Proving That You Love God
Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: We extend the Kingdom of God when we show his compassion
to our hurting neighbor
The first microwave oven was sold in America in 1952. It has changed our lives so much that sociologists now call us the “microwave society.”
I’m old enough to remember when popping popcorn meant getting out the popper, putting in the oil, stirring in the seeds, and waiting five or ten minutes. Then the world discovered “Jiffy-Pop,” popcorn and oil inside foil, ready to shake over a stove. When was the last time you saw “Jiffy-Pop”? It takes too long. Today popcorn comes in microwave bags—and we get impatient that it takes two minutes to cook.
The greatest threat to our relationships and society today is the microwave. Not the one in our kitchen—the one in our hearts.
Restaurants have entire rooms for cell-phone users, so people can eat and work and thus save time. “Sink Eaters Anonymous” is an actual support group for people who are so busy they eat their meals standing over the kitchen sink. John P. Robinson, director of the Americans’ Use of Time project at the University of Maryland, says that the value of time has clearly surpassed the value of money in our society.
As we continue learning about the Kingdom of God from the parables of Jesus, today we come squarely against the issue of time, priorities, and values. Which comes first: people or projects? Relationships or responsibilities? Souls or success?
The most famous story in all of literature begins with the central question of ancient Judaism: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10.25). On this occasion, however, the question said more about the man who asked it than the one who would answer it.
Jesus is six months from the cross. His enemies are gathering strength and conviction in their strategies against him. And so “an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus” (v. 25). This “expert” would be a Jewish scribe, a professional religious scholar. Luke used the term “lawyer,” which would be more intelligible to his Gentile audience (Gilmore 192).
Perhaps the setting was a synagogue, where scholars were sitting together in discussion of the Scriptures (Bruce 542). This was not a typical teaching situation, in which the rabbi sat as his listeners stood (cf. Matthew 5.1); here the scribe “stood up” to ask a question, gaining the hearing of those in the circle.
The scribe asked his question to “test” Jesus. The word meant to expose weakness or heresy. Jesus used this word against Satan: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4.12). This man asked Jesus his question “probably in the hope of showing his own superiority, and possibly with the expectation of trapping him in his reply” (Bliss 187).
His question revealed his heart: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The aorist tense of the Greek text indicates that the lawyer thought there is something which can be done once and for all to guarantee inheritance in heaven (Geldenhuys 313). “Do” here is emphatic: “By having done what shall I inherit?” (Bliss 187).
Jews in Jesus’ day thought they could observe the law, keep the commandments, do the rituals, and thus deserve a place in God’s Kingdom. Most Americans agree. Only 2% in our country are afraid they might go to hell. Most of us think that so long as we live “good” lives and believe in God, we will go to heaven. We see church and morality as things to “do” to earn a place in paradise. We’re wrong.
Jesus exposed the man’s heart. He replied to his question with his own: “What is written in the Law?” (v. 26). He would show the man that neither he nor anyone else could keep the Law sufficiently to inherit eternal life. And he would begin with whatever part of the Law the lawyer affirmed first.
So he then asked, “How do you read it?” This was a technical question in a rabbinic discussion; we would paraphrase it, “May I hear your authorities with exposition?” (Rienecker 170). Jesus knew what was written in the phylactery on the man’s wrist (Barclay 140). He expected him to recite the verses contained in that tiny box of Scripture. And he was right.
The lawyer quoted Deuteronomy 6.5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Then he added Leviticus 19.18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus commended his answer: “Do this and you shall live” (v. 28). But the problem is, we can’t do it. We cannot keep these commandments; “to slip once is to fail” (Robertson 152).
Somehow the scholar knew he could not meet this standard. So, “wanting to justify himself,” he asked Jesus a second question (v. 29). The man wanted to “declare himself righteous,” as a lawyer would vindicate himself legally (Rienecker 170). He knew he could not love God with all his heart, soul, and strength. So he seized on the second of his commandments: “And who is my neighbor?”
Pity this man. He has devoted his entire life to studying the Scriptures, hoping to do enough to earn eternal life. He wants the right thing—eternity in heaven. Unlike most Americans, he knows he cannot assume that he will inherit it. He wants desperately to do enough to go there. He is seeking eternal life. So should we all.
All available evidence indicates that ancient Jewish religious leaders regarded only their fellow countrymen as their neighbors (Geldenhuys 313). The Jews hated Gentiles, so much so that some considered it illegal to help a Gentile woman in childbirth, for this would merely bring another Gentile into the world (Barclay 140). Undoubtedly our scribe has been seeking to love his Jewish neighbors. Now Jesus shows him that he has only begun to love all his neighbors.