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"Who is my Neighbor? (part 2)"

MESSAGE FOR OCTOBER 9, 2011 ON NEIGHBORING

This week, we conclude our brief emphasis on neighboring.  As we said last week, the area pastors have sensed God’s leading to unite as a community of churches around the Biblical injunction to love our neighbors.  Last time, we saw that this means living out, not only the understanding of neighbor Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan, it also means loving those people who live in our neighborhoods.  Our aim is by God’s grace to compel us to get to know our neighbors in the hopes of having redemptive relationships with them.  To that end, in the bulletin, you will find an insert called “Building Blocks—Rediscovering the Art of Neighboring.”   If you haven’t done so, today as you sense God moving in your heart to get to know your neighbors, fill out the commitment card and put it in one of the baskets—either at the back of the Worship Center or the Banquet Hall on your way out.  That will enable us to know how many in our church have made this commitment.  We will then register the number of commitments we have made with those of the other churches to get a better idea of the community-wide impact this emphasis will have.

Having been reminded of the Biblical mandate to love our neighbors, this week we want to probe more deeply into the question—what does living like a good neighbor look like?  We know we are to love them as we love ourselves, but how does the Bible break that down into bite-sized parts?  First, let’s see what Paul has to say about living God-honoring lives in the context of unbelievers and most of our neighbors are unbelievers.  One passage typical of Paul’s teaching in this area is First Thessalonians 4:9-12.  One of the problems Paul addresses in this letter is the issue of believers (men in particular) who have quit their jobs and are sponging off their more wealthy brothers in Christ.  He says in verse nine, Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” 

After commending the Thessalonians for their love for one another, he tells them to (literally,) “make it your ambition to live quietly and to mind your own affairs.”  He says something similar in 3:11-12.  He says, “11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” The point seems to be that many of the believers in Thessalonica had become idle and when you are not busy working, you will use your energy in other, often sinful ways.   In this case, many were spending their idle hours as busybodies.  Because in their idleness they had fewer of their own concerns to attend to, they began nosing around in other people’s business. 

This involved seeking out those “tasty morsels” of dirt or scandal or some other bits of gossip they could dredge up.  Paul says—“live quietly, and…mind your own affairs.”  Being a good neighbor means to stop rooting around, sticking your nose into other people’s business.  Some believers simply have an unhealthy appetite for things that are none of their concern.  They have a compulsion to know where their neighbors—(who may not even know very well) are going on vacation, or how they afforded their new boat, or who their son’s girlfriend is, or about the wife’s new job because “you know she’s been pulling out of her drive every morning at 6 am when until two weeks ago, she never left before 7:30.”  These people are busybodies.  They’re more concerned about their neighbor’s personal concerns than they are about their eternal souls.  Apart from this being just plain sinful, it’s a great way to lose your witness with your neighbor.  

Neighbors—saved or unsaved, know the difference between a neighbor who’s genuinely concerned about them and one who, in their sinful curiosity takes pleasure in ferreting out their personal information.  It’s none of our business the neighbor’s take home pay or, why they need such a big garage.  Our business is to make sure they know we care about THEM, not their private affairs.  The fact that you have managed to discover their tax bracket or the painful details of their recent divorce doesn’t do one thing to get them to heaven.  We are to live quiet lives and mind our own affairs—and that goes for those we know in church as well.

Paul tells the Thessalonians that they must “work with their hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”  Our unbelieving neighbors won’t know much about what goes on here at church.  They will not know or care much about out theological distinctives or who’s small group we are in or that we teach Sunday school or sing in the choir.  Their opinion of us will not be impacted one bit by any of those details.  But over time, they will come to know whether we are a hard worker, or if we are lazy and tend to depend on others for our welfare.  By “lazy” I don’t mean a person who is diligently seeking to find a job but can’t find one in a depressed economy.  I mean a person who sees nothing wrong with living off the government or someone else when they are perfectly capable of earning their own living.  Our neighbors will pick up on that and it will only hurt our chances of forming redemptive relationships with them.  No one respects the person the Proverbs calls a “sluggard.” 

Another text pertinent to living as a good neighbor is in Titus chapter two.  We read, “3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age

Paul addresses several groups of believers here. First, the older women are to live so that “the word of God may not be reviled.”  Whether we like it or not, the way we live reflects on God and his Word because as believers we are his ambassadors—his representatives.  It’s not wrong for an unbeliever who has met several self-professed believers who are gossips to assume that Jesus must be alright with gossiping.  Jesus gives outsiders the right to draw those kinds of conclusions when he says in John’s gospel, “34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Jesus is giving the world the right to associate our behavior with our faith in him. One implication of that is—if you profess to follow Christ, unbelievers will draw a connection between your behavior and your faith—for well or ill.

Older women—like any other age group have certain sins to which they are more easily susceptible because of their station in life and which can be stumbling blocks to them.  They are past child-rearing years and can have more discretionary time. That affords them several temptations.  These include, slander—as they slam other people to their friends in their coffee clutch. They can be slaves to wine or food or leisure.  Paul calls them to be “self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, submissive to their own husbands…

Many of these texts where Paul speaks to the issue of how we are to live before outsiders mention self-control.  Self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit and in our world that is increasingly without limits or parameters—this character trait—perhaps more than any other—will set you apart from most other people whose appetites for food, sex, drink, gossip and debauchery are not only condoned, but encouraged by our profligate culture.  Most Christian virtues are dependent upon self-control.   Purity, to which Paul also calls these women, means “moral purity and sincerity.”  Our culture tends to enjoy it when older women are a bit racy or risqué.  If an elderly man behaves this way, we identify him as a “letch” or a “dirty old man.”  But if an elderly woman speaks of things inappropriate with a giggle and a grin, we say, “She’s a character.”  Paul would say, “No, she’s impure.”  It’s a terrible testimony to the gospel for a woman who should be a model to others in saintly speech and behavior to talk or behave inappropriately.  Again, Paul says they should be working at home—as opposed to spending all their time gossiping with others.  Their first obligation is to take care of their extended families to the degree they are able.  They are to be “kind” and “submissive to their own husbands.”

Younger men are also to be “self-controlled.”  Younger men would include men ages 13-30.  You were considered an adult at 13 within Judaism.  This quality of self-control in teenage and young men has probably never been more a powerful a witness to Christ than today.  In our depraved culture, young men are more or less expected to be sexually ravenous, angry rebels intoxicated with their own testosterone.  Paul doesn’t allow hormonal activity as an excuse for a lack of self-control for young men—self-control is simply the way young men who love Jesus are to live.  His exhortation to young men continues in verse seven.  7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,” Verse eight provides the motivation.  8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”  Paul knows there are those in the world who are always looking for reasons to throw stones at the church and uncontrolled young men are big targets.  He says—here’s how you respond to the world’s penchant for firing on the church—don’t give them any ammunition.  Don’t give them any rope.  If they are going to give negative reports about us, make them lie to do it.

In verse nine, he speaks to slaves.  Many of the truths directed at slaves can be transferred into the realm of how we as employees relate to our employers.  9 Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.   Translation—don’t make a habit of bucking your boss and don’t rip him off by showing up late or taking office supplies or other work-related materials that don’t belong to you.  When we treat our unbelieving “professional neighbors” this way we are showing them that we are just like them—instead of giving thanks in all things, we gripe and whine and complain and covet and pilfer.  Paul says when we submit to our employers in these kinds of ways we “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” In other words, when we live in Christian virtue, we make the gospel look attractive to the neighbors at work. 

When young people live in self-control, when older women work hard and don’t gossip or slander, when we as employees humbly submit to our employers, we make the gospel look attractive to unbelievers.  Our virtuous lives provide an adornment to the gospel—they make it look good.  That is our charge.  If our lives make the gospel look good to our neighbors, then they’ll be much more likely to be receptive to hear the gospel from us.  This is not a call to perfection—that’s not Paul’s point at all.  In fact, some times the world is most impressed by our witness when we fail well.  That is—if we gossip to them about someone—go back and apologize for dirtying their ears.  Humble yourself and show them Christ’s humility.  When we are going through a valley of any kind, don’t feel like you have to play super Christian.  That’s phony and NOT attractive to the world.  Be close enough to them to let them see that we are looking to Christ for strength in the midst of your heartache.  Often, it’s as believers struggle with the trials of life yet maintain hope in God, that Christ can be seen most clearly in us—even if our faith falters at times.  As we’ve said before, anyone can be virtuous when times are good, but only believers can shine in the midst of trials as God shows his strength in our weakness.

There is much more Paul says about how to live before outsiders, but next let’s move to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  This message is ultimately about the kind of life God intends for those in his kingdom through Christ.   However, the teaching makes it clear that he intends this kind of life to have a profound impact on those in this world including our neighbors.  After he introduces the teaching with the Beatitudes—a summary of what he is going to tell us, he follows with two powerful metaphors.  In Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus says, “13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  Jesus refers to those who have been transferred out of this world into the kingdom of God as the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” 

Briefly, salt is mentioned because of its preserving qualities.  Salt was rubbed into meat to keep it from rotting.  Likewise, as the kingdom attributes of Christ’s disciples are rubbed into the kingdom of this world, that slows down the process of cultural corruption.  The fact that our culture is rotting at an unprecedented rate says as much about the lack of salt in the church as it does about the corruption of this world.  The church is also called to be “the light of the world” that shines in the darkness as the light of the gospel is spread through the lives and message of the church. Next, Jesus applies these metaphors in specific ways to explain what this salt and light look like in a dark and rotting world. 

For the remainder of our time, I want to very briefly mention these manifestations of salt and light of the kingdom that will profoundly impact our neighbors.  Each one of these qualities of kingdom life is worthy of multiple sermons, but we are surveying today.  He begins this in 5:21. “21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  Anger and insult are woven into the fabric of this world.  We call it “blowing up” or “giving someone a piece of my mind.”  Jesus says God’s perspective on anger and insult is—its spiritual murder and it’s worthy of hellfire.  If we in the church really believed that, we would plead with God for grace to keep us from anger and insult.  Manifesting kingdom salt and light is avoiding unrighteous anger as if it were killing someone and keeping our lips from insult because it leads to fiery judgment.  If our neighbor sees us repeatedly using words of grace instead of anger and insult, they will be salted and illuminated.

A second kingdom quality of salt and light is in verse 27.  27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”   For the follower of Christ, marital faithfulness extends far beyond sexual contact to include inappropriate eye contact.  Sexual lust is adultery of the heart and Jesus says is to be avoided at all costs.  Cutting off body parts is just Jesus’ way of saying, “Whatever it takes to stop lusting, do it—no matter how radical it sounds.”  If it means throwing out your television, do it.  It’s better to be in heaven without cable than to be in hell with it.  As your neighbor notices that you treat people of the opposite sex, not as objects of desire, but as image-bearers of God to be cherished and respected—as your neighbor sees your purity extending to include what movies you watch or the clothes your teenage daughter wears in the midst of this crooked and perverse generation, that is salt and light to them.

Jesus continues in verse 31, “31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”  This kingdom standard for marriage was so radical even in the first century that Jesus’ closest disciples wondered if marriage was advisable in light of it.  Today, when the divorce rate in the church is nearly that of the world, it’s pretty clear that in this area there is very little salt or light.  If our neighbors were to have to strain to think of professed Christians who had divorced, this would have a profound impact on them because about a third of them have suffered broken marriages.  With so many of them having experienced the exquisite pain and suffering that divorce brings, a lower divorce rate among believers would be a very attractive adornment to the gospel.

In a world where deceit, broken agreements and evasively worded contracts are the norm, the words of Jesus in verse 33 are revolutionary.  37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”  No half-truths, no deceptive hiding of crucial information, no evasive answers and certainly no direct lies.  If believers were to be commonly known as people who could be trusted, what a powerful impact that would have on our neighbors.  Like many of you, I’ve heard too many business people in and out of the church say, “I’ve been swindled and lied to more by people who claim to be Christians than any other group.”  That kind of witness will close our neighbors’ ears to the gospel.

In verse 38, Jesus continues, “38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  Related to this in verse 43 he says, “43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”   Loving your enemies and doing good to those who do evil to you is so contrary to the sinful nature that it can only be done by children of the kingdom.  If your neighbor wrongs you or sins against you, and instead of retaliating, you work all that much harder to bless him or her, that will shine a bright and convicting light of gospel truth into their lives.

As we move into Matthew chapter six, Jesus tells us we are to practice our piety in private—prayers, giving or fasting.  When we put our religion on public display, the world knows it’s phony.  Next, Jesus tells us that as the world sees us treasuring and investing in the things of heaven far more than the things of this earth--as we invest our time and money in things eternal over the treasures of this world, that tells them something of hearts.  Likewise, if they see all our expensive toys on display in the same or greater measure than their own collection, it will be pretty clear to them that what we really treasure is not in heaven, but in this world—we’re just like them.  It’s when they wonder how we can be so happy when we have so few of this world’s toys, that we have an opportunity to speak of the supremacy of our heavenly treasure to them.

Likewise, when we go through trials and times of great stress and they see us trusting in our God who feeds the birds and adorns the lilies of the field—as we seek God first and his kingdom rather than fret about what we will wear or what we will eat or drink—our neighbors are more likely to see the difference between how they respond to life’s trials (with worry and anxiety) and how we do.  They will long for the peace we have in the midst of trials and deprivation.  That peace in the midst of strife can make the gospel much more compelling to them because the sufficiency of our God to take our burdens will expose the bankruptcy their inadequate human resources.  Next, when the world sees that when we are in conflict, instead of lashing out at the other person, we instead first search our own hearts for the logs in our own eyes—when we are slow to judge others and quick to give people the benefit of the doubt—they will taste our salt and see the light of Christ in us.

The world is very good at spotting a phony.  They are not impressed by our mere profession of Christ or the Jesus we wear on our t-shirts or bumper stickers.  They intuit the truth that Jesus speaks in 7:16. “16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”  Our neighbors need to see the real deal, beloved.  A third of Americans claim to be born again.  If 33% of this nation were salty and light-giving, do you think our country would be so rapidly rotting in the darkness of moral and spiritual depravity?  Our neighbors know plenty of people who go to church and they know that a life that consistently produces kingdom fruit is not the result of just going to church.  That kind of change is deeper and they have a right to see that kind of change in Christ’s church.

As we close, I trust the combined impact of Paul and Jesus’ teaching on how to live before our neighbors--who know us well enough to see our lives up close—is to call us to repent of our worldliness.  To be salt and light in the midst of rotting, dark world we must be radically different than this world.  Please take some time to repent of those areas that God has spoken to you about.  And fill out the cards in the bulletin, put them in the baskets and then pray for your neighbors and work to get to know them that they might taste your salt and see your light for their good and God’s glory.

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