Who is my Neighbor?

Dilemma:

Living our lives according to the teachings found in the Bible requires some change and a bit of sacrifice, but it isn’t an adjustment that’s really very difficult for most of us.  However, there are certain doctrines and examples in the Bible which seem to be extremely difficult or even impossible to obey.  Others appear contradictory.

When taught without understanding, many people are left thinking the Bible calls them to a life of defenseless pacifism, and subjects them to the whim of any violent or ungodly person who would decide to take advantage.

 

The Impossible Walk:

“Honor your mother and father.”

My mother and father are not believers and they despise me for being one.  To honor them, I would have to renounce the faith I have, stand by the choices they would impose on me and join them in their lifestyle.  As a believer, is this what I am called to do?

 

“Turn the other cheek.”

“You shall not kill.”

A man breaks into my home while I’m there with my wife and daughters.  I am able to resist and overcome the man, but doing so would leave the attacker injured or dead.  My entire family is in mortal danger!  As a believer, am I really expected to allow this man to do as he pleases while I sit idly by whispering a prayer under my breath and hoping for the best?

 

“Don’t divorce your spouse unless (s)he is unfaithful”

A drunken husband routinely beats his wife leaving her too bruised up to go out in public.  As badly as he treats her, she has no reason to suspect he’s ever cheated on her.  As a believer, should the woman stay with her husband, endure the abuse and wait for her husband to suddenly have an epiphany?

These are some of the many real-world situations which arise when people try to come to terms with the scriptures, and at face value, they sure make obedience to the will of our god seem like a daunting and even cruel task!  So much for “my yoke is easy and my burden light,” right?

 

Strange Examples:

Messiah taught us to “bless them that curse you.”  But that’s not what Elias the prophet did in the following case.

2 Kings 2:23-24  And Elisha went up to Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you bald head, go up, you bald head!” And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of YHWH. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tore through forty-two of the children.

One of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not steal.” But we read here that Rachel not only stole, but stole from her own father:

Genesis 31:19  And when Laban went to shear his sheep, Rachel stole the idols that were her father’s.

Here’s another of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not lie.”  Now let’s see what Rahab did when protecting YHWH’s people…

Joshua 2:3-6  And the king of Jericho sent for Rahab, saying, “Bring forth the men that are in your house: for they are enemy spies.”   And she hid them, and told the king, “The men came, but I don’t know where they are.”

Messiah taught us to “Love our enemies.”  King David had a very different take on enemies, or so it would seem.

Psalms 143:11-12  Revive me, YHWH, for your name’s sake.  For your righteousness’ sake, bring my soul out of trouble.   And of your mercy, cut off my enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul, for I am your servant.

So now the burning question: is the Bible just full of a bunch of really terrible and contradictory examples for us to not follow, or did these people possibly understand the commandments and will of our god a little better than you and I do today?

 

The Key:

This study takes its name from the following teaching of Messiah which is the key to smoothing all of the strange and difficult scenarios we’ve discussed so far.

Matthew 22:36-40  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Yahshua answered him, “You shall love YHWH, your god, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your NEIGHBOR as yourself.

On these two commandments hang ALL the LAW and the PROPHETS.”

What Messiah taught us here is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL in understanding the whole point and purpose of the Bible!  The “law and the prophets” is a reference to that 60% of your Bible called today the “Old Testament.”  The “law” refers to the first five books which were written by Moses.  The “prophets” describes all the rest.  The law in particular contains the “will” or “word” of YHWH which is His instructions for how His people should live.

And now that we’ve cleared up that much, let’s look at what Messiah taught about the law and the prophets: that it ALL serves to teach us how to do exactly TWO THINGS: how to love our god and how to love our “neighbor.”

The latter of these two is the specific key of understanding that we’re looking for right now.  The law – all the commandments, everything that the prophets taught us – our Bibles teach us two things: how to love YHWH and how to love our neighbor.  And here’s the reason why all the situations we explored in the earlier sections of this study are so unreasonable to us: because we don’t understand who our “neighbor” actually is!  We’ve mostly all been misled in this matter.

When we try to understand the scriptures, there’s something very important to keep in consideration, and that thing is called “context.”  Well, we’ve just established some very profound context for the law and the prophets: that if some part isn’t telling us how to love our Creator, then it’s telling us how to love our neighbors.  And if that’s the case, then we desperately need to identify who our neighbors are.

What we’ve been taught is that EVERYBODY is our neighbor.  Every man, woman and child in the world is supposedly our neighbor.  Thus, we believe that the commandments and teachings in our Bibles teach us how we are to behave with all people, but we’re about to see that this is totally NOT the case!

 

Who Is My Neighbor?

Since it’s a teaching of Messiah that we’re exploring, let’s look at what he personally defined as a neighbor as this is going to give us the most relevant understanding of what he was actually trying to explain.  The story of the “Good Samaritan” which we all heard every other week in Sunday School is about to take on a whole new dimension when we dig into the details…

Luke 10:29-36  “And who is my neighbor?”

Yahshua answered, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his clothes, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day, when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’   Which now of these three, do you think, was neighbor to him that fell among the thieves?”

That’s obviously a very familiar story, but let’s get into one of the less familiar pieces of it, namely who the actors in this play are and what they represent.  These characters were specifically cast into this parable because of one thing that bound them all together – the law of YHWH.

In the Jewish society of Messiah’s day, priests and Levites were the “holy men.”  They were the pious, religious paragons.  They were expected to be the experts and role models of all things godly.  They were the Joel Osteens and Billy Grahams and TD Jakes of their day.

Then there were the Samaritans.  They were the bottom-feeding, half-breed dogs of Jewish society.  Their ancestry was mixed with Assyrian and they weren’t fit to even enter the Temple by societal standards.  Something the Jews despised about the Samaritans is that they rejected the Jewish religion.  While the Jews were carted away to Assyrian captivity where they invented their rabbinical traditions and replaced the Father’s laws with their own, the Samaritans were left behind, in the holy land, and they refused to accept the “new and improved” traditions and commandments of men that the Jews adopted in their captivity which they brought back with them.

So there was a very common thread between a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan: ALL three of these were expected to have, know and live the law of YHWH.  Yet, in spite of the commonality between these three, only one was considered to be a true “neighbor.”  Speaking of “neighbor,” can we look at that word in the Greek briefly to see what it means exactly?

The word Messiah actually used here is the Greek “plēsion” which means “countryman.”  So a neighbor is actually a FELLOW CITIZEN of the same country, and of course the country we’re talking about here isn’t a nation of men but rather the nation of the people of YHWH.  It’s that “kingdom” of which Messiah often spoke that was “not of this world.”  We are referring to the great olive tree into which we’ve been “grafted in.”  It’s what we call “Israel.”

What Messiah taught us in his parable is that Israel is a nation of FAITH.  Faith is something that produces action in the form of obedient practice.  Knowing the commands and being a scholar of the law or even being born to righteous parents with a great heritage does not make you a citizen of Israel.  DOING the instructions and LIVING them day by day is what makes us citizens of Israel.

 

Let’s Test That Theory:

So how about it – is this understanding of “neighbor” really valid and scriptural?  When we look back at our examples of dilemmas, it certainly DOES resolve the problems we had in explaining the right courses of action, but do the teachings and messages in the rest of the Bible support it as well?  Let’s take a look at a few passages which also start to make more sense.  To start, let’s try to resolve two seemingly contradictory teachings on the subject of divorce by Messiah and the apostle Paul:

Matthew 5:32  But I say to you, that whoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery.

1 Corinthians 7:13-15  And the woman which has a husband THAT BELIEVES NOT, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband, otherwise your children would be unclean, but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving spouse departs, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but YHWH has called us to peace.

Something just happened here.  Either Paul just went directly against Messiah’s teaching and created a MAJOR contradiction in the Bible, or the bond of marriage does not tie a citizen of Israel to a person who rejects YHWH.

Matthew 12:48-50  Messiah said, “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?” He stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

And what does that say about the “family” into which we are unwillingly born which does NOT do the will of our Father which is in heaven?  It seems to suggest that those bonds too are loosened.  Messiah actually taught more on this very matter:

Matthew 10:34  “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”

Well, “variance” certainly doesn’t sound much like “honor” to me.  Even as far back as Moses, we see clearly that we are to “love one another” and are permitted to behave differently with people who do not keep Torah and serve our god:

Deuteronomy 23:20  To a stranger you may loan and charge interest; but to your brother you shall not charge interest: that YHWH your god may bless you in all that you do in the land wherever you go to possess it.

 

The Bottom Line:

We are not called to be abusive to non-believers and wonderful to our brethren / fellow citizens / neighbors.  Quite to the contrary, we should be the salt of the earth that makes others thirst for the wisdom and kindness and love we have and live.  That being the case, we were NEVER called to be the willing victims of this world of the wicked people therein.  Understand the balance that is taught in the Bible.  If a non-believer needs help, HELP HIM OUT!  If somebody breaks into your house, defend your family.

Exodus 22:2  If a thief be caught in the act, and be struck that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.

2 Timothy 2:22  Follow righteousness, faith, charity and peace with them that call on the Sovereign out of a pure heart.

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