If I were to ask you when and where you first heard the “golden rule,” or the story of the Good Samaritan, I would expect to hear that it was sometime during your childhood in a classroom setting; perhaps it was in pre-school, daycare, or Sunday school. These fundamental ideals regarding how to treat other people are so important to us that there is a sense of urgency in teaching them to our youth as early as possible - treat other people like you want to be treated and help someone in need (Matthew 7:12 & Luke 10:25-37). I’m confident that the vast majority of people would claim to be aligned with these ideals whether they know they are from God’s Word or not. These two lessons on how to coexist with our neighbor are inextricably linked and can be found as a common thread throughout much of Jesus’ teaching. I love these Scriptures because they are simplified down about as far as you can get with no guess work involved in interpreting them; hence the reason they are taught to us so young.
Noble as it may be, there is one glaring problem I see with emphasizing these teachings towards kids: even into adulthood, we continue to associate these values primarily with children. It’s almost as if adults think they’ve “matured” past the simplicity of some of God’s most basic commands. (Matthew 22:40) We oftentimes overlook the simple truths in order to justify much of our complicated behavior. I don’t believe God’s truth ever leaves our hearts or that it somehow diminishes in power as we get older, but we neglect to position it as the driving force of our behavior because of the overwhelming pull of self-preservation.
Self-preservation is a way to maintain control, and it happens when we abandon our trust in God and forget the promised outcomes declared in the Bible when we give of ourselves. (Matthew 10:28) His promises become exchanged for made up outcomes in our mind that give us a false sense of remaining comfortable, safe, or in control. The progression goes like this: we are faced with a situation that has a straight-forward action based on God’s commands, but we don’t want to be bothered or take the risk. This leads to the justification of inaction, doing what “feels” best, and ultimately compromising what we know to be true. Let’s create a real life scenario instead.
A friend needs to borrow $200 by the end of the day in order to pay an emergency medical bill that just occurred. You have more than enough to cover it in your checking account, but your schedule is jam-packed with only a small window of opportunity to get to the bank. Not only this, but your own child has a school trip planned for next month, and even though you get one more paycheck beforehand, you had already allocated in your mind that the money in the bank was for the trip. Ultimately, you decide to tell your friend that you just don’t have the funds to spare this month in order to save yourself the trouble of rearranging your schedule or budget. What’s hard about this whole succession is the outcome; not one, but two parties - yourself and your friend - missed out on what God was prepared to bless.
So do we have the ability to live according to God’s truths within us? Absolutely! As a teacher of the Bible there is something that I’ve learned to rest in time and time again – the power of God’s Word.
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire an achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Resting in this truth means that once God’s Word is heard by someone, no matter when, where, or by whom they heard it, it will accomplish His purpose. I can know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that even if a person learned of the golden rule or heard the story of the Good Samaritan at a young age, that truth will never leave them. I trust in the power of Scripture that leads to a deep-seeded, genuine desire to help others.
This recently became highlighted to me as I was at the starting line of a multi-sport adventure race called the “Big Hurt.” Consisting of a 16.5-mile mountain bike ride, 3-mile ocean kayak, 30-mile road bike course, and capped off by a 6.2-mile run, this event is not for the faint of heart. It can be done as a team relay or solo for those really wanting to test what they’re made of. As I was joined by over fifty other mountain bikers on a remote logging road at the start, the race official finished off his final instructions in a tone that reflected the comment should be obvious to everyone. He said, “If you see someone in trouble or hurt on the trail, stop to find out what you can do to help. Finishing the race is not more important than someone who could be hurt.”
Two things stood out to me. One, he just recited a principle command from the Bible and didn’t even know it. And two, every single person there nodded in agreement as if to say, “Of course! It’s not even a question!” I know we all know it because once God’s truth is in us it never leaves, but do we do it? How many times have we passed by someone in need? What do we tell ourselves as we continued on? I say “we” because I’ve done it. Each situation may be a bit different, but the motivation is always the same – putting ourselves first. This is the exact opposite of what we learned so long ago.
I hesitated doing a message on this topic at all because of the tendency of people to dismiss it as a “feel good” or “fluff” piece. As hard as it is to admit, I’ve even turned a deaf ear to people teaching on well-known Bible stories over the years because of my inaccurate association with them being “juvenile.” I’m not trying to underscore the importance of teaching the Bible in an age appropriate manor to kids, but when is the last time you’ve thought about Noah’s Ark without some cartoon depiction popping in your head? The same goes for the golden rule or the Good Samaritan, and it proves my point that for some reason people think they outgrow these stories and what God is continually saying to us through them.
I think the majority of people would at least stop to assess the situation and help if they saw someone apparently in need. But is helping someone or treating them like we want to be treated always the first thought that crosses our minds? Where this message gets tough is when we examine the subtler things that take place in our thoughts: the justification I spoke of earlier, and the ones in which the apostle Luke so beautifully captures as he documented Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan.
“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all you mind;” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’ But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:25-29)
At this point, Christ continued to tell the story we are all familiar with: a man beaten and left for dead, ignored by two who passed him by, but taken care of by one – the Samaritan. In his conclusion he asked 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?” He answered, “The one who had mercy on him.” To this, Christ simply responded, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 25:36-37)
Although the man answered Jesus correctly, it didn’t happen before he attempted to clear his conscience from all of those he had “passed by” himself. Just as Luke wrote, the expert’s question of “who is my neighbor?” was only asked as a way to justify himself for not being a neighbor to others. He was looking for a loophole; just one sector of people that Jesus would agree didn’t need to provide assistance for others because of their cultural or social status. Christ didn’t tell the story to draw our attention to the man in need, it was meant to draw our attention to those in the position to help.
There is another set of Scriptures that has continuously challenge me in this area. Let’s see what you think:
“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’ – when you now have it with you.” (Proverbs 3:27-28)
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of god be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)
As I reflect on these instructions, it strikes me once again how straightforward and simple they are, but at the same time I find myself already coming up with reasons why I can’t do them. I know it’s hard because justification can feel so justified! Ironically, there is one thing we can do that dates back to our childhood days of learning once again – put ourselves in the beaten man’s shoes. We are all going to need a Samaritan neighbor on that day, and I truly think that Christ was onto something when he said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Perhaps a repeat of pre-school wouldn’t be a bad idea after all.