your table, I'm giving you a pathway to promotion in the kingdom of God. If you want to know God in a more meaningful way, a more transformational way, a more vital way, we will have to change our behaviors. God's not gonna change to suit our carnal nature, we'll have to change. Jesus said humble yourself, he said it in the plainest of language, "Don't try to take the place of honor". Practice. You see, humility comes to you indirectly. You'll choose behaviors that don't draw attention to yourself or that aren't demanding privilege, and as you choose those things there'll be a little internal battle in you.
Why are you doing that? Why would you come early? Why would you stay late? Why would you let somebody else into traffic in front of you? Why aren't you angry at that person, they drive like they've got their driver's license online? I guess we can do that now, that's what happened. Humble yourself. But Jesus didn't stop there, in verse 12, he said, "Then Jesus said to the host, 'When you give a luncheon or dinner, don't invite your friends, your brothers, or your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they'll invite you back and you'll have had your repayment. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you'll be blessed. Although they can't repay you, you'll be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.'"
There's a payment ahead of us that's not given just in time. And Jesus said when you think about your neighbors don't just think about your upwardly mobile neighbors; don't just think about your friends, the people you like to hang out with, the people that think like you think and behave like you behave and support the teams that you cheer for. When you're ready to open your life to some kingdom oriented hospitality, include people that you might typically look past; people that are not as easy to be with, people for whom it's more challenging, people from whom you don't expect any quid pro quo. And if you'll do that, he said there's a promise, that, "You'll be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous".
Now you can choose to make your social interactions now as pleasant for yourself as you can, and at the resurrection of the righteous you're gonna sit alone. Or you can decide to use your days in time to adopt Jesus's invitation, and recognize there's a tremendous reward ahead for you. Your choice, your choice. Now why does it matter? Well I'm of the opinion, in the season that we have entered into, there's gonna be enough turbulence that we're gonna need one another's help, we're gonna need one another's stability, we're gonna need a shoulder to lean on, we're gonna need the wisdom that can come from a trusted friend. And in order to do that we're gonna have to do enough life together do you get to know one another's character.
And in order for that to be beneficial and for God to bring stability to us, we're gonna have to take Jesus's instruction seriously. We're gonna have to look beyond the comfort and convenience of those who we think bring advantage to our lives and serve those around us who wouldn't know God if you gave them a G and an O. There's just one more letter, so that's not a long reach. Jesus amplified the principle in that same Gospel, it's Luke chapter 10. It says, "On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus". Always makes me smile, imagine trying to trick Jesus, yeah. "'Teacher,' he said, 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?'"
Then Jesus answered with a good Jewish answer, he asks a question. "What is written in the law? How do you read it"? The man said, "'Well, 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.'" And Jesus said, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live". Can you imagine trying to test Jesus, and he turns the tables on you and asks you a question, and you answer his question and he said, "That's a very good answer"? Let me make a suggestion. At that point, hush, just shut down, you just won Double Jeopardy, and you bet everything you had, alright? just leave it alone. But this guy is not very clever, or he wouldn't have tried to test Jesus to begin with.
So Jesus said, "'You've answered correctly...' But he wanted to justify himself". He wasn't doing what he just said you should do and so he wants to cover his own tracks, so in order to justify himself, "He asks Jesus, 'Well, just who is my neighbor?'" And Jesus tells him the Parable of the Good Samaritan, you know the story I suspect. A man who's a Samaritan was traveling down the road to Jericho, he was robbed and beaten and left for dead, and then a series of travelers pass by him. A priest passed him by with no time, and a Levite, again, another someone involved in formal worship passed by with no time to help him, and then a Samaritan comes along.
Now, what may be less clear to you is that the Jews and the Samaritans hated one another, enough so that when the disciples passed through a Samaritan village and they didn't like the attitudes they were given, they turned to Jesus and said, "Can we call fire down on this village"? You could say there was like a smoldering animosity between the two. Imagine Peter and John saying to Jesus, "Can we call fire down, huh-huh-huh? Can we, can we, can we"?
So it's safe to say the Samaritan than the Jews didn't get along. And a Samaritan comes along and he sees the man, he recognizes he's Jewish, and he stops to help him. He takes care of his wounds, he takes him to an inn, he gives money to the innkeeper, said, "Provide whatever he needs". He leaves some money, "If he needs anything else, when I come back I will make payment for that". So then Jesus asked the question to this tricky fellow, he said, "'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?' And the expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.' And Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'"
So Jesus is redefining again, in these two stories, in these two instructions, how we think about the people around us. You don't just care for the people who are like you, you don't just care for the people with whom you share common interests. In fact, you may even care about people and have compassion upon people who are pretty significantly different than you are. It's in the application of that, I think, where we struggle, because we have a lot of messaging coming to us from ungodly people, telling us how we should behave towards them. And I'll tell you this, if you take your primary coaching from the ungodly, it's highly probable you'll end up behaving in an ungodly way.
So let's push it a little further, I wanna talk to you about compassion for a minute. And I want to make a distinction, that there would be a distinction between compassion and cooperation, and I think sometimes this is lost in the church. Galatians chapter 6, in verse 1, "Brothers". This is written to a church, Paul's writing to a church that he's helped to bring into existence so he has some authority in their lives, he's not just speaking as an outsider, he's invested in them and in what's happening amongst them. "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted".
So we're given some assignment to care for one another when we stumble. We don't want to patrol the battlefields and execute the wounded, we want to be dispensers of grace and mercy. But then there's a little caution light that's flashing there that says but you need to be careful, because when you step into those realms were ungodliness is being expressed you become more vulnerable. Think of it as visiting someone who's sick. We spent a year sheltered in place because of a concern over a virus and how contagious it might be. You know, the real truth about this, folks, if it had been a pandemic where a third of the population was being destroyed, we could not have afforded to shelter in place, we would've had to care for the sick, it's the assignment we have.
The coaching we were being given wasn't to be reckless in parties and celebrations, and meeting your desires of how you want to live your life, we have a responsibility to care for one another. But Jesus cautions us that when you're helping restore someone who has stumbled you better be careful because you're vulnerable to temptation. So we don't abandon one another, we will extend a hand and say that, "The path you're on is not helpful, let's walk back this way a moment". But you can't afford to walk that path yourself very far or you'll lose your balance in your direction as well. Sound right?
Look at 2 Thessalonians 3, "If anyone doesn't obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Don't associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet don't regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother". And this is a bit of an escalation. If someone isn't going to take instruction, if they're not going to heed a godly worldview, if they're gonna ignore the advice of Scripture, take note, and limit your association, limit your fellowship, limit your interaction. Yet don't regard them as an enemy, don't be angry, don't be hateful, don't be embittered.
Now again, this discussion is talking about the body of Christ, within the body of Christ. I'm not sure we've lived this way. We don't want to be judgmental, we don't want to be critical. We've seen abuses, we've seen it mistreated, we've seen hypocrisy, none of us are perfect, all of us need grace. But because of that we've lost our voice for the truth, we've lost our imagination that there's right and wrong, we've listened to the voice of the ungodly. Well who has the right to judge me? God does, he created the place. I'm not your judge, you're absolutely correct in that. But one day you'll stand before the judge, and if I care about you I'll tell you the truth so that you can be prepared for that.
And I think we've lost the courage, the will or the intent to be that honest with one another. There should never be a sense of joy when you're helping someone who has stumbled. It should never be a point of pride or arrogance, that I haven't stumbled, 'cause I'm quite certain if we interview enough people we'll find some who'll know about your stumbles. So the rule, it's better to come clean. James chapter 5, in verse 19, "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins".
Again, we've had a little fractured notion of our faith, we've had such a focus on the fact that my faith is unassailable, that once my relationship with the Lord is established that nothing could diminish it. We've had a very casual attitude towards sin and this flippant attitudes towards forgiveness, that, I can do whatever I wanna do and say, "Oh God, forgive me, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," and then we can just jump right back to wherever we were. That really isn't a biblical notion, and James is writing to the church, to believers. Look at the first two words, "My brothers". He wouldn't call Pagans, "My brothers". He said, "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth someone should bring him back". And, "Remember this: whoever turns a sinner".
He's talking about a brother that wandered from the truth in the context of a sinner. So we need to get this on the ground and out in the open, that those of us who are Christ followers and come to church, we still wrestle with sin. That doesn't mean it's okay, it doesn't mean it's without consequence, it doesn't mean we should be sloppy, it doesn't mean we should endorse it or celebrate it and say, "Oh, that's all right, everybody sins a little". Nuh-uh, that's as foolish as saying, "Well, you know, cancer, little here, little there". No, I don't think you want any. Sin is far more destructive. We've been way too casual, and we've confused compassion with cooperation. "Well, I didn't want them to feel like I thought they were doing something wrong".
Were they're doing something wrong? They should know what you feel, not in anger, not in hostility, not in judgment, maybe it's just a question. "I've known you a while and you've developed some new habits, can you tell me what you're thinking? Something going on in your life? It seems like you're struggling in some ways I haven't known you to struggle before". Compassion. Nobody is a greater advocate for mercy than somebody who's needed it, and I have needed it. My life unraveled in public and there was no quarter where I could hide, and I didn't find a lot of compassion because I hadn't been a particularly compassionate person.
And when I needed mercy, I can tell you there were few things that felt like a greater gift than somebody who would show you mercy. Not an excuse for ungodliness, not an advocacy for sloppiness. And I determined that I'd spend my life helping broken people find their way to the Lord. Church is far more a hospital, a triage unit, than it is a hall of fame. But having said that, we can no longer afford sloppy living, there's turbulence ahead and the devil will destroy you. And we're gonna have to have the courage to help one another, we have been far more interested in being friends with the world than telling the truth to one another, and we have to change. The problems we face are not the problems of the wicked, the problems we face are the result of the hearts of God's people.
I don't want to justify myself in God's sight, I wanna acknowledge my shortcomings, repent, and have that fresh beginning with the Lord. That's my prayer with you before we go today. Lord, forgive me where I've failed, I want a fresh start for a new outcome with you. Let's pray.
Lord, I thank you that through the blood of Jesus we have been delivered from all of our sin. And we come in humility to say we're sorry for those times we've overlooked the opportunities you've put before us or ignored them. I pray, by the Spirit of God, you'll open our eyes to this season, to be whom you've called us to be. In Jesus's name, amen.