A man who was an expert in Old Testament law (a “lawyer”) asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25).
Jesus knew his background and answered the question by asking a question: “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (Luke 10:26).
So the lawyer answered, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself ’ ” (Luke 10:27).
Apparently, Jesus was satisfied with his answer, so He said, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28).
But the lawyer knew in his heart that he would not be compliant with the commandments if they were to be interpreted strictly. He also knew that a strict interpretation would effectively block the path to eternal life that he sought. But instead of being humbled by the demands of the law, instead of admitting his failure to comply, and instead of confessing his sins to the one who came to die for them, he began looking for loopholes. So he asked, “And who is my neighbor” (Luke 10:29)? But what he was really asking is, “Can you please identify the loopholes in this law so that I can count myself as having obeyed it?”
It is curious to me that he started with the second greatest commandment and not the first. I suppose he would have sought loopholes in the first too if Jesus had given him an acceptable answer to the second. But Jesus did not give him a loophole. Instead, He tightened the noose.
Jesus answered the lawyer’s question by telling the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37). Most of us have heard this story. It is about a man who had fallen victim to thieves and had been left for dead on the side of the road. A priest (supposedly a godly man) passed by and did not help him. Then, a Levite (supposedly a godly man) did the same. But then, a Samaritan (supposedly a sinner and a rival of the Jews) came by and cared for him until he regained his strength.
Jesus followed up the story by asking the lawyer a question, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” (Luke 10:36). The lawyer gave the obvious answer. It was the Good Samaritan. So Jesus told Him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
The Bible’s account of Jesus’ interaction with this lawyer ends here with no further explanation. This leaves us with a disturbing reality. Jesus told this man that obeying the law is the pathway to eternal life. To hear this from Jesus is disturbing because we all know that we have broken the law. It is also disturbing for another reason: because Jesus is the one who said it. Everything He said is indisputably true.
To make matters worse, in respect to just one commandment, instead of providing a loophole that would make it possible for the lawyer (and us) to comply with the requirements of the law, Jesus broadened the definition of neighbor to include every person, and He broadened love to mean every act of self-sacrifice for another person’s sake.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus reveals that the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves requires that we love every person on the planet just as much, just as fervently, and just as consistently as we love our own selves. And that includes not only those who love us (Luke 6:32), but also our enemies and those who treat us spitefully (Matt. 5:44). If we broaden the scope of all God’s commandments in the same way, then the picture we get is that to inherit eternal life through obedience to the law, a person must be perfect, just as God is perfect (Matt. 5:48).
But none of us is perfect. So nobody should see in the law a path to eternal life. Yet, like the lawyer in our story, some people think that God wrote His commandments to show us how we may gain eternal life. But He did not. As I said before, He wrote them so that lost people might come to know that they have missed the mark, that they are guilty before Him, and that they desperately need His forgiveness (Rom. 3:19–20). He wrote them for the saved also, to tell us what He put inside our hearts when He came to live in us.
As is true for every law and every commandment, God brought His love for the world with Him when He came to live in our hearts. Just because Jesus is in us, His love for the world is indelibly written upon our hearts. Since we are one with Him in the inner man, we share His love for the world, and we see the lost as He sees them. From the depths of our hearts, we do not want to slight them or harm them, but we want to help them and support them.
We have compassion for the lost, and we long to see them find salvation for their souls. As a result, the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves is not a burdensome commandment that is too hard to bear (1 John 5:3). It is a natural thing that is a part of who we are in Christ. Our love for our neighbors is built into our spiritual DNA, and it will never change.
This is the basis of our ambassadorship for God to the world (2 Cor. 5:20). Jesus said:
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:14–16)
Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). When He came to live in our hearts, He lit us like a lantern and hoisted us high above the plains to be seen by men. The things that they see in us—His love, His truth, His compassion, His grace, and His forgiveness—are the things that are in us because Jesus is in us. These things are naturally attractive, and by these things, God draws people to Himself.
All we need to do to fulfill our calling as ambassadors for God is to let out what He put in us. We don’t need to work hard to obey God or discipline ourselves to do all that He commands. This is true because the love we have for the world—the kind that satisfies the second greatest commandment—cannot be manufactured by man or by human effort. The love we have for them is the same love God has for them. It is the same love God has for us. And all we need to do to please God in this area of our lives is to let the lost experience from us the same love God has given us for them.
In all our dealings we should treat them fairly (1 Thess. 4:12). We should be gracious towards them, as God has been gracious towards us (Col. 4:6). Out of love, we should tell them of the mercy that is available in Jesus Christ (Jude 20–23). We should not judge them (1 Cor. 5:12–13) or separate ourselves from them (1 Cor. 5:9–11), but in all things, we should share God’s love with them in the hope that some may be saved (1 Cor. 10:31–33).
And when we share His love with them, some will be saved. And when we observe or hear of a lost person’s salvation, then our joy abounds, and we rejoice in the glory of God. It is then that we know and understand perfectly that the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves is not a burden too heavy to bear, but a blessing that thrills our souls.
As we go about loving the world as ambassadors for Christ, along with the joys, we also should be prepared to suffer persecution. Persecution itself is not a joy. Otherwise, it would not be said that we “suffer” persecution (Gal. 5:11; 6:12; 2 Tim. 3:12). Persecution is painful, and hurtful, and distasteful, and may even be fatal. But persecution is inevitable and unavoidable for Christians because, just as it is impossible to manufacture God’s love for mankind through human effort, it is also impossible to hide Jesus’ presence in our hearts through human effort.
Jesus said, “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14). He came to live in us to shine through us to the world. And His light shines forth from us whether we like it or not. We cannot hide the fact that Jesus lives in us. Therefore, we cannot avoid persecution from those who don’t like Him. Shining for Jesus’ sake is built into our spiritual DNA, and it cannot be stopped.
I found this out in a real way when I was running from the Lord in the late 1970’s. On one occasion, I had just arrived at a party when one of the host’s best friends who didn’t like me came up to me and said, “What are you doing here?” He wanted me to leave, but I told him I was invited, and I stayed. But I avoided him the rest of the night.
But God also had a conversation with me. He said something like, “I agree with him. What are you doing here? You are not like them, and they know it. You can’t hide the fact that I’m in you. No matter how hard you try, they will never accept you.”
Those who practice evil hate the light that shines forth from out of our hearts (John 3:19–20). They prefer darkness because they think that in the darkness their sins are hidden (John 3:19–20). But when they see the truth that is in us (and sometimes we don’t even need to open our mouths), then their evil deeds are exposed, and they must confront their sins in the open (Eph. 5:11–14). This makes them uncomfortable, and they lash out at us. They give us grief in an effort to hide from the truth and to prevent further exposure of their evil deeds in the future.
Their exposure to the light is not because we worked hard to make it so or because we disciplined ourselves to do all that God demands of us. They are exposed to the light simply because the Light of the World lives in our hearts. And they don’t like it. So they hate us, and they persecute us. This happens to us just as Jesus told us it would:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. (John 15:18–21)
When these words are fulfilled in us, we know that we are blessed, not because persecution itself is a blessing, but because this is how the world has always treated the people of God. As Jesus said:
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:11–12)
Therefore, when we are persecuted for Jesus’ sake, we should count ourselves blessed—because, in terms of good and evil, our persecution for Jesus’ sake means that we are on the good side. And as we suffer the negative consequences of Jesus being in us, we should keep in mind that God put His light in us and set us up on a hill on purpose to be seen by men to draw them to Him. He was aware of the downside before He called us, and He warned us of it beforehand. But in spite of the negative consequences, He still says, “Let your light … shine” (Matt. 5:16).
So, as we try to balance our desire to share the love of God with the world against our distaste for persecution, we should choose to let God’s love come forth, and we should let the chips fall where they may. But He also tells us not to be afraid:
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)