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Winter 2009: Who Is My Neighbor?
Publish date: Oct 5, 2009
Summary: Reprinted from Spring 1998.
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There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death (Proverbs 14:12).
Throughout history, we have tried to find a recipe for salvation. Some have devised rules to live by that will ensure entry into heaven. The Jews formalized these into the Talmud and observed these rules rigidly to their own loss. Most modern Christians, in contrast, believe that Christ freed us and nothing remains for us to do. Salvation is unconditional.
Seventh-day Adventists believe in salvation by faith that will produce good works by faith.
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead...For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:20, 26).
We may also be so bold as to turn it around and say works without faith are also dead.
The forgiveness of sin is promised to him who repents and believes; the crown of life will be the reward of him who is faithful to the end. We may grow in grace by improving through the grace we already have. We are to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, if we would be found blameless in the day of God. Faith and works go hand in hand, they act harmoniously in the work of overcoming. Works without faith are dead, and faith without works is dead. Works will never save us; it is the merit of Christ that will avail in our behalf. Through faith in him, Christ will make all our imperfect efforts acceptable to God. The faith we are required to have is not a do-nothing faith; saving faith is that which works by love, and purifies the soul. He who will lift up holy hands to God without wrath and doubting, will walk intelligently in the way of God’s commandments (ST 06-16-90 emphasis added).
Nevertheless, the tug of war between faith and works is extreme. This is to be expected, as Satan has been trying to confuse these issues for 6000 years. It is vital to his interests that we accept the lies, so that we may be dead. He wants us to either have a dead faith or dead works. But what we need is a faith that works!
Today, the search for recipes for salvation has still not ended, and the debate is still raging. The balance between faith and works is elusive and numerous books have been written on the issue, some expounding the virtues of faith, some expounding the virtues of works.
Some believe the right works will follow if you establish the communication with God, and they work at establishing this communication, hoping for the right works to flow from the established communication. If only the connection can be right, then sin will be eradicated, as it is secondary to communication.
Others work at obedience. They strive for perfection in commandment keeping, health reform, and righteous living, which they believe are the fruits of a right connection with God. There are numerous combinations between these two poles, yet the trouble with all these recipes is that they concentrate on self and our own salvation.
Salvation is not found in what I can do for Christ. It is found in what Christ can do for me. Only He can change my selfish nature into a selfless nature. Every vestige of selfishness will be removed when we behold Christ. The outpouring of the Spirit is an act of love enabling us to love and serve others. It is never selfish.
Our good works cannot stem from a desire to earn salvation of favor. Any good works we perform must be from a selfless heart. Therefore, we must not ask, What can I do to become right with God? Rather, we should ask, What can God do in me to make me right with God? Am I permitting Him to create a clean heart within me or is pride and selfishness becoming an obstacle?
It is in this sense only that we can say, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and give himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Not I, but Christ. It is only God that can create a clean heart within us. We can do nothing.
“Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purity unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). The old life of selfishness must die in order for the new to bear fruits.
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works (Matthew 16:25-27).
What are these works?
But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:26).
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it (Luke 9:24).
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted (Matthew 23:12).
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit (Psalm 51:10-12).
Following these verses, the psalmist says, “Then I will teach transgressors thy ways…my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness…the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart…Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.”
In summary, there is:
1) a conversion experience
2) praise unto God
3) good deeds unto Zion
4) building the walls of Jerusalem
The conversion experience is a draft of living water. Works springing from the well of self are as worthless as water from our own cisterns. Faith with self in mind is equally worthless. We need to drink living water, water that will never let us thirst again.
We should cherish love and gratitude, we should look unto Jesus and become transformed into His image. The result of this will be increased confidence, hope, patience, and courage. We shall be drinking of the water of life of which Christ spoke to the woman of Samaria…This water represents the life of Christ, and every soul must have it by coming into a living connection with God. Then blessed, humble, grateful confidence will be an abiding principle in the soul. Unbelieving fear will be swept away before living faith. We shall contemplate the character of Him who first loved us (TM 226).
In His divine arrangement, through His unmerited favour, the Lord has ordained that good works shall be rewarded.
We are accepted through Christ’s merit alone; and the acts of mercy, the deeds of charity, which we perform, are the fruits of faith; and they become a blessing to us; for men are to be rewarded according to their works. It is the fragrance of the merit of Christ that makes our good works acceptable to God, and it is grace that enables us to do the works for which He rewards us. Our works in and of themselves have no merit… We deserve not thanks from God. We have only done what it was our duty to do, and our works could not have been performed in the strength of our own sinful natures (AG 224 emphasis supplied).
Good works are not only acts of obedience following the establishment of our relationship with Christ. But good works also reach out to others. To whom do we perform our good works? Who is my neighbour? Who is my brother? Is there a difference? Let us take a look at what the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy have to say on these questions.
Who is My Neighbour?
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:18 emphasis added).
But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:34 emphasis added).
In the above verses, and in the time-honored story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the Bible tells us who our neighbour is: anyone who is in need of help.
What is pure religion? Christ has told us that pure religion is the exercise of pity, sympathy and love, in the home, in the church, and in the world. This is the kind of religion to teach to the children, and is the genuine article. Teach them that they are not to center their thoughts upon themselves, but that wherever there is human need and suffering, there is a field for missionary work.
There are many unpromising subjects about us, who are sacrificing the powers of their God-given manhood to pernicious habits. Shall we despise them? No, the Lord Jesus has purchased their souls at an infinite price, even by the shedding of his heart’s blood.
Are you who professes to be the children of God, Christian in the full acceptance of the term, or in your life practice are you only counterfeits, pretenders? Do you ask, as did Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Will the Lord say to any of us as he said to Cain, “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground”? Shall we fail to do our God-given work, and not to seek to save that which was lost?
There are many who ask, as did the lawyer, “Who is my neighbour?” The answer comes down to us in the circumstances that happened near Jericho, when the priests and the Levite passed by on the other side, and left the poor bruised and wounded stranger to be taken care of by the Good Samaritan. Every one who is in suffering need is our neighbor. Every straying son and daughter of Adam, who has been ensnared by the enemy of souls, and bound in the slavery of wrong habits that blight the God-given manhood or womanhood, is my neighbour (FH 11-12-95 emphasis added).
The churches need to have their eyes anointed with the heavenly eyesalve, that they may see the many opportunities all about them to minister for God. Repeatedly God has called upon His people to go out into the highways and hedges, and compel men to come in, that His house may be full, yet even within the shadow of our own doors, are families in which we have not shown sufficient interest to lead them to think that we cared for their souls. It is this work lying nearest us that the Lord now calls upon the church to undertake We are not to stand, saying, “Who is my neighbour?” We are to remember that our neighbour is the one who needs our sympathy and help. Our neighbour is every soul who is wounded and bruised by the adversary. Our neighbour is every one who is the property of God. In Christ, the distinctions made by the Jews as to who was their neighbour are swept away. There are no territorial lines, no artificial distinctions, no caste, no aristocracy (ChS 39 emphasis added)
Thus the question, “Who is my neighbour?” is forever answered. Christ has shown that our neighbour does not mean merely one of the church or faith to which we belong. It has no reference to race, colour, or class distinction. Our neighbour is every soul who is wounded and bruised by the adversary. Our neighbour is everyone who is the property of God (DA 503).
The question of neighbour is so clearly defined that it needs no further elaboration. everyone who needs our help is our neighbour.
Who is My Brother?
A brother is next of kin, and closer than a neighbour. Jesus unambiguously defines who our brethren are:
Then one said to him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak to thee. But he answered and said to him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother (Matthew 12:47-50).
Clearly, a brother is one who is obedient to God, a member of the body of Christ:
Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God and do it (Luke 8:19-21 emphasis added).
It is not those that hear the Word of God that are righteous, but those that put it into practice. Brethren have taken a stand for the truth as it is in Jesus.
Who takes Precedence?
Once again, the Scriptures supply the answer:
As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10 emphasis added).
What is Our Duty?
We have to be kind and generous to all–both neighbors and brothers. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).
Our main task, however, is within the Church:
Let love be without dissimulation (hypocrisy). Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another…Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits (Romans 12:9-10, 15-16 emphasis added).
The Lord calls people out of the world and places them within His workshop, the Church, where the fullness of the Gospel can be brought to them. The broken-hearted, the widows, the orphans, the psychologically misshapen, and those that have been in bondage to every evil desire are placed in the arms of the Church to be nurtured, encouraged, and assisted in both physical and spiritual needs.
Only if the Church does its duty in this regard can it fulfill its commission and God will place the children of the faith within its care. As long as there is a selfish motive to our salvation in our hearts, we will not be capable of taking care of even the least of these, the little ones.
And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward (Matthew 10:42).
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me, I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me (Matthew 25:35-36).
Everyone who is thrown into the arms of the Church is one of these little ones. The Lord will equip His people to be able to nurture and assist all who come into the church. In this process of equipping, they themselves will be changed so that they may reflect Christ. In order to comfort others, we too need to have experienced comfort.
Who comformeth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God… And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation (2 Corinthians 1:4, 6).
And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved (2 Corinthians 12:15).
Here is ultimate selflessness. How are we to go about working with our brethren?
Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love…And be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God or Christ’s sake hath forgiven you (Ephesians 4:2, 32).
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness (Colossians 3:12-14).
Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous (1 Peter 3:8).
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity (2 Peter 1:7).
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at anytime. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us…If a man say I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 4:11-12, 20-21).
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments (1 John 5:2).
Our duty within the Church is plain, but as long as we are only concerned with our right understanding of our own salvation, we may not find time to assist others in their spiritual growth. We have to permit Christ to change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. We have to open our doors to those who are most needful of assistance. Christ did not come to heal those who are well but to heal those who are sick. In the same way, we should not be ashamed to work with those who might be considered unworthy of such assistance.
The following quotes are from the Spirit of Prophecy in Testimonies for the Church volume 2:
To my sisters I would say: Be daughters of benevolence. The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.
You may have thought that if you could find a child without fault, you would take it, and care for it; but to perplex your mind with an erring child, to unlearn it many things, and teach it anew, to teach it self-control, is a work which you refuse to undertake. To teach the ignorant, to pity and to reform those who have ever been learning evil, is no slight task; but Heaven has placed just such ones in your way. They are blessings in disguise.
Years ago, I was shown that God’s people would be tested upon this point of making homes for the homeless; that there would be many without homes, and it was the duty of those who had homes to open a wide door to those who had not.
I have been shown more recently that God would specially test His professed people in reference to this matter. Christ for our sakes became poor that we through His poverty might be made rich. He made a sacrifice that He might provide a some for pilgrims and strangers in the world seeking a better country, even an heavenly.
Shall those who are subjects of His grace, who are expecting to be heirs of immortality, refuse, or even feel reluctant, to share their homes with the homeless and needy? Shall we, who are disciples of Jesus, refuse strangers an entrance to our doors because they can claim no acquaintance with the inmates (2T, 27-28)?
Some plead their poor health – they would love to do if they had strength. Such have so long shut themselves up to themselves and thought so much of their own poor feelings, and talked so much of their sufferings, trials, and afflictions, that it is their present truth. They can think of no one but self, however much others may be in need of sympathy and assistance.
You who are suffering with poor health, there is a remedy for you. If you cloth the naked, and bring the poor that are cast out to thy house, and deal thy bread to the hungry, “then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily.”
Doing good is an excellent remedy for disease. Those who engage in the work are invited to call upon God, and He has pledged Himself to answer them. Their soul shall be satisfied in drought, and they shall be “like a watered garden, whose waters fail not”
…Wake up, brethren and sisters. Do not be afraid of good works. “Let us not weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Do not wait to be told your duty Open your eyes and see who are around you; make yourselves acquainted with the helpless, afflicted, and needy. Hide not yourselves from them, and seek not to shut out their needs (2T, 29).
Fatherless and motherless children are thrown into the arms of the church, and Christ says to His followers: Take these destitute children, bring them up for Me, and ye shall receive your wages. I have seen much selfishness exhibited in these things. Unless there is some special evidence that they themselves are to be benefited by adopting into their family those who need homes, some turn away and answer: No. They do not seem to know or care whether such are saved or lost. That, they think, is not their business.
With Cain they say: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” They are not willing to be put into inconvenience or to make any sacrifice for the orphans, and they indifferently thrust such ones into the arms of the world, who are sometimes more willing to receive them than are these professed Christians.
In the day of God, inquiry will be made for those whom Heaven gave them the opportunity of saving. But they wished to be excused, and would not engage in the good work unless they could make it a matter of profit to them. I have been shown that those who refuse these opportunities for doing good will hear from Jesus: “As ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me” (2T, 33).
The fast which God can accept is described [in Isaiah 58]. It is to deal thy bread to the hungry and to bring the poor which are cast out to thy house. Wait not for them to come to you. The labour rests not on them to hunt you up and entreat of you a home for themselves. You are to search for them and bring them to your house. You are to draw our your soul after them. You are with one hand to reach up and by faith take hold of the mighty arm which brings salvation, while with the other hand of love you reach the oppressed and relieve them. It is impossible for you to fasten upon the arm of God with one hand while the other is employed in ministering to your own pleasure (2T, 34-35 emphasis added).
If you engage in this work of mercy and love, will the world prove too hard for you? Will your faith be crushed under the burden, and your family be deprived of your assistance and influence? Oh no; God has carefully removed all doubts upon this question by a pledge to you on condition of your obedience. This promise covers all that the most exacting, the most hesitating, could crave. “Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily.” Only believe that He is faithful that hath promised. God can renew the physical strength. And more, He says He will do it.
And the promise does not end here. “Thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.” God will build a fortification around thee.
The promise does not stop even here. “Then shall thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say, Here I am.”
If ye put down oppression and remove the speaking of vanity, if ye draw out your soul to the hungry, “then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought [famine] and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (2T, 35).
Read Isaiah 58, ye who claim to be children of light. Especially do you read it again and again who have felt so reluctant to inconvenience yourselves by favouring the needy. You whose hearts and houses are to narrow to make a home of the homeless, read it; you who can see orphans and widows oppressed by the iron hand of poverty and bowed down by hardhearted worldlings, read it.
Are you afraid that an influence will be introduced into your family that will cost you more labour? Read it. Your fears may be groundless, and a blessing may come, known and realized by you every day. But if otherwise, if extra labour is called for, you can draw upon One who has promised: “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily,” The reason why God’s people are not more spiritually minded and have not more faith, I have been shown, is because they are narrowed up with selfishness. The prophet is addressing Sabbathkeepers, not sinners, not unbelievers, but those who make great pretentions to godliness. It is not the abundance of your meetings that God accepts. It is not the numerous prayers, but the right doing, doing the right thing and at the right time. It is to be less self-caring, and more benevolent. Our souls must expand. Then God will make them like a watered garden, whose waters fail not (2T, 35-36).
Oh, that we would develop open hearts and a willingness to be poured out for others as Christ was poured out for us. What a blessing we would receive as a church if the fervor to labour for our brethren were within our hearts. The Lord would flood us with converts, knowing that they will be safe in the arms of His people.
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart or the contrite ones (Isaiah 57:15).
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