Great Commandment

Love Your Neighbor, 7 April 2019

Love Your Neighbor
Series—The Quest of the Good Shepherd
Luke 10:25-37

Series Big Idea:
Love is one of the most misunderstood words in our culture, yet it is at the heart of the two greatest biblical commandments: love God, love neighbor.

Big Idea:
We are to love everyone, which means…everyone…because we’ve been loved by God.

Today’s text is so clear, so famous, so obvious. If you’ve spent any amount of time around here, you’ve heard about the Great Commission—make disciples or students of Jesus—and the Great Commandment: love God and love your neighbor.

You heard about the Great Commission last week during our Global Missions Conference. We are to make disciples as we are going through life, and for many of us we are to go and make disciples, go and share the story of Jesus with people who have never even heard his name, go to Africa or Columbus or even next door. But we must always, always, always go…with love.

Last month we were in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. This month we’re going to be in the book of Luke in a series we’re calling
The Quest of the Good Shepherd. Holy Week is right around the corner so it makes sense for us to focus on some of the key teachings and life events of Jesus. Dr. Luke is writing a biography of Jesus and in chapter ten he writes,

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

This is a test…from a very smart man, an expert in the law, a religious leader, a respected person in the community. Jesus does what he so often does, he answers a question with a question.

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26)

I think I might respond, “Jesus, I asked you first!” But…

He answered, “ ‘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.’” (Luke 10:27)

God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Where did this scholar come up with this answer? He knew the known-Bible, what we call the Old Testament.

Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. (Deuteronomy 11:1)

“ ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)

The scholar began with a question, Jesus replied with a question, the man answered Jesus’ question, and then Jesus speaks.

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28)

There it is, the end of the story. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Simple. Clear. Any questions?

The scholar had one.

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

What’s the first thing when you hear the word…neighbor?

Who is my neighbor? When I was a kid, I always thought of my next door neighbor. Andrew was my friend, and it seemed reasonable to love him, to respect him, to show kindness and exercise the Golden Rule with him.

We can certainly extend neighbor from our next door neighbor to the person sitting next to us right now. This year, the National Day of Prayer is on May 2 and the theme is “Love One Another.” Jesus said,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

We will gather with people from across our city at Cherry Street Mission’s Life Revitalization Center down the street at 7 PM on May 2 to pray together, worship together, and love one another.

Perhaps you’re thinking love one another is too basic, too simple. You want me to get deep, you want meat, come on preacher, give me something new! I’m sorry, but until we truly love God and love one another, we’re never going to be the mature followers of Jesus we claim to be. I’m not being critical, but simply saying loving one another is a lot more challenging than it sounds. Jesus said the hallmark of our devotion to Him is our love for one another, the people in our church family, our brothers and sisters in Christ in Toledo and beyond, yes, even those from a different congregation or denomination with a different worship style or with theological differences. There’s a time and a place for dialogue on our differences, but at the end of the day, we must love one another. Tragically, the world has seen division rather than unity, hate rather than love, and criticism rather than compassion from the Church of Jesus Christ. No wonder so many have given up on organized religion!

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can love one another. We
must love one another if we have any hope of seeing spiritual awakening. This is not a commercial, but I want to challenge you to join in the National Day of Prayer gathering on Thursday, May 2. You’ll be hearing more about it and it’s already on the church calendar, but this could be a great stop toward loving your neighbor, your brothers and sisters in Christ. If we can’t love one another, how in the world will we love those outside the church?

Maybe we should back up and ask, “What is love?” 1 Corinthians 13 offers a good description. It’s not about marriage—though marriages should be filled with love. It describes true, unconditional, agape love.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7,

Love requires action. It’s more than a mushy feeling. It’s a rugged commitment to another person demonstrated not only with words but deeds. We are to love one another. We are to love our neighbor. Now back to our text,…

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)

Another question from this man!

We are to love one another, but clearly it doesn’t stop when we exit the building.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. (Luke 10:30)

I’m guessing this isn’t the answer the expert in the law was looking for when he asked Jesus to define neighbor. Nevertheless, Jesus tells the story of this robbery victim. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to be dangerous and difficult, even called the “Way of Blood” due to the violence that occurred there.

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:31)

This kind of hits close to home for me. My title is not priest, but it might as well be in this instance. Notice the priest saw them man and deliberately avoided him.

Maybe the man was thought to be dead, in which case contact would defile the priest and make him ritually unclean. However, there was an exception for neglected corpses. What we do know is the priest did not love this man.

So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:32)

Levites were respected leaders in the day and this Levite did the exact same thing as the priest. Almsgiving to the poor was how the Pharisees—experts in the law—loved their neighbors as themselves.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. (Luke 10:33)

This surely offended the expert in the law asking Jesus the question. Jews hated Samaritans.

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. (Luke 10:34)

Is this love? Of course. Don’t miss the next verse. I love how the Samaritan delegated care to this man.

The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:35)

The Samaritan touched the man, bandaged him, poured oil and wine, transported him on his donkey, and took him to an inn where he cared for him. But he doesn’t stop there. He pays the innkeeper to care for him. Delegation is a powerful leadership tool. As I often tell our church staff, you don’t have to do everything…you just have to make sure everything is done. There may be times when you can’t provide the help someone needs, but you can help them get the help they need. There are six verbs here that describe the loving action this Samaritan took. He invested emotionally, physically, and financially in this stranger’s rescue.

The story concludes by Jesus asking the expert in the law,

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him,
“Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

Notice the expert in the law wouldn’t even utter the word “Samaritan!” In the Greek, “do” is an imperative verb, a command. It’s not optional. Have mercy. Love others. Put your faith into action. We often love God by loving others.

We could analyze this story for hours—and many articles and books have been written about it—but don’t miss the central point:

Our neighbor is anyone we encounter.

They might be a friend or acquaintance. They might look and act like you. Then again…

Our neighbor may be a stranger.

It could be someone you encounter for the first time, as was the case in this story. It might be an Immigrant, a refugee, a prostitute, a panhandler, a lawyer, a drug dealer, a pastor, …

Here’s the really challenging reality:

Our neighbor may be an enemy.

That was clearly the case in Jesus’ story. We can’t begin to understand how much the Jews hated the Samaritans.

Who’s your enemy? I know,
you don’t have any enemies, right? But seriously, what about Democrats or Republicans, refugees or immigrants, your boss, the gangsters down the street? Perhaps members of the LGBTQ community disgust you. Maybe you have hatred toward or have received hatred from someone of a different race, nationality, or religion. On a more personal level, maybe your enemy is an abuser, a criminal, someone who has done you great harm. We are to love them, too (though “love” does not mean trust; we need healthy boundaries).

At this year’s MERGE Summit, Savannah Martin shared a powerful story about The Pregnancy Center’s opportunity to open a location next door to Toledo’s lone abortion clinic. Talk about loving your neighbor! She said God made it clear she was to not only love those seeking an abortion, but also those who worked inside. It was a startling realization, yet one which resulted in The Pregnancy Center providing Christmas gifts to the abortion workers! They realized these workers are not the enemy, but actually masterpieces created by God with dignity, value and worth. They may not value the life of an unborn child, but they are not the enemy. They need to experience God’s love, too…in word and deed.

The word “enemy” appears more than 300 times in the Bible! Paul told the Roman church:

…“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
(Romans 12:20)

I have a confession: I’m not a loving person. I love myself pretty well! Most of the time I’m loving toward my wife and kids and grandbaby. I think I do a decent job of loving our staff and our congregation…I truly love you, church! But there are other people who are more difficult to love.

I really can’t love my neighbor…apart from the power of God. Only the Holy Spirit can give me the love I need to love my neighbor, my friend, my family, my enemy.

Here’s the real scandal:

We were all enemies of God, yet He loved us through both words and action.

This the perfect segue to communion, the LORD’s Supper, the Eucharist. In that letter to the Romans, Paul said,

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)

We can only love others—and God—with the love we have received from God. This was Jesus’ point in Luke chapter 7 when he said that “whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47b)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)


Author and speaker Bob Goff has two books. The first is entitled, “Love Does.” His second book describes the scope of love: “Everybody always.” That includes our God, our neighbor, our friend, our church family, and our enemies.

Pastor Bryan Loritts said, “The gospel begins with a vertical relationship with God that propels us into horizontal relationships with our neighbors who don’t look like, think like, or vote like us.”

May the Holy Spirit fill you with love—the greatest of all gifts—that you may go and love your neighbor—even your enemy—as yourself.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Vision Sunday, 5 March 2017

Vision Sunday
Matthew 28:18-20

Big Idea: God has an exciting mission for us to (continue to) pursue.

Those words, often called the Great Commission, are our mission. They are why we exist as a church. They are our mandate, our calling…make disciples.

My name is Kirk and about eighteen months ago I was invited to move to Toledo and serve as your lead pastor. It was a humbling opportunity. Heather and I continue to thank God for calling us here.

Several people have asked about our future, our vision. I dedicated my first year to listening—to you, our city, and most of all our Senior Pastor, Jesus. I came with no agenda. I came with little understanding of Toledo or First Alliance and its rich history.

I’m excited to say things are beginning to get clear. I’m starting to get the pulse of our church and neighborhood. I don’t have a 20-year strategic plan to share with you today or announcements of ten new initiatives, but after many discussions with our staff and elders, I believe things are slowly coming into focus and I want to share with you glimpses of our future.

Before we talk about First Alliance, I want to reflect upon our scripture text for today. To set the scene, we need to back up a bit. Matthew tells us about the resurrection of Jesus at the beginning of chapter 28. This, of course, is the great climax of Lent, arguably the greatest day in the history of the world.

By the way, I want to encourage all of you to join me in this season of Lent, the journey toward the Cross…and resurrection. It’s not just a Catholic thing! These forty days remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. We still have some devotionals if you didn’t get one last week, available at the Information Center in the lobby. Next week we begin a Lent series called, “A Love That Never Dies” to help us prepare for Holy Week.

Matthew, one of four biographers of Jesus Christ, tells us the resurrection and then says…

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

These are Matthew’s final words in his gospel or “good news.” The mission—the commission—is simple:
make disciples. Great! What’s a disciple? A simple definition would be a student or apprentice of another person. The goal of a disciple is to become like their master. When Jesus says make disciples, he is telling his followers to invest in followers who will become Christ-like.

A disciple is not someone who just has the knowledge of the master.
A disciple is someone who acts like the master.

You may be a master chef and spend years showing me how to cook, but the test of my discipleship is not what’s in my head, but rather what I put on the dinner plate.

You may be a master plumber and spend years showing me how to fix a leaky faucet, but the test of my discipleship is not what I know about plumbing, it’s whether or not I know how to keep the floor dry!

Tragically, the focus of many churches has been attendance, getting people to go to a church service or small group. For some it is information, stuffing people with Bible knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t truly measure discipleship.

The measure of discipleship is how much you look and act like Jesus. He said, “Follow me.”

I have heard countless times people respect Jesus but they don’t like the church. That’s a discipleship issue, friends. If you are a Christian—or “little Christ”—your life should resemble Jesus. Obviously, none of us have arrived—we’re all imperfect sinners—but our goal, our example should be Jesus. If you need a more specific description of a disciple of Jesus, consider the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

How do you make disciples? First, be a disciple. Are you a disciple of Jesus? How does your life reflect the fruit of the Spirit?

It should be noted Jesus never commanded us to start churches, go on mission trips, engage in Bible studies, attend prayer meetings, or even listen to a sermon every Sunday. Again, none of those are bad, but they are not the goal. Our mission is to make disciples, people who look like Jesus, people who love God and others. Make disciples is the Great Commission. Jesus also gave the great commandments:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28)

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

Have you heard this before? You’ll hear it again, I promise, because at the end of the day, Jesus told us the entire Bible is summed up in two commandments:

Love God
Love your neighbor

And he has given us one mission

Make Disciples

Simple? Yes.
Easy? No.

The reality is, we can’t love God and our neighbor and make disciples on our own. We need the Holy Spirit. Thomas George spoke about the Holy Spirit a few weeks ago. If you weren’t here, you can download the message for free on iTunes or our smartphone app. In a sentence, he said we need to let go and let God, surrendering ourselves to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us in order for us to bear fruit.

So make disciples. But how? Actually, the command is go and make disciples. What does it mean to love God and love others? Let’s take a look at our church’s mission statement. It says

The mission – make disciples - fully devoted followers of Christ. We define discipleship at First Alliance as someone who is: Connecting to God (worship), others (growing in community), and the world (missions – here and around the world)

As our logo says, we’re about connecting to God, others, and the world.

Are you still with me?

The elders have been working on bringing more clarity to our mission. It’s biblical, but very broad. Any church could/should help people connect to God, others, and the world. I don’t have a revised mission statement for you—though we’ve been discussing one—but I want to suggest two details I cannot avoid:

1. Toledo

I know, this isn’t exactly rocket science, but Toledo is our “Jerusalem,” our home mission field. I’m sure there was a day when Toledo was filled with followers of Jesus, but like most any city in the west, it is becoming increasingly secular or non-Christian. We probably have more atheists, agnostics, and people of other faiths in our city than ever before, to say nothing of lukewarm Christians.

If God called you to be a missionary in west Africa as he did last week’s guests Doug and Karen Conkle, you would live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus, right?

Most of you have been called by God to be missionaries in Toledo. This is our mission field. We need to live among the people, learn the language, study the culture, develop relationships, and invite people to follow Jesus.

Let me briefly share a few reasons why I believe we need to focus on Toledo:

1. We’re here!
2. We’ve been here for 129 years
3. We chose to stay here when the old building burned down
4. Toledo has many needs we can address
5. We’ve been given some wonderful opportunities to pursue
6. We can be a part of the city’s growth and renaissance
7. God is on the move in Toledo, not only at First Alliance but in the dozens of churches who are praying, serving, and worshiping together

This morning I want to declare my personal commitment to this city. For as long as God has me here at First Alliance, I want to live, work, shop, and play in Toledo. Heather and I really have done better in Toledo and we’re excited about the future.

2. The Next Generation

No, I’m not talking about Star Trek. Actually, the next generation can be interpreted in a number of different ways—the next generation in US history (the Millennials) or the one that follows (GenZ), the next generation of members at First Alliance, the next generation of followers of Jesus…but it’s not me. It’s not many of you. Obviously we’re not going to go crazy, hang a disco ball from the ceiling, and sing Lady Gaga songs, but many of us have had our day. People served and sacrificed so we could encounter Jesus. We must make space for our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. If you know Jesus, it’s critical to help the next generation know him. You saw some of them earlier waving ribbons. Others spoke last Sunday about their trip to the Avalanche youth retreat. They are our future…they are our present!

We’ve always been about the next generation. We were involved in starting Toledo Christian Schools. We have an After School Klub. We run an annual sports and arts camp. We have possibly the best children’s director in the state of Ohio (Sue Trumbull) who is leading one hundred volunteer workers!

Jesus told this great parable (story) in the 13
th chapter of Matthew. He said seed was scattered in soil. Some was eaten by birds. Some fell on rocky ground and died. Some was choked by thorns. Some fell on good soil and produced a great crop. Jesus explained the story by saying…

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.
The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:19-22)

But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
(Matthew 13:23)

After being so impressed by my first year at sports and arts camp last summer, I told Sue we did a great job scattering seed for a week, but what about the next 51 weeks? We need to cultivate the seeds, making sure they receive sun, rain, and fertilizer, keeping away the thorns, rocks, and birds.

We are starting to do just that, through Toledo Urban Impact, the new van pickup each Sunday, new students from the neighborhood coming on Wednesday nights to girls club, boys club, and youth group, and our growing relationship with Rosa Parks Elementary School two miles away. We’re certainly not done, but we’re in the process of developing a birth to college pipeline of discipleship.

Our involvement at Rosa Parks began largely through an invitation from Dr. Durant, the TPS superintendent, to be present in the school with the students and staff—before, during, and after school! He is a God-fearing man who is unashamed of his faith and we accepted his invitation. I wrote him this past week to say I was thrilled to read his contract was extended three years. Rosa Parks Elementary is a huge part of our mission field, people we are called to love, serve, and bless.

Do you want to know my dream? It is to put Dan Rogers at Cherry Street Mission out of a job! Seriously! He would love that!

He would love to see homelessness end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to experience graduation, a career, and most of all Jesus Christ.

He would love to see poverty end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to develop a career.

He would love to see crime and teen pregnancy end with the next generation because people like you and me invested in their lives, helping them to encounter Jesus Christ.

We’re not giving up on adults, but something like 80% of Christians trust Christ before they turn 18. We can share the gospel with adults, but it’s a lot harder. We can rehabilitate the 55 year-old addict, but it’s a lot harder.

And do I need to tell you the kids of Toledo need hope? They need help? They need Jesus.

Last week Toledo’s 9
th teen was shot dead.

The current graduation rate for TPS is less than 65%.

Teen moms are not just 16 and 17. Some are 12 and 13 years old in junior high.

So What?

Toledo needs Jesus. Not religion. Not programs. Jesus.

The next generation needs Jesus.

Where is Jesus on earth? We are to be his hands and feet, loving and serving and inviting people to come and see the one who loves them, who died for them, who never shames or pressures or manipulates, but simply says, “Follow me.”

Discipleship is praying for our city and next generation.
Discipleship is serving our city and next generation.
Discipleship is loving our city and next generation.

Will you join me?

  • You can listen to messages at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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