What is the purpose of love? The Beatles made famous the idea that love is all we need. But what is the value of having something, or giving something, if you don’t know why you have it? Christians are to be known as people who love. But if we are honest, the reality is, society can be given the opposite impression. For example, in 2008 when Katy Perry released her hit song, “I Kissed a Girl,” a church marquee in Ohio infamously posted, “I kissed a girl, I liked it, and went to hell.” Not exactly a warm and fuzzy message. Or my personal favorite, the billboard on I-22 outside Birmingham, Alabama. A vintage image of Satan – cloven hooves, horns, and a sickle – with big, bold letters which reads, “GO TO CHURCH OR SATAN WILL GET YOU!” I am still struggling to find that phrase in the scriptures…
I don’t for a moment pretend that Christians should be naïve to reality or dismissive of sin. It is the calling of Christians to make disciples, baptize, and teach (Matthew 28:18-19). But what happens whenever a society around us knows Christians more for what and for who they are against than for what they are for? It would seem the opportunity to make, baptize, and teach is thrown out the window when many observe and experience Christians who neglect and criticize.
In Luke 10, Jesus teaches us a few principles about how to love. With the story of the Good Samaritan, he teaches us about compassion and how to give it. A primary character in the story is a lawyer. This is not the Morgan & Morgan or Law & Order kind. This is an expert in the Old Testament law. He would have had the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) memorized, word for word. So his arrogance should come as no surprise whenever he stands and confronts Jesus in a bold way. His first of two questions shows how vast his knowledge of religion and how limited his knowledge of the gospel. In verse 25 he asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Giving him benefit of the doubt (it’s reasonable to want to know how to go to heaven), the question itself is a foolish paradox – you cannot do anything to inherit something. An inheritance is decided upon and designated by the giver, alone.
Jesus’s answer to the first question can be easily misunderstood. Jesus is not saying that one must work in order to earn an eternal inheritance. The answer Jesus affirms as correct is actually an answer from the Deuteronomy 6:4-5. It is known in Hebrew as The Shema – to love God and love others. It is similar to the Ten Commandments; commandment 1-5, love God and commandments 6-10, love others. The 66 books of the Bible are loaded with verses and whole passages which confirm that it is not possible to earn salvation nor entry through the pearly gates. Instead, as Jesus affirms here, it is only by grace through faith giving birth to a love for God which insures eternal life.
It becomes obvious quickly that the lawyer is not okay with the final principle which God originally taught in Leviticus 19:18, “to love others.” This lawyer would be in good company in modern society. There seems a radical increase in what I call, “Dressing Room Theology.” Like trying on clothes at the local department store, Christians take the Bible into the dressing room and decide which verses fit good, feel good, and they know they can look good doing. The verses which appear difficult or uncomfortable, they quickly dismiss and leave behind. The lawyer was doing just this. It’s likely he was tracking with Jesus whenever Jesus confirmed the priority to love God – the lawyer was religious, this was a no-brainer – but the calling on the Christian’s life to love others seemed to be a thorn in the lawyer’s side. A thorn he was aiming to publicly address.
The second question is found in verse 29. The lawyer’s arrogance remains on full display as the Bible gives us insight to his motivation – “desiring to justify himself…” The lawyer came to Jesus the way many of us do today. He was asking Jesus, what is the bear minimum I can do as a Christian? Still missing that it is by God’s grace that we are saved and held fast, he wanted to know the minimum he could do to look good in front of others and therefore be justified before God.
We, like the lawyer ask who is my neighbor, seeking a conditional answer. If we can understand the terms and condition of Jesus’s calling on our lives then we can control (so we think) the effort and the outcome. Jesus radically flips this question on its head. Instead, the gospel asks, to whom can you be a neighbor? This question leads us to live like Christ and to showcase God’s great love.
Here are three principles we learn from Jesus’s telling of the story of the Good Samartian.
The opportunity for compassion. The most religion men in one of the most religious areas of Israel both declined the opportunity to show God’s love. Jericho was the buckle of the original Bible Belt – think Hobby Lobbys, Chick-fil-as, and chariots with clergy stickers. The priest, an accomplished and success clergy decided his commitment to religion was more important than this opportunity to show compassion. A commitment to holy living is admirable, but obedience without worship is legalism. Not only did the priest live-out this neglect, he mentored others to do the same. The Levite can be considered “junior varsity” who sat under the tutelage and leadership of a priest – an alarming reminder that what we do and say (in this case don’t do) will have a significant impact on younger, watching Christians.
It was the Good Samaritan who responded to the opportunity to show compassion. In Act 8, we learn of a similar story where Peter meets the Ethiopian Eunuch on the road to Gaza. The principle here is the same: God has a rich history of crossing the paths of “goer” and “seeker.” While the man beaten and robbed may not be described as one seeking the gospel, he does represent the intersection of opportunity for compassion God creates in our path each and every day.
The cost of compassion. The Good Samaritan chose to go all out. For him, the cost was great. He risked physical danger (who is to say this man was not a trap laid by robbers waiting to attack him too?) He risked social danger (good luck getting a cup of coffee at the café in Jericho when you’re known as a sympathizer of the enemy.) He risked financial loss (think his insurance company will reimburse him for the medical supplies he used on someone else rather than himself or his family?) Look at the obvious. He was traveling on a road – it’s fair to conclude he, himself, was going somewhere. He had a schedule to keep, but chose to change it. In addition to all this, the most important principle Jesus teaches here is how the Good Samaritan went all out. He did not just do the bear minimum. Far too often Christians can be guilty of participating in the need just long enough to get a selfie and post it on social media. May we all be Christians who do more than only read about, talk about, and post about theology – deciding our opinion voiced will change the world. As God gave the greatest cost, may we too be found responding to his great love by giving a great cost ourselves. The Good Samaritan started out just like the priest and the Levite. All three saw the opportunity. It was only the Good Samaritan who, “when he saw him, he had compassion” (v. 33). Imagine when the man woke up and learned it was a Samaritan who helped him! A fellow Jew might be expected, but compassion from a social enemy makes lasting change. Self-centered effort changes circumstances. Gospel-centered effort transforms hearts.
The cost of compassion takes trust. I recently had the honor of preaching at a church in Mena, Arkansas. On my way there, I passed a RC Plane Club. As I did, I saw a group of people holding remotes, necks craned toward the sky. Made me kind of sad to think the plane gets to experience the fun part! At a few hundred feet the plane feels the excitement of flying, sees the beauty of creation for miles around. This is so often how we live. Like the pilot on the ground, we want to control our lives – deciding to whom we show compassion, how, and at what cost. But trusting Jesus with our time, energy, and efforts puts us in the position of the plane. With Jesus in control, we see the beauty of his creation and the excitement of his plan.
The purpose of compassion. It is this final principle that truly separates Christians from the non-profits. The mature Christ-follow from the immature. There is perhaps no grater daily goal for a Christian than to have the mind of Christ. Paul articulates this in Philippians 2:3-5, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of your look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Maybe the Good Samaritan has this passage in a trendy Greek tattoo, or maybe it was a bumper sticker on his chariot. Either way, it was a biblical truth of the gospel he clearly was committed to live-out.
The purpose of giving compassion is not for selfish glory or public recognition. The Good Samaritan models for us a Christ-follower who is not concerned with getting credit or being known for his good works. He is also an example of unconditional love. He did not kneel and ask the beaten man, “did you do something to deserve this?” “Who did you vote for in November?” “Do you go to church every Sunday?” The story teaches the purpose of compassion is to showcase God’s love and lead people to the truth of Jesus Christ. We should not prioritize behavior modification at the cost of compassion. Throughout the entirety of Jesus’s earthly ministry, he used compassion as a platform to lead people to truth.
At the end of the story Jesus tells the lawyer to, “go and do likewise” (v. 37). It’s interesting he does not say, go and be like the Good Samaritan, you dirty rotten sinner. The reason being is because we are to be like Christ. We are not the priest, the Levite, nor are we even the Good Samaritan. We are the man beaten and bloody in the ditch. The Good Samaritan is not our hero. The Good Samaritan represents Jesus. Jesus saw the opportunity for compassion when he looked on us and left his throne in heaven (Phil 2:7). He paid the ultimate price of compassion and died on the cross for our sins (Rom 5:8; Phil 2:8). He understood the ultimate purpose of compassion by living and dying for the glory of God (Phil 2:11).
The lawyer, like many of us today, asks “Who is my neighbor?” Mankind’s answer is conditional – who to love and who not to love. Jesus asks instead, “To whom can I be a neighbor?” The gospel’s answer is unconditional – as Christ loves, which is the whole world.