Journeyman Project Dispatches from the Life of Patrick Fowler: Christianity Explored


Sermon #8 – “The Golden Rule” Lev 19 and Luke 10

I have been intrigued by the importance that Judaism places on the Shema–the centrality of Loving God with all that we are. So I took time to study the text as it appears in the Old and New Testament. However, it didn’t take long for me to find myself drawn to the phrase that is placed alongside it in the New Testament: “love your neighbor as yourself.” While Deuteronomy 6 is powerfully presented in the Scriptures, Leviticus 19 is not. Yet is seems to be a key verse that everyone knows in Jesus’ day. It’s my hope that you will find yourself challenged in the same way that I was as you explore the command to love your neighbor as yourself.

Sermon Video


As always, I am sharing my work here for your benefit. There’s no need to give me credit for the material, take it and allow God to use it in your work however you see fit.

Download the Sermon Manuscript here: Word Document       PDF

Download the Sermon Research and Outlines Here: Word Document         PDF

Original Manuscript by Patrick S. Fowler

Free for use and changes…freely I have received, freely I give.

Image: Buzz Lightyear…I never knew he was so popular! Then a few weeks ago, my wife and her coworkers dressed up as Toy Story figures for a conference at work, and it seemed like everyone there jumped at the opportunity to get a picture with Buzz Lightyear. Everyone knows Buzz. Most people I talk to have seen at least one of the movies. Usually the first one. Do you remember Buzz’s dilemma in the first movie? He thinks he can fly. There’s an iconic scene at the beginning where Woody and Buzz are arguing over whether or not that’s true with the typical childish, “yes I can! No you can’t. Can! Ca-a-an’t!” rhetoric, before Buzz proceeds to jump off the bed and “fly” around the room with his eyes closed. Buzz spends most of the movie believing that he is a real space ranger who can fly, rather than a space ranger action figure who can’t. He is totally convinced that he can do something—but the reality is, he can’t. And his self-deception leads him into a lot of trouble, in fact, it almost gets him killed.

[from him to us] Have you ever felt that way? Ever been convinced you would have no problem accomplishing something before you actually tried it? Did you feel that way the before you got behind the wheel of a car for the first time? Piece of cake, right? I bet you were as smooth as sandpaper that first time out. How about your first time with a camera or camcorder? Just point and shoot, right? Yeah, right! Not exactly professional quality results, I’d bet. Or your first time bowling? The first time you picked up the Wii controller.

Need: Well, we may grow into some humility as we become adults when it comes to our physical abilities, but when it comes to spiritual self-assessment, we still tend to blow our performance way out of proportion…and that’s a problem. I don’t think I have to convince you that there are billions of people in the world today who think they are going to heaven, most of whom are probably mistaken, thinking that they’re in because they’re basically good people. Most of us learned that lesson the first time we talked about evangelism. But I propose that there is an equally problematic issue when it comes to the way we read the so called “golden rule.” When it comes to loving others, we tend to blow our performance way out of proportion. We think of ourselves as first rate draft picks in that department, because we have friends and family and a spouse and children that we love. But unfortunately our real lack of performance is holding us back spiritually in a major way. Like Buzz, we’re leading ourselves into a lot of trouble because we lack perspective. Subject: Today I want to talk to you about measuring up to the Golden Rule. I want us to get a proper view of ourselves as it comes to loving others in a way that characterizes a right relationship with God—about truly loving your neighbor as yourself.

Text: The text that we will work through together is in Leviticus 19 and Luke 10, so feel free to mark those spots in your Bibles so that we can look at them in a few moments. Preview: For the sake of understanding God’s revelation of this great principle to us, I want to break our view of the command to love your neighbor as yourself into three perspectives: The obscurity of the command, the centrality of the command, and the proper application of the command.

The Obscurity of the Command
comes from its original use: The Origin of Love your Neighbor as Yourself. You see, the amazing thing about the phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself,” is that it was lifted out of a long list of other commands in the middle of the book of Leviticus—Leviticus, a book focused on sacrifice and priestly obligations. Let’s read starting in verse 15 together and see for ourselves. It reads, “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Our key phrase really doesn’t stand out in the passage, does it? If this were a truly crucial phrase, we would expect it to appear in Exodus 21 or Deuteronomy 6, marked by the language as a central precept of the Law as the Ten Commandments or the Shema is. We’d expect to hear the deep voice of James Earl Jones in our heads as we encounter such a crucial passage. Instead, it is hidden away in a book concerned with sacrificial procedures and priestly purity. [Pause] The most significant thing about this phrase is that it ends the last of seven short sections of precepts marked by the repeated phrase, “I am the Lord.”

[Soft] Or perhaps the obscurity is what makes this phrase so significant. Perhaps its location and its lack of emphasis are intended to draw us into the theme of the section and the book, rather than highlight some memorable idiom. Holiness is the subject of Leviticus, the word appears 76x in the book. And the phrase, “I am the Lord” is given as the reason for holiness, as well as the reason for the actions commanded in this section of the book—commands to love. It seems that love is bound to holiness. God exhibits love and holiness as two aspects of His character, and God’s character, according to Leviticus, binds us to both love and holiness as well. Love is bound up in who God is. And if we are those who seek God, it must be bound up on who we are too. The point is that love is not something we are to do, but something we are to be. It is a part of who God is. And because we are created in His image, it is part of who we are. It’s built into the imago dei. It is something God has naturally programmed into us, but something that must also be developed by constant practice. We practice love because we are compelled by God’s example and design for us, not because we are simply obeying a command.

It’s kind of like being an IT guy. I do a lot of computer stuff and I am good at computer stuff, but I don’t have a single certification in technology. It is not simply my knowledge that makes me good at computer stuff. It is something I am. IT is not something that can be taught to anyone. It takes a certain skill set that comes naturally and is then developed by knowledge and experience. I have natural talents that I have developed through lots of practice. That’s why I am an IT guy.

Buzz Lightyear’s real dilemma was not whether or not he could fly, it was wrapped up in his identity. Was he a hero, or a toy meant to resemble the hero? Buzz struggled to realize the significance of being a toy made in the image of a hero. Likewise, we often fail to recognize the significance of being made in the image of God. Buzz may not have been built to fly, but we are built to love…and to fail to love is misuse the design that God intended in making us the way He did. So the question this text compels us to ask is, “do people describe me as loving? Does love define who I am?” The Obscurity of the Command teaches us that loving others is who we are intended to be, not just what we are to do. Love is wrapped up in who we are, not what we do. That’s the lesson the obscurity of the command teaches.

Now let’s look at the Centrality of the Command: the way this text came to be viewed as one of the greatest commands, the “Golden Rule” if you will. In the New Testament gospels and epistles, this obscure phrase comes to be the second greatest commandment and the summary of the Law…but not entirely because of Jesus. In fact, if you read only Luke’s gospel, Romans, Galatians, or James, you would hear the command, but you would not know that this came from Jesus, only that it was important to the early church. Only Matthew, Mark, and 1 John clearly associate this command’s origin with Jesus’ teaching.

Jewish history records that the use of the command to summarize the Law comes from the generation before Jesus, from Rabbi Hillel who died about the time Jesus was being born. In a famous confrontation where he was asked to summarize the Law in brevity, he responded, “What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow man: this is the whole Law; the rest is mere commentary.” Because Hillel was influential at the time before Jesus and his status as a religious expert was passed on to his grandson, Gamaliel, who led a prominent school for the Pharisees in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, this saying was likely well known to the Jews at the time, refined and spoken in the language of Leviticus. We might even assume that it had taken on the significance of John 3:16 for the Jews.

So in the synoptic gospels, Jesus is not inventing a new command or summary statement, He is rather putting a unique twist on a popular command. First, He links it to the Shema. Then He uses both commands as the means of attaining eternal life. Let’s read Luke 10:25-28 together. “And behold, a scribe stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And the scribe 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.” And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

It might have been powerful and insightful when Hillel taught it, but when Jesus affirms it in the New Testament, it takes on the authority of God’s Son—His Word. And Jesus’ assertion is clear: salvation is bound up in these commands. If we do not have love in these two respects, we must question our salvation. [Pause, Repeat]

It is interesting that as popular as this theme is throughout the New Testament, we never discuss loving God and loving our neighbor when we discuss salvation today. We don’t cover this perspective when talking to others about salvation. And yet this passage alone should cause us to evaluate our own spiritual lives in light of our love for others.

[Validation] Another voice from the New Testament says it this way in 1 John 4:20-21 - If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

While accepting the work that Jesus did in His life and death—to redeem us from the penalty of our disobedience—remains central to understanding of salvation, Christ’s work was ultimately an expression of and restoration to God’s love. We have not grasped salvation until it transforms us into those who express love toward God and others. Loving God and not loving others is kind of like saying we love our spouse, but not wanting to have anything to do with any of her friends. Love means that we value not only the person, but that we extend some of that value to the things that the person loves. That’s what The Centrality of the Command teaches us—that love is an indication of the salvific work of God in our lives. The love of God and others marks the path of salvation. And that assertion leads us to the Application of the Command: How do we know if we truly love others? How can we be sure that we are not overrating our performance? How do we know how well we are walking in the path of salvation?

The intriguing part of Luke’s use of this pericope is that the main emphasis in his gospel is not related to the greatest commandments themselves…the commandments lead the scribe to ask a second question. Let’s read this interaction for ourselves, starting in verse 27:

27 And the scribe 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 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But the scribe, 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.”

Even with all the commands of the Law to listen to, the Jewish expert in the Law is still worried that he has not applied it correctly. The scribe is uneasy with his application. He asks a follow up question seeking justification that he has applied the second command correctly. He wants assurance. He asks Jesus to define the people that He is obligated to love. He wants to know who his neighbor is. He considers himself to be a loving person—but not toward everyone. The Jews had lots of people they also loved to hate—Romans, Samaritans, Gentiles, and crazy Rabbis who claimed to be God.

Jesus, in his response, throws him somewhat of a curve ball…he defines what it means to be loving, rather than defining who to love. The neighbor in Jesus’ story is anonymous. Jesus ends his story by asking the question, “which one was a friend to his neighbor?” and exhorting the man to “go and do likewise.”

Rather, Jesus spends three of the five verses in his story describing the Samaritans actions toward a stranger. The Samaritan is so filled with compassion that he gives of his own resources to attend to dress stranger’s wounds, transport him, monitor him overnight, and provide extended lodging and care for the man without knowledge of how much it will ultimately cost. In the same way, we need to sacrificially give and serve others who are in great need.

If we are to see ourselves as justified through the lens of Jesus command, we must be sacrificially compassionate toward others in need—not just toward our family and friends, but toward complete strangers. The love that we carry inside of us should compel us to give our time, our money, and our resources at random moments of our day, when we find ourselves confronted with great need in the lives of others. And so we must ask ourselves, “do I feel moved to compassion by the needs of strangers?”

Do you know the names of the people in your church who are struggling financially? Do you see your local body serving the needs of single moms or people in run-down housing nearby? My inability to answer questions like this make me seem pretty unloving. Have you even thought to pull over and help someone whose car is off on the shoulder of the road? How many times have you justified passing a need like that by with an excuse like: “they will just waste any money I give them,” or “there is a shelter nearby if they really need help,” or “I am sure a tow truck or policeman will be by and help them soon.” My unwillingness to interrupt my day—my use of excuses like this makes me seem pretty unloving. I think the challenge Jesus extends here to us is a challenge for us to exercise a lot more compassion than we currently do on a regular basis.

I suggest that to apply this text, the expression of love in this way should almost take the form of a spiritual discipline. Loving our neighbors in bold ways should be a habit. We need to establish a routine of regularly reaching beyond ourselves to serve others in need, so that we become someone who is this loving. And our service should affect us/hurt us/stretch us, not simply be a painless gift of money or old possessions.

For example, in Atlanta there was a soup kitchen that served the homeless every Saturday. Anyone who wanted could go and volunteer. The guy who ran the operation would assign jobs on the fly, so you might end up serving food or cleaning tables, giving haircuts or making conversation over the table. Stacy and I always felt like our hearts had grown whenever we served there. It wasn’t anything amazing for the homeless people. It was just another meal. But for us, just serving people who didn’t know us, who didn’t care about us, giving love away made us better at loving. And it is those type of experiences that we need to pursue on a regular basis…whether life gives you those opportunities at random often enough, or you have to intentionally seek them out. We grow more loving by loving others.

The love that we carry inside of us should compel us to give our time, our money, and our resources—if it does not, we probably still face self-deceit in this area. Love should compel us to respond at random, inconvenient moments of our day, when we find ourselves confronted with great need in the lives of others. If we are to see ourselves as justified through the lens of Jesus command, we must be sacrificially compassionate toward others in need. That’s the lesson we learn from the application of the command.

Remember the Obscurity of the Command: Love is wrapped up in who we are, not what we do. Buzz Lightyear’s real dilemma was wrapped up in his identity. He failed to realize the significance of being made in the image of a hero. Likewise, we often fail to recognize the significance of being made in the image of God. We are built to love…to fail to do so is misuse the design that God intended in making us the way He did. Our capacity to love needs expression, and it needs to be developed through regular practice.

Remember the Centrality of the Command: Love of God and Others marks the path of salvation. Buzz Lightyear came to realize his misperceptions before it cost him everything. That is my prayer for myself and for those I see all around me. Our lack of perspective is costing us—costing us the fullness of who we are meant to be—costing many eternal life, and costing believers spiritual vitality.

And remember the Application of the Command: We are justified when we are sacrificially compassionate toward those in need. Like Buzz, we need to be all that we were created to be. We need to love better. We need to love strangers. We need to be sacrificially compassionate. Only then can we truly saw that we have fulfilled the greatest commandments. Only then will we truly love our neighbor as ourselves.

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