Who is My Neighbor?
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;
against such things there is no law.”
Luke 10:27-29 ESV
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.’
And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’
Recently I read about a famous actress who was treated with harshness and disrespected online. She simply did something that many of us have done—she posted a simple update about her life on Twitter, a social media platform.
Later, while scrolling through hundreds of replies, there was one that stuck out to her. An individual who was apparently not a fan of hers replied to her in a very unkind manner.
She could have either ignored him, or reacted herself with equal aggression. After all, that is the normal thing to do nowadays. But, shockingly, she demonstrated level-headed compassion. She took the time to read the Twitter feed of the man who said horrible things to her. She then kindly responded to him.
He was shocked with her gracious response, and the conversation began to flow. He opened up, explaining that he’d been hardened by childhood abuse, countless letdowns, and long-standing back injuries, which he couldn’t treat due to lack of finances. He was also a drug user.
About mid-way through the conversation, this man apologized to the actress and asked her to forgive him. She did, but she did so much more. She leveraged the power of her millions of Twitter followers and found a doctor near where he lived in order to help with his back issues. She also found a rehab center that was willing to accept the individual. And she paid for it all.
As I read that story, I had two initial thoughts. First, an unbeliever who was treated very unkindly took the time to respond with kindness and generosity. Second, what would happen if believers responded in a similar manner?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not asking you to pay for medical bills or to find treatment centers for complete strangers. But I do wonder what would happen if we intentionally began to live out a life of kindness.
Galatians 5:22 tells us that kindness is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and it is this fruit that we are going to look at in this sermon.
Who Is My Neighbor?
In Luke 10, Jesus was asked by a lawyer how to receive eternal life. Jesus responded by asking, “What is written in the law?” The lawyer replied, “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.”
Jesus acknowledged that he was correct. “If you love God and love your neighbor, you will have eternal life.” But the lawyer challenged, “Just a minute, Jesus, just what do you mean by neighbor? Be precise here. Who exactly is my neighbor?”
Jesus then launched into the parable which is now known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ parable is about a man who, while traveling down to Jericho, was attacked by robbers and left near death beside the road. He was in desperate need of help. A priest, and later a Levite, came across the injured man, but they intentionally avoided him. The point of including these two examples is pretty obvious.
Both of these men were religious and would have been expected to help the injured man, but they did nothing. Their lack of kindness and mercy produced unkindness. They crossed to the other side of the road and did nothing while continuing on their journey.
Then came a Samaritan. Now Jesus is, of course, Jewish, and I am going to assume those who were listening to this parable and most of the characters in the parable were also Jewish. In the middle of this story, a Samaritan entered the scene.
Perhaps you remember that the Jews and Samaritans had a bitter history of racial and religious hatred. The injured man would not have expected any help from a Samaritan. He may not have even wanted a Samaritan to touch him; but it is this Samaritan who was moved with compassion and kindness, not the religious leaders.
The Samaritan tenderly cared for the injured man. Even though they were not friends, the Samaritan showed kindness to the man. After Jesus concluded the parable, He asked the lawyer, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”
The lawyer did not even want to utter the word “Samaritan,” so he simply replied, “The one who showed mercy.” “Go and do likewise,” said Jesus, just as simply.
Loving God Produces Kindness
When the lawyer asked how to gain eternal life, he already had the answer—love God and love others. We are producing fruit all of the time, and it is either good fruit or bad fruit. Loving God and living for Him produces the fruit of the Spirit. So it must be understood that, as Christians, we must exude kindness. Kindness is not an option.
Rosaria Butterfield used to be a lesbian activist and atheist. I recently read her memoir, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith. [See page 8 for Stephen Witmer’s perspective on Butterfield’s story.]
In this book, Butterfield recounts her journey to Christianity. She wrote that when she was a lesbian, her impression of evangelicals was that they were sour and unkind. She wrote an opinion piece in her local newspaper that was critical of Christians.
She received an enormous amount of responses. She began sorting the letters into two different boxes as she read them. One box was for the hate mail, which was primarily from Christians, and the other box was for fan mail from her supporters.
But in the middle of reading and sorting through the letters, she received one letter that she didn’t know what to do with. It was a letter from a local pastor. As she mentally prepared to place it in the hate box, she began to read it. It was one of the kindest letters that she had ever received.
She struggled with knowing what to do with the letter. It sat on her desk for days. At one point she threw it away and then retrieved it, all the while struggling with what to do. She eventually contacted the pastor, and over a period of time Rosaria
became friends with him and his wife.
They had her over to their house for dinner, and eventually, she had them over to her house for dinner as well. She said that they talked to her in a way that didn’t encourage her lifestyle, but still treated her with the respect and kindness that she deserved.
Dr. Butterfield eventually gave her life to Christ and was transformed—all because someone reached out to her in kindness. This pastor and his wife believed that being a Christian meant treating people, even people who opposed them, with kindness. I wonder what would happen in this world if you and I lived this way? Loving God produces the fruit of kindness.
We live in a world that is full of anger, hostility, and unkindness. Sadly, both you and I have seen horrible instances of Christians treating other Christians and non-Christians with volatile unkindness that does not come from being connected to the vine of Christ.
We can do better than that. We need to do better than that. We must do better than that. The parable of the Good Samaritan, Rosaria Butterfield’s testimony, and even the story of the actress mentioned in the introduction should make us
pause—all of us.
We should pause and ask God how we are doing with kindness. Are we treating those with whom we come in contact with genuine kindness? Or are we speaking and acting with harshness? As followers of Christ, we don’t have to have the last word. We don’t wield the knife of cruel words.
Instead, we have the opportunity to stop along the wayside and pick up the wounded and bind the wounds like the Good Samaritan did. We have the privilege of loving God and loving others, and putting it into practice!
Kindness not only produces fruit in our lives, it also creates a warm, friendly environment which can foster positive interactions with others. It provides opportunities to extend the hand of Christ. It leads to life-changing encounters with Christ. Proverbs 21:21 says, “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor” (ESV).
So who are our neighbors? They live all around us. We work with them. We pass by them when we are in the grocery store. We see them when they are driving in front of us, sometimes agonizingly slowly. They interact with us on social media. They watch how we live our lives, even when we aren’t aware of it.
These are who our neighbors are. And how do we treat them? Well, as believers in Christ, we treat them through the power of the Holy Spirit with the fruit of the Spirit—even the fruit of kindness.
Robert W. Booth is the High School Administrator and a Bible teacher at Hobe Sound Christian Academy. He is also the creator of Kids Bible Travels. He and his wife Arlene have been married for 19 years, and they have 3 daughters: Kalena, Natalie, and Kyleigh.