Sunday, January 31, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Main Thing
#1—Love Your Neighbors! 

Introduction:

We just finished a four-week series that focused on renewing our love for God and reconnecting with God. For the next four weeks, I want to switch gears and talk about our relationships with each other. From this (vertical) to this (horizontal). I want to talk about loving people. Loving God and loving people—that’s the main thing. And that’s the title of this series: “The Main Thing.”

This week we’ll talk about loving our neighbors; next week, loving our enemies; the following week, loving our families; the final week, loving each other.   And I plan on circling back to this subject a couple times during the year and coming at it from some new angles. Why? Because it’s the main thing!

When you came in today, you got a Do Stuff card. These are opportunities in our church and community to do stuff for other people, to serve, to help out. Or said another way, these are opportunities to love people. Love is doing what’s best for others no matter what it costs you. Love isn’t just a feeling; it’s doing. We don’t want to just talk about loving people—we want to do it. Hence, the Do Stuff card. There are lots of cool opportunities on the Do Stuff Card. Here’s one.

Habitat for Humanity video

Arwa is a beautiful soul and she loves Jesus. I’m so glad we were able to partner with Habitat to build her a house. In February, we are partnering with Habitat to build several more houses. It’s one of the ways you can serve and love your neighbor. It’s on the Do Stuff card—fill it out and later on when the offering comes by, you can turn it in. Or you can turn it in at the Info Center. Here’s:

The Big Idea: When Jesus was asked what was the main thing, He said it was love: love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself.

 

  1. Love is the main thing.

We talk about this all the time here at Life Center—love is the main thing—and so I know that for many of you, this is not a new idea. In fact, you might even get tired of me talking about it. “I’ve heard this so many times! Love God, love people! Love God, love people!” Good! And you’re going to keep hearing it so that we always keep the main thing the main thing. Otherwise, we drift.

Love is the main thing. Jesus made that clear.

Matthew 22:35–40 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Which is the greatest commandment in the Law? In Mark’s version of this story, the expert in the law asks, “Of all the commandments, which one is the most important?” Which is greatest or most important?

The rabbis counted over 600 commandments in the Old Testament. Obviously, some are more important than others.   How many of you would say, “Don’t murder” is more important than “Don’t cook a young goat in its mother’s milk”? Unless you’re the goat. How many think, “Love your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18) is more important than “Don’t wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” (Leviticus 19:19)? Obviously some are more important than others. So the rabbis debated this, especially which was the most important or greatest of all.

Sometimes Jesus spoke obscurely—not this time. Jesus leaves no doubt. The most important or greatest commandment is to love God with all you’ve got—all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. “All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments.” Or said another way, “do this and you’ll fulfill all the law—you’ll do everything that God wants you to do.”

This is a remarkable saying! Last Sunday we talked about Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We talked about the burden that the Jewish Law had become for the people of Jesus’ day: not only 600+ commandments, but thousands of tiny regulations for everything. Here, in one sentence, Jesus lifts that burden and gives them one thing to do: love. “Take my yoke upon you…for my yoke is easy to bear and my burden is light.” Instead of thousands of rules and regulations, Jesus says, “I want you to concentrate on doing one thing well: love. If you love God and love people, you will do everything God wants you to do.” What freedom! Thousands of rules…down to one.

Love is the fulfillment of the Law. That’s not only true of God’s law, but of most civil law too.

ILL: How many of you own or operate a business? Do you ever feel burdened by government regulations? Most of those regulations are designed for people’s welfare. For example, our city council recently passed some legislation requiring businesses to give employees sick leave. Should businesses give employees sick leave? I think so. And most do—Life Center does. If you’re sick, go home…please! Not every business does, so the city council created a law.

But let’s dream for a moment. What if every business owner decided to love his neighbor as himself? What if he loved his employees as he loved himself? You wouldn’t need a law to tell you to send a sick person home; you’d already be doing it. You wouldn’t need pages and pages of legislation detailing the right things to do—you’d already be doing it.

I realize that not everyone is going to love his neighbor, so we still need some legislation. But my point—and Jesus’ point—is that if we love our neighbors, we fulfill the law—we don’t need all the other rules.

Love frees us up, because love fulfills the law! Jesus said this; so did the apostle Paul.

Romans 13:8–10 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

This is why love is the main thing: love is the fulfillment of the law. Love does not harm to a neighbor—it does what’s best for them.

Love is doing what’s best for others no matter what it costs you.

Love does what’s best for others. So if you love, you don’t need a lot of rules—you’ll be doing the right thing. Love does the right thing—it does what is best for others. Love fulfills the law.

ILL: When I was a high school pastor in Eugene, we always started our summer camps by telling the students, “Here’s the rules. Love God, love people. That’s it. We aren’t going to load you down with any other rules. If you aren’t sure what to do, just ask yourself, Is this good for God and good for others. Would it make Jesus smile?”

Love is the main thing because love does the right thing. Love does what is best for others.

Love God with all you’ve got. Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s what we’re going to focus on today.

 

  1. Love your neighbor as yourself.

This command was originally given in the Old Testament, in the book of Leviticus.

Leviticus 19:18 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

It is repeated in the New Testament in all the references on your outline, some of which we’ve already looked at.

What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? We all love ourselves—we do what we think is best for us. We don’t intentionally harm ourselves, unless something is wrong with us. We naturally look out for ourselves—it’s called “self-interest”.   We are to look out for our neighbors in the same way. Just like I want what is best for me, I should want what is best for you. Just like I wouldn’t harm myself, I shouldn’t harm you. Jesus said this another way:

Matthew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

We call it “The Golden Rule”. The Golden Rule is just another way of saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love sums up the Law and Prophets. Do to others what you want done to you—that sums up the Law and Prophets. And what do you want done for you? You want good not harm; you want what is best for you.

Love is doing what is best for others; love is treating others as you want to be treated. What if we asked, “How would I want to be treated in this situation?” and then treated others that way? That’s love.

ILL: I just finished a book, Season of Life, by Jeffrey Marx. It’s about Joe and Biff, two high school football coaches in Maryland, and their unusual coaching method. They have a program called “Building Men for Others” and that’s the goal of their coaching: to build men for others. They teach the boys to love each other, and to base all their thoughts and actions on one simple question, “What can I do for you?”  

“Not what can I do to get a bigger bank account a bigger house?” Biff said. “Not what can I do to get the prettiest girl? Not what can I do to get the most power or authority or a better job title. Not what can I do for me. The only question that really matters is this: How can I help you today?” What can I do for you?

One mom asked Biff at the start of the season how the team was looking, how successful did he think the boys were going to be? “I have no idea,” said Biff. “We won’t really know for 20 years.”

“Huh?”

“I won’t really know how successful they’re gonna be till they come back to visit in 20 years. Then I’ll be able to see what kind of husbands they are, what kind of fathers they are, what they’re doing in the community for others.”

Biff and Joe understand the main thing. Love is the main thing—it’s all about relationships. How many of you would like these guys to coach your kids? How many of you are coaching your kids like this—teaching them to be men or women for others? That’s loving your neighbor as you love yourself.

But who is my neighbor? Who must I love like this? That’s the very question Jesus was asked.

Luke 10:25–37

25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

27 The man answered, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Let’s pause here. The man asked, “And who is my neighbor?” because he wanted to justify his actions. He wanted a narrow definition of neighbor. Many Jews at that time believed that they only had to love other Jews. “Neighbor” for them met other Jews, people of their race and religion. “I only have to love people like me.” That’s what was behind his question, which Jesus answered with a famous story.

30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

So this Jewish man is lying half dead beside the road and along comes a priest—you can’t get more Jewish or religious than that! So if “neighbor” is someone like me, my race and religion, then this is the right guy to come along. It’s perfect—he will stop and help. But he doesn’t—he walks by on the other side of the road, avoiding his fallen brother.

Then along comes a Levite, a temple assistant—again, hard to imagine anyone more Jewish or religious than this—but he too walks on by. So the very people you expect to help—people of the same race and religion—don’t.

33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along,

Time out! Jesus’ Jewish audience must have flinched. The Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies and had been for centuries. This guy is the enemy—different race and religion. In today’s terms, this guy is from ISIS or Al Qaida. Everyone flinched and expected Jesus to say, “Then a despised Samaritan came along…and finished him off.” But Jesus threw everyone a curve.

33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

Wow! Who is my neighbor? That’s the question. And Jesus redefines neighbor.

First, my neighbor is whoever is beside me right now—it doesn’t matter who they are. Race doesn’t matter. Religion doesn’t matter. You’re here—you’re my neighbor, whoever you are. “Hi neighbor.”

Second, my neighbor is anyone in need—it doesn’t matter who they are. Race doesn’t matter. Religion doesn’t matter. You’re in need—you’re my neighbor. What can I do for you?

Third, it’s most important to be a neighbor. The man asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered, “Which of the three was a neighbor?” Be a neighbor—love’s the main thing!

Love your neighbor as yourself—your neighbor is whoever is beside you right now. Race doesn’t matter. Religion doesn’t matter. Christians don’t just love Christians—we are to love everyone, regardless of who they are. Love everyone always. Take a look at this.

World Relief Video.

Wow! Hats off to Lisa and her family for loving Bushra and her family! Bushra says, “She is my angel. We’re sisters now.” Friends, while some people fret about allowing refugees in from this part of the world—and I understand the concern—but while they debate, Lisa is loving Bushra. And that’s what Jesus said to do.

Who’s my neighbor? Who is beside you right now? It might be someone of a different race, a different religion, a different nationality. But we’re all just people, and we all need to be loved. Do you know what I noticed in that video? Not how different Lisa and Bushra and their families are—but how much they are the same. Did you see Bushra’s daughter laughing as she played Uno? Just like my kids…and yours. We’re all just people, and we all need to be loved. Love is the main thing. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Working with World Relief is another opportunity that’s on our Do Stuff card. If you’re interested in helping refugee families that are our neighbors, check that and put it in the offering in a few minutes. I’m going to give a minute right now to look over your Do Stuff card and fill it out.

Do Stuff card break here—play some music while people fill out cards!

Your neighbor is whoever is beside you. We’ve been talking about neighboring, and saying that it starts right where you live. Whoever else is your neighbor, the people who live beside you certainly are. So I want to finish by encouraging you to love your neighbors, the people who live on your block or in your neighborhood, in a really fun and practical way.

  1. Party on!

Next Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday. We’re going to talk about loving your enemies—it’s perfect! Who’s rooting for Carolina? Who’s pulling for Denver? Love your enemies! We’re going to have a little fun next weekend; I’m asking all of you to wear your team colors to church. Wear your favorite team’s jersey or hat. It doesn’t have to be a Super Bowl team—or even football. Whatever your favorite team is in anything—wear your stuff next week. Loud and proud! And we’re going to have some fun with it.

Also, on Super Bowl Sunday we adjust our service times. Sunday morning is the same: 9 and 11:15. But we move our Sunday night service to Saturday night at 6. No Sunday night service—but Saturday night at 6 we’re rocking it! Why do we do this?

  1. Because I’d rather to preach to 1000 of you on Saturday night than to 100 of you on Sunday night!
  2. And because we want to watch the Super Bowl.
  3. And because it’s a terrific neighboring opportunity.

Did you know that more parties happen on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year—by far! That makes it a great neighboring opportunity—a great chance to simply love your neighbors and build friendships. So here’s what I’m hoping you’ll do.

Throw a Super Bowl party and invite your neighbors. Or if you know one of them is throwing a party, be sure to go to it! That’s it! That’s your assignment. Party on! Either go to a Super Bowl party or host one. And then love your neighbors. That’s the big deal—not the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl will be forgotten in a few hours or days—the ads will play for months! But the relationships you build may last a lifetime and may change someone’s eternity.

Let me clear about this. I’m not asking you to preach, or even invite anyone to church. I’m just asking you to love your neighbors. Be there—hang out—get to know people—ask questions—listen to their stories. Be a friend. That’s it. Party on!

We’ve got lots of Biblical precedence for this. Jesus went to lots of parties. All those references on your outline are stories of Jesus at different parties:

Matthew 9:9-13 A dinner party at Matthew’s house

John 2:1-11 A wedding party in Cana of Galilee

Mark 14:3-9 A dinner party at Simon the Leper’s home in Bethany

Luke 7:36-50 A dinner party at Simon the Pharisee’s home

Jesus was often a guest at parties. He hung out with people and got to know them and loved them. Next Sunday is a great opportunity to do exactly that. Throw a Super Bowl party or go to one, and just love your neighbors…and see what God does.

Love your neighbors, and see what God does! Party on!

Prayer