What is the Mission of the Church? Part 6: Love Your Neighbor
April 22, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
Last week we considered how the first and second greatest commandments (love God and neighbor) impact the discussion about the mission of the church. Ultimately, the first and second greatest commandments are for the church organic; the church institutional* cannot obey or fulfill these commands for individual Christians. When the church institutional is fulfilling her mission, primarily summarized in the Great Commission, the church organic is equipped and empowered to fulfill her mission.
Let’s look more closely at the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It features prominently in a discussion between Jesus and a lawyer in Luke 10:25-37. The lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). Jesus responds by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ point is that the command is not about identifying worthy neighbors to serve but about becoming a loving neighbor to the people you come in contact with. The Samaritan, crossing cultural and ethnic divisions, out of compassion, meets the man’s needs. Jesus concludes by saying, “Go, and do likewise” (v. 37).
A few observations about this parable: 1. We do not evaluate who we love and serve based upon ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, educational level, or even morality. Such divisions do not honor God, nor do they fulfill this commandment. 2. Compassion is integral to loving your neighbor. Compassion is seeing the need of another and, out of love, seeking to meet that need. 3. There is a limit in the application of this command, however. We are not obligated, individually or corporately, to meet the needs of every single human in the world. So, how would we know whose needs we are obligated to meet?
Perhaps Paul’s clarifying command in Galatians 6:10 is helpful, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” We are obligated to do good to everyone (love your neighbor), “as we have opportunity.” Opportunity encompasses two concepts: personal means and moral proximity.
As individuals we do not have equal means to meet someone’s needs. A medical doctor has greater means than I do to meet the needs of a heart attack victim. Someone with the gift of generosity and financial wealth has greater means than a poor widow to meet a financial need. So, we are not equally obligated to meet another’s needs in the same manner. We do good to others as we have opportunity, as we have the personal means to do good.
Moral proximity speaks about how close we are to the need “by virtue of familiarity, kinship, space, or time” (What is the Mission of the Church? page 183). This is not necessarily geographic. For example, I am closer in relationship, and, therefore, have greater obligation to, the brothers in the Heartland Presbytery, spread across Kansas, than I am with the Baptist pastors in Shawnee. Paul highlights this moral proximity in Galatians 6:10 when he adds, “especially to those who are of the household of faith.” We are in closer relationship with, and, therefore, have greater obligation to, the members of our church than the neighbor who lives across the street. “The closer the moral proximity, the greater the moral obligation” (p. 183).
In this day of the information age, we have (literally) at our fingertips access to knowledge about needs all across the world. Without the principle of moral proximity, we can either be crushed under the weight of guilt because we can never meet everyone’s needs, or we become calloused to the needs and give up loving anyone. The heinous sin of the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan is that they were close in moral proximity to a man in need and did nothing.
What does this all have to do with the mission of the church? As this article is a teaching outlet of the church institutional, and as I am an ordained minister of the gospel who is called to use my gifts to help the church institutional fulfill her mission, this is an avenue to fulfill the mission of the church institutional (making disciples of Jesus Christ, teaching you all that he has commanded) in order to help equip and empower you and me, as individuals making up the church organic, to fulfill our mission to love our neighbor as ourselves. I wear two hats in this regard and so do you. As a pastor and as members of the church institutional, we want the church to remain faithful to her mission to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples of Jesus. As individual disciples of Jesus Christ, we want to be faithful to love our neighbor as ourselves, as we have opportunity.
* If you are curious about this distinction between the church organic and church institutional, check out Part 1 of these series.