25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" 27 And he answered, "You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself." 28 And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise."
[Luke 10:25-37 ESV]
At the onset of this post, I must admit that I am very much a work in progress when it comes to practicing the kind of radical love that Christ wants us to have for others. After coming up with an outline for this post, I sensed the Lord telling me that as good as that outline was, it was only drawing a big circle around the issue and not getting to the heart of issue. When it comes to loving those around us all of us face a common enemy called self-centeredness. This is the heart of issue and if we can go from being inwardly focused to more outwardly focused then we will begin loving our neighbors.
What is Self-Centeredness?
Self-centeredness is thinking of yourself too much. When you are self-centered all your thoughts revolve around your needs, wants, desires, goals and even failures. Self-centeredness usually manifests in two ways: thinking too much of yourself as in pride or thinking too little of yourself as in having low self-esteem. Both are equally harmful for our growth as a Christian, and both stifle love and relationships. I am convinced that the reason many people in our time stay single is because they cannot escape the grips of self-centeredness. But thanks be to God, Christ can deliver us from this prison that we lock ourselves in.
Freedom From Self
We become free from self-centeredness when we learn to rely on God for all our needs - physical, mental, emotional and even relational. Moreover, we must learn to find our identity in Christ. The Bible says that when we are born again, our old selves die, and a new creation comes to be in its place. When we believe and internalize this truth, we no longer have a need to be always self- occupied. Where there was a lack of self-esteem and confidence, we now walk in confidence with the assurance that we are dearly loved children of God and members of the household of God. Where there was pride, we now have a humility that comes from experiencing the greatness of God and in comparing ourselves to that greatness pride is utterly destroyed in our life. Personally, I have always struggled with a lack of confidence, and growing up I was the quintessential timid child, but the more I dwell on the love that the Father has bestowed on me through His beloved Son I cannot help but walk in confidence and assurance. Your struggle might be different from mine in that you are on the other spectrum of things where you struggle with pride and self-sufficiency. Nevertheless, the solution to both low self-esteem and pride remains the same - a life changing encounter with Christ. A sense of lack and constant fear of poverty or falling behind financially can also lead to a self-centered isolated life. Again, the solution remains the same. Simply dwelling on the promise of God that He as your heavenly Father will take care of all your needs is plenty enough to banish all thoughts of orphanhood, lack and fear that the enemy wants to cripple us with.
Freed for a Purpose
When we begin to walk in this newfound freedom, something else happens. We become more open to others because now there is room in your thoughts and in your heart for others. Suddenly, we have the ability to listen to others intently, sense their needs and provide for them as much as we can. Walking in freedom from self-captivity also makes you attractive to others. This is how we begin to bear fruit in our life and bring glory to our Father as we let our light shine in the world. We live in a world that is full of anxious, depressed and hurting people trying to get through life often by hiding their pain and putting on a courageous front. What we are talking about on the other hand is not faking it till we make it, but an authentic internal shift in our thinking that frees us from anxiety every day. To continue in this freedom, means to not conform to the world but to daily renew our mind through the meditation of God's Word. The World will constantly throw at us reasons to go back to our old way of thinking and self-preservation and the only way we can avoid reverting back to old ways is to daily renew our mind.
Loving Your Neighbor
To love your neighbor in the way God desires there are certain qualities that we must cultivate in our life. All of these qualities are exemplified by the Good Samaritan in the parable.
1. Compassion - The Samaritan was moved into action by the compassion he felt for the man on the side of the road. What differentiates him from the priest and the Levite is the compassion he felt for the man. Compassion should always be the motivating factor behind any help that we provide to others. If on the other hand we do our good works to be seen by others, we will have no reward in heaven according to Jesus.
2. Availability - Having had compassion he then made himself available to act on the compassion he felt. We can infer from the story that the Samaritan did not wake up that morning planning to help people on the side of the road. Clearly, he had other plans for the day and was undertaking the journey for a different purpose. However, when he saw the need, without hesitation he was willing to alter his plans, give the man all the care he needed and only after he had done so to carry on with his journey. Likewise, we must always be ready to act on a moment’s notice to help those God puts in front of us. This not only applies to physical help but spiritual help as well. Whatever the need is, we should make ourselves available and ready to meet it.
3. Generosity - Having had compassion and after making himself available the Samaritan then practiced radical generosity. He not only administered what we would now call first aid but went the extra mile to place him at an inn where the man could recover fully from his injuries. He did so by spending his own money and even went as far as telling the inn keeper to give the man all the time he needed to recover and that he would pay any balance that was accrued over this time. This is irrational and radical generosity. It’s irrational because the Samaritan had no way of knowing how much money this would end up costing and it is radical because this kind of generosity is extremely rare. Yet, this is the kind of generosity Christ expects from his disciples every day.
I would like to end by bringing to remembrance what Paul wrote about Love in 1 Cor 13.
“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
1 Corinthians 13:1 NLT
Dear brothers and sisters, without love we are nothing and everything else we do is meaningless and worthless because our hearts are not in the right place. Let us then pursue a life of loving others by forsaking our self-centeredness and embracing God’s great love for us. The more we walk in the love of God, the more we can love others and ultimately point them to our Heavenly Father.