Love Without Loopholes

Posted: February 5, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 10:25-37, “Love Without Loopholes”

Sometimes we hear a particular Bible passage taught a certain way so often, that we lose sight of what the bigger picture.  The oft-quoted “judge not” statement from Jesus is a prime example.  There, Jesus does not command us never to have any judgment at all, but to judge rightly and without hypocrisy.  The story of the sheep and the goats is another example.  While it is frequently taught as a parable proclaiming the importance of good works, it is actually a teaching of what will happen to the nations that survive the Great Tribulation.  Their faith in Christ will be demonstrated by how they treated the people who were persecuted for Jesus’ sake.

A similar situation exists with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  So often, it is taught as the premier example of good-works, sometimes to the extent of a works-based salvation.  Some look at this as the clearest example of Jesus’ endorsement of social justice and the social gospel.  All of that misses the bigger picture – it misses the primary point addressed by Jesus.  By all means, there is a high value placed upon a person’s actions, and it shows the emptiness of a hypocritical faith without works – but that isn’t the primary issue.  Those are the trees…we need to see the forest.  What is the big picture?  Love.  Love without loopholes.  A true love of God and a sincere love for our neighbors doesn’t look for loopholes, fine print, and escape clauses.  When our love for God is real, we don’t attempt to justify ourselves, because we understand that it’s impossible.  True love for God and others is dependent upon our faith in Christ, just like our salvation.

Luke left off with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem – a setting that will remain throughout the next 9 chapters.  Although there are certain events that plainly fall within that timeline, others are a bit more ambiguous.  Many of Jesus’ teachings recorded in this section could have been given during any number of trips Jesus took to Jerusalem, so it’s difficult to pinpoint this with any accuracy.

That said, the subject matter mentioned here fits very well into the general setting of Luke’s narrative.  Jesus sent messengers throughout the land to prepare His way south, knowing that some towns would receive Him and others would not.  One particular town that refused Him was in Samaria, causing James & John to throw a bit of a temper tantrum, requesting fire from heaven to destroy it.  Anti-Samaritan racism was alive & well among the Jews, even among Jesus’ disciples – something which comes to the forefront here.

Whenever this particular event took place, what happened was all too common.  Someone wanted to know how to earn eternal life, only to find out that it cannot be earned at all.  Legalism & loopholes do nothing for our salvation.  That only comes through the love and grace of God.

Luke 10:25–37

  • The question (25-28)

25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

  • Although this seems perfectly primed for a lawyer’s joke, we need to understand that the lawyer wasn’t what we would consider a legal attorney or prosecutor, but rather an expert in Jewish law.  These were like the scribes (perhaps being one), who not only knew the Mosaic law (Torah) forwards & backwards, but also the traditions and rabbinical interpretations (Mishna).  Even so, this man had a shrewd legal mind, looking for all the loopholes of which he could take advantage.
  • Knowing his religious scholarly background is important when it comes to this “test.”  The question he asks of Jesus is not an honest inquiry – it isn’t true curiosity or interest.  It is very specifically a test.  This lawyer knew the answer to the question he asked (or at least, he thought he did); he wanted to see if Jesus knew the answer.  Actually, he wanted to see if Jesus would agree with his own interpretation of the answer.  He knew what he wanted to believe; he wanted to see if Jesus would back him up on it.  This lawyer came with an agenda.
    • It’s understandable when people have questions of/about Jesus.  There are many difficult situations people encounter, and very few of them have easy answers.  But God isn’t afraid of tough questions (just look at Job!).  But questions ought to be honest.  When skeptics go to God with an agenda, they ought to expect some challenge – after all, it’s not as if anyone can sneak something past God, or catch Him unaware.  He’s the all-knowing God.  If we come with an agenda, He’ll know it.
    • That doesn’t mean God will love us any less, or punish us for questioning Him.  He is just & righteous; not petty & vindictive.  It just means that God is not going to be fooled with agenda-driven questions, and He’ll either be silent or even cause us to look at the root issue behind our agenda…perhaps causing us to look at things in our own life we weren’t quite expecting.  God’s desire is that we would know Him through Jesus & be saved…and He will do what is necessary to allow that to happen.
  • On its face, the question itself is a common one: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  He asks politely of the famous rabbi how he can live forever – he asks how to go to heaven.  Who doesn’t want to go to heaven?  Given the choice between eternal paradise & eternal torment, paradise is far better!  (People today sometimes claim that they’d rather go to hell where the party is, but it proves that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of hell.  If they truly knew what awaited them there, they would do anything to avoid it!)  This particular lawyer wanted to go to heaven/paradise.  He knew it had to be given to him (i.e. “inherit” it).  That much was good.  The problem comes in how he thought to inherit it.  He wanted to know what he needed to do.  He was looking for an action to be defined.  In other words, he saw the inheritance as less a gift, and more a wage.  He wanted to know how eternal life could be earned, and particularly how he could guarantee it for himself.
    • The lawyer isn’t alone in his thinking.  All over the world, millions of people in all kinds of religions try to do the same thing: earn for themselves eternal life.  Even among multitudes of church-going people, this is a common thought.  They want to earn their salvation.  But…salvation cannot be earned – it’s impossible!  There is no work that can be done by man to earn his/her place in heaven.  If we do not receive eternal life as a free gift of Christ, we do not receive it at all.
  • This is precisely what Jesus is going to show the lawyer.  It takes some time to demonstrate, but Jesus will show him that none of his works are good enough.  He’ll show that the lawyer’s own heart is sinful, and that he needs the gift of God’s grace.  But to do that, Jesus needs to draw out the lawyer a bit, which He does in the questions of His own…

26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”

  • Jesus answered the question with more questions.  It goes to show that He was not fooled by the man’s insincerity.  Jesus knew He was being tested, so He turned the tables.  This man knew the law, and was looking to earn eternal life from the law.  If that was the case, the answer must be in the law.  What did this lawyer believe the Scriptures said about his issue?
  • BTW – This is more than a clever debating tactic.  The answer to the man’s question truly was in the Scripture.  If would be a bit different than his current idea, but it was there.  The Bible is the inspired word of God, and it has all of the answers we need.  Jesus told the lawyer to look again at the Bible – He would say the same thing to us as well.

27 So he answered and said, “ ‘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.’ ” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

  • The lawyer answered Jesus with the same response the Lord Himself gave under similar circumstances.  When Jesus eventually got to Jerusalem, another lawyer asked Jesus about the greatest commandment in the law, and He likewise responded with the two mentioned here.  Matthew 22:37–40, "(37) Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (40) On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”"  The first is the famous Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, verses that faithful Jews pray at least twice every single day.  The second is a quote from Leviticus 19:18, referred to in the New Testament as the royal law, or as the summary of all the interpersonal commandments.  Indeed, as Jesus noted in His later encounter, all the Hebrew Law hung upon these two commandments.
  • The first: love God.  Love God with all you are and with all you have.  Whatever it is that makes you “you,” love God with that.  The idea is that we hold nothing back from the Lord God our Father.  It’s interesting that the first and greatest commandment is to love God.  We might expect it to be to fear God, or at least a command to submit to & obey God.  And certainly, we are to do those things.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  The need to obey God ought to be self-evident.  But to love Him is the first command.  If we love God, the rest naturally follows.  Those who love God have a reverent righteous fear of Him.  Those who love God obey Him – not out of obligatory legalism, but desire.  If we love Him, we want to please Him.  After all, He is our heavenly Father.  So yes, love God.  Don’t let anything get in the way between you & Him.  Whatever does is, by definition, idolatry.  God (Father, Son, and Spirit) is to be our first love, and when He is, all the rest of Christianity flows from that point.
    • Of course, the question becomes: how can I love God in this way?  There’s always a distraction.  There’s always something held back.  If the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole beings, then that’s a command we constantly break.  Answer: it’s only through Jesus!  When we receive the sacrifice of Christ – when we place our faith in Him as Savior & Lord, then He makes us the children of God via the Holy Spirit.  We cannot do anything to make ourselves love God any more…but we can be transformed so that our love of God fundamentally changes.  Once we are in Christ, then our desires change.  Now we want to please God – we want to be dedicated to Him – we want our lives to be given and lived for Him.  It’s all through the grace of Jesus.
  • The second: love others.  Love your neighbor in the same way you would want to be loved.  Show compassion to them, as you would want compassion shown to you.  Forgive them as you want to be forgiven.  This is the essence of the Golden Rule: treat them as you want to be treated.
    • And again, we find ourselves at a loss.  This is the summary of all interpersonal laws, yet we fall short.  Inevitably we treat others with selfishness or indifference.  For every instance in which we do well, there are likely ten others in which we’ve failed.  Here too, we need the grace of God, available to us in Christ.  Without it, we’re lost.
  • Question: If that’s the case (that we’re lost, unable to keep these commandments), why did Jesus tell the lawyer that he was right, and that if he did it, he would live?  Because the lawyer’s inability to obey ought to have been obvious.  If the man wanted to earn his salvation, then the answer was clear: be perfect.  Love God totally, without a single day of failing, and love others in the same way.  Keep in mind that these commandments are proactive; not reactive (which Jesus will point out in regards to the 2nd commandment).  It wasn’t enough to simply avoid offending others – perfect love of neighbor requires proactively treating them as we want to be treated.  Had the lawyer done this?  Of course not.  The lawyer was looking for a way that his actions proved his right to eternal life.  Jesus effortlessly showed him that the only thing he had earned for himself was death.  What the lawyer required was a healthy dose of humility and grace…something which he was not yet ready to admit.
  • The parable (29-35)

29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

  • Notice the key word here: “justify.”  The lawyer knew he failed the commandments by his own reading of them.  So he looked for a loophole.  He wanted some way to vindicate himself.  If he could narrow the scope of the commandment, maybe he could argue his case.  He hadn’t been perfect towards others, but perhaps he did well with a few.  So using his best negotiating skills, he attempted to argue down the law.  (Not a good strategy when talking to the One who gave the law!)
  • What’s the problem with loopholes?  If you’re looking for one, you’ve already lost the argument.  At this point, the only person the lawyer was trying to convince was himself.  Far better to simply admit his sin & need for grace, than continue down this path of self-deception.
    • Isn’t this what we so often do?  Convicted of our sin, the last thing we want to do is actually admit it & humble ourselves before God.  We want to find some way to feel better about ourselves, so we look for loopholes, offer excuses, and do whatever we can to justify our actions.  To be blunt, that’s just doubling down on stupid.  Do you want to feel better?  Do you want to feel cleansed?  Then confess!  Humble yourself before God and simply confess as He has led you to do.  Not only is that the quickest way to receive cleansing & forgiveness – it’s the only way. (1 Jn 1:9)
  • So this lawyer is looking for a loophole.  If he has to love his neighbor, all he needs is a strict definition of who his neighbor might be.  That’s the next question he poses to Jesus.  Jesus’ answer this time is a bit more involved…

30 Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

  • The parable begins and Jesus sets the scene.  A man has left Jerusalem traveling to Jericho. [MAP]  It was a 17 mile journey, mostly downhill with various twists and turns.  The road was infamous for its danger, as there were many hiding places for bandits along the way.  As it turns out, this man found some, and was beaten within an inch of his life.  Robbed, stripped, & bleeding, this man was in obvious dire need of rescue.  If someone didn’t help him, he was sure to die.  Enter his expected neighbors: fellow Jews from Jerusalem…

31 Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.

  • Not only were these Jews, they were religious Jews.  Surely if anyone was going to keep the commandment to love his neighbor, it would be someone like a priest or Levite.  Right?  Wrong.  Both saw the man, and both passed by on the other side.
  • Some have theorized that the reason Jesus said they avoided the man was to avoid ritual impurity.  That seems unlikely, and misses the point.  If that was the case, then the lawyer might have thought these two men were justified in their action, that they had loopholes of their own onto which they could fall back…precisely the opposite of what Jesus was teaching.  No.  These so-called “holy” men were without excuse.  The right action was obvious, and they totally ignored their responsibility to their fellow countryman.
  • It goes to illustrate that a person can be formally “religious,” and have no true religion about him.  Someone can attend church every Sunday and Wednesday, and still have no love in his/her heart.  Someone can have multiple degrees in theology, and still have no knowledge of Jesus, and certainly no heart transformed by Him.  Our pedigrees do not make us holy; only the grace of Jesus does.  And when you’ve tasted that grace, how can you not share it with others?  That sort of love pours out not only over our lips, but all through our lives.  That sort of love isn’t theoretical & something merely to discuss & debate – it’s tangible, and interacts with real people all around us.
  • So the religious Jews did not help their neighbor in need.  Who did?  A Samaritan…

33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.

  • It’s almost impossible for us today to imagine the kind of shock felt by the lawyer when Jesus mentioned a Samaritan in this way.  We hear the term “good Samaritan” so much that we automatically assume that all Samaritans were good.  We even have “good Samaritan” laws in our legal system, based off the principles shown by the Samaritan in the parable.  But we need to understand this from the viewpoint of a 1st century Jew.  To them, there was no such thing as a “good” Samaritan, unless perhaps you were talking of a dead Samaritan.  The concept of a good Samaritan was simply an impossibility, like if you were told to look for a purple orange in the grocery store, or attempted to breathe underwater.  Perhaps the closest racial concept for us might be to show a fundamentalist Muslim having compassion for a Jew or Christian.  It’s a concept that seems surreal – but it certainly makes a point.
  • So imagine it for the Jewish lawyer.  His religious heroes (the priest and Levite) passed by on the other side of the road from their fellow Jew, leaving him in his misery and facing certain death.  But then comes a Samaritan – a half-breed & heretic – and he doesn’t pass by.  Before Jesus mentions a single act he takes, Jesus describes the Samaritan having something that the religious folks did not: “compassion.”  The Samaritan’s inner being was moved for this man in need.  He had heartfelt pity for someone he knew to be an enemy.  The Samaritan would have been away from home…he would not have expected to see any of his own countrymen on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Even stripped of garments (perhaps including his prayer shawl and other items with fringe), it was obvious that this wounded man was a Jew.  And still the Samaritan saw him and had compassion.
  • Apart from a sincere love for God, that is often where love for our neighbor begins. (1) See them, (2) Have compassion.  The first step alone is hard enough for some people.  We don’t want to see the problems.  We don’t want to look at our brother in need.  After all, if we don’t see them, then we won’t feel the need to help them.  No doubt, this was one reason the priest & Levite passed on the other side of the street: to avoid looking at the man.  Be we need to look.  We need to see.  Closing our eyes to a problem doesn’t make it go away, and God knows when we’re purposefully avoiding an issue.  – On the second point, we need to have tender hearts if we are to have compassion.  Too often, we become cynical.  We see some people abuse the trust of others or otherwise take advantage of the system, and then we just assume everyone else to be the same way.  Our hearts grow hard, and we lose the ability to show compassion.  Of course the problem is that when we do, we stop acting like Jesus.  How many times have we taken advantage of His grace?  How often have we broken trust with Him?  Yet He still has compassion with us.  He still responds to us with love.  He did it with us, so we are to do it with others
  • What did the Samaritan do with his compassion?  He put it to work…

34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’

  • Not only was the heart of the Samaritan moved, so were his hands.  He didn’t feel pity & keep on walking; he jumped into action.  He took care of the man’s medical needs, cleansing and disinfecting the wounds.  He gave the man an opportunity to rest, putting him on his own animal (thereby making himself uncomfortable by walking), and taking the man to an inn.  He even took care of the man’s financial needs by fronting his lodging expenses with two-days’ wages & promising to reimburse the rest.  The whole picture is one of self-sacrifice and service.  The Samaritan took no thought to himself, but instead provided for all the needs of the wounded man.
  • Interestingly, there’s no mention of any dialogue from the Jewish man in all of this.  The Samaritan’s actions and words are described, but nothing from the wounded Jew.  That’s kind of the point.  The Jew wasn’t in the position to ask for anything – it was the Samaritan who took charge and did what was necessary.  Obviously he didn’t give up his whole life to care for the Jew (shown by the fact that he eventually went on his way) – he just did what was needed at the time, and acted towards the Jew how he would want someone to act towards him.
    • Loving others doesn’t necessarily mean giving them whatever they want.  It means helping them with their need in the best way you can.  Sometimes the things people want can actually be harmful.  We need wisdom and compassion when helping our neighbors.  Both are required.
  • Jesus brings the point home…
  • The answer (36-37)

36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” 37 And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

  • Talk about your obvious answers!  Which of the three acted as a neighbor?  The one that the Jewish lawyer couldn’t even bring himself to name: the Samaritan.  So ingrained was his cultural racism that the lawyer couldn’t name his nationality; only the description of his actions.
  • But what a description!  Here, the lawyer nailed it.  Mercy was the key.  Loving one’s neighbor was not something that could be narrowly defined and dissected.  This was not a law to be parsed and skirted around the edges.  No.  Love was mercy, and mercy can’t be faked.  Mercy transcends boundaries & cultures.  Mercy goes beyond the minimum, by definition.  The lawyer had been seeking a loophole, whereas God wanted love – and love is exceptionless mercy.
  • That being the answer, the application to the lawyer seemed simple: “God and do likewise.”  Yet that’s anything but simple!  To love one’s neighbor to the extent of the Samaritan seemed downright impossible.  It’s one thing to show mercy to a family member, a friend, or co-worker – but an enemy?  To treat a person like that with the same level of mercy that we have received from God?  That’s impossible!  Exactly right.  Humanly speaking, it is impossible, and this lawyer finally found himself at the point where the law did not justify him; it convicted him.  That’s all the law can do.  The law can never bring someone salvation – it can never earn eternal life for anyone.  All it can do is show us our sin, demonstrate our spiritual poverty, and then lead us to Jesus.  The law cannot justify us; only Jesus can.  He alone can save…we just need to be humble enough to ask.

Conclusion:
This lawyer found himself in a pretty sticky situation.  He had tested Jesus with the law, looking for a loophole that would prove himself righteous in the sight of God.  Instead, he found himself convicted of his sin, condemned by the very law which he finally understood at its heart.  In his case, the law literally led him to the feet of Jesus – whether or not he ever took the next step, we’ll never know.

The law of love cannot be loopholed.  If we’re looking for exceptions and fine print to the commands of God, we’re going to come up short every time.  Yes, the whole of the law can be summed up with two commandments, but that doesn’t make it easy to fulfill.  It just underscores how desperate we are for the grace of God.

In regards to the parable: who is your neighbor?  With what person or group of people do you have trouble extending mercy?  Who do you actively avoid, in hopes that you won’t have to see them and help them?  Be a neighbor.  Be the representative of Jesus that He has called & equipped you to be.  You can’t do it on your own.  You need the power of God the Holy Spirit, but He is abundantly available to every believer in Jesus Christ.

In regards to the main context: in what ways have you tried to justify yourself?  Where have you argued with God, attempting to prove yourself right?  Keep in mind, born-again Christians can do this just as easily as those who don’t know Jesus.  We have our pet sins for which we make excuses.  We have our habits we don’t want to give up.  We rack our brains trying to think up reasons why we can continue what we’re doing, when all along we know what the plain and obvious will of God is for us.  We know we need to humble ourselves in repentance, make restitution, act out in compassion (or whatever), but we just don’t want to do it.  Stop trying to justify yourself.  The only person you’re trying to convince is you…and you’re not likely even doing a good job with that.

Instead, go back to the gospel.  Go back to the simplicity of the message of the cross.  The plain truth is: we have no excuses.  All our vain attempts at self-righteousness are just that: vanity.  Instead, we need to cast ourselves at the feet of Christ.  We need to look upon the Jesus who loved us so much that He died for us, and simply confess our need for His grace.  Any time we’re trying to prove ourselves right is a time that we’re trying to walk without grace…and that isn’t Christianity. 

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