Welcome to Translate Who Is My Neighbor chapter of Christ’s Object Lessons.
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WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
Among the Jews the question, “Who is my neighbour?” caused endless dispute.
They had no doubt as to the heathen and the Samaritans. These were strangers
and enemies. But where should the distinction be made among the people of
their own nation and among the different classes of society? Whom should the
priest, the rabbi, the elder, regard as neighbor? They spent their lives in a round
of ceremonies to make themselves pure. Contact with the ignorant and careless
multitude, they taught, would cause defilement that would require wearisome
effort to remove. Were they to regard the “unclean” as neighbors?
This question Christ answered in the parable of the good Samaritan. He
showed that our neighbor does not mean merely one of the church or faith to
which we belong. It has no reference to race, color, or class distinction. Our
neighbor is every person who needs our help. Our neighbor is every soul who is
wounded and bruised by the adversary. Our neighbor is everyone who is the
property of God.
The parable of the good Samaritan was called forth by a question put to Christ
by a doctor of the law. As the Saviour was teaching, “a certain lawyer stood up,
and tempted Him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The
Pharisees had suggested this question to the lawyer in the hope that they might
entrap Christ in His words, and they listened eagerly for His answer. But the
Saviour entered into no controversy. He required the answer from the questioner
himself. “What is written in the law?” He asked, “How readest thou?” The Jews
still accused Jesus of lightly regarding the law given from Sinai, but He turned the
question of salvation upon the keeping of God’s commandments.
The lawyer said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with
all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as
thyself.” “Thou hast answered right,” Christ said; “this do, and thou shalt live.”
The lawyer was not satisfied with the position and works of the Pharisees. He
had been studying the scriptures with a desire to learn their real meaning. He had
a vital interest in the matter, and he asked in sincerity, “What shall I do?” In his
answer as to the requirements of the law, he passed by all the mass of
ceremonial and ritualistic precepts. For these he claimed no value, but presented
the two great principles on which hang all the law and the prophets. The
Saviour’s commendation of this answer placed Him on vantage ground with the
rabbis. They could not condemn Him for sanctioning that which had been
advanced by an expositor of the law.
“This do, and thou shalt live,” Christ said. In His teaching He ever presented
the law as a divine unity, showing that it is impossible to keep one precept and
break another; for the same principle runs through all. Man’s destiny will be
determined by his obedience to the whole law.
Christ knew that no one could obey the law in his own strength. He desired to
lead the lawyer to clearer and more critical research that he might find the truth.
Only by accepting the virtue and grace of Christ can we keep the law. Belief in
the propitiation for sin enables fallen man to love God with his whole heart and
his neighbor as himself.
The lawyer knew that he had kept neither the first four nor the last six
commandments. He was convicted under Christ’s searching words, but instead
of confessing his sin he tried to excuse it. Rather than acknowledge the truth, he
endeavored to show how difficult of fulfillment the commandment is. Thus he
hoped both to parry conviction and to vindicate himself in the eyes of the people.
The Saviour’s words had shown that his question was needless, since he was
able to answer it himself. Yet he put another question, saying, “Who is my
Again Christ refused to be drawn into controversy. He answered the question
by relating an incident, the memory of which was fresh in the minds of His
hearers. “A certain man,” He said, “went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell
among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and
departed, leaving him half dead.”
In journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho, the traveler had to pass through a
portion of the wilderness of Judea. The road led down a wild, rocky ravine, which
was infested with robbers, and was often the scene of violence. It was here that
the traveler was attacked, stripped of all that was valuable, and left half dead by
the wayside. As he lay thus, a priest came that way; he saw the man lying
wounded and bruised, weltering in his own blood; but he left him without
rendering any assistance. He “passed by on the other side.” Then a Levite
appeared. Curious to know what had happened, he stopped and looked at the
sufferer. He was convicted of what he ought to do, but it was not an agreeable
duty. He wished that he had not come that way so that he would not have seen
the wounded man. He persuaded himself that the case was no concern of his,
and he too “passed by on the other side.”
But a Samaritan, traveling the same road, saw the sufferer, and he did the
work that the others had refused to do. With gentleness and kindness he
ministered to the wounded man. “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 on the
morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host,
and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when
I come again, I will repay thee.” The priest and the Levite both professed piety,
but the Samaritan showed that he was truly converted. It was no more agreeable
for him to do the work than for the priest and the Levite, but in spirit and works he
proved himself to be in harmony with God.
In giving this lesson, Christ presented the principles of the law in a direct,
forcible way, showing His hearers that they had neglected to carry out these
principles. His words were so definite and pointed that the listeners could find no
opportunity to cavil. The lawyer found in the lesson nothing that he could criticize.
His prejudice in regard to Christ was removed. But he had not overcome his
national dislike sufficiently to give credit to the Samaritan by name. When Christ
asked, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell
among the thieves?” he answered, “He that showed mercy on him.”
“Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” Show the same tender
kindness to those in need. Thus you will give evidence that you keep the whole
The great difference between the Jews and the Samaritans was a difference
in religious belief, a question as to what constitutes true worship. The Pharisees
would say nothing good of the Samaritans, but poured their bitterest curses upon
them. So strong was the antipathy between the Jews and the Samaritans that to
the Samaritan woman it seemed a strange thing for Christ to ask her for a drink.
“How is it,” she said, “that Thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a
woman of Samaria?” “For,” adds the evangelist, “the Jews have no dealings with
the Samaritans.” John 4:9.
And when the Jews were so filled with murderous hatred against Christ
that they rose up in the temple to stone Him, they could find no better words by
which to express their hatred than, “Say we not well that Thou art a Samaritan,
and hast a devil?” John 8:48. Yet the priest and Levite neglected the very work
the Lord had enjoined on them, leaving a hated and despised Samaritan to
minister to one of their own countrymen.
The Samaritan had fulfilled the command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as
thyself,” thus showing that he was more righteous than those by whom he was
denounced. Risking his own life, he had treated the wounded man as his brother.
This Samaritan represents Christ. Our Saviour manifested for us a love that the
love of man can never equal. When we were bruised and dying, He had pity upon
us. He did not pass us by on the other side, and leave us, helpless and hopeless,
to perish. He did not remain in His holy, happy home, where He was beloved by
all the heavenly host. He beheld our sore need, He undertook our case, and
identified His interests with those of humanity. He died to save His enemies. He
prayed for His murderers. Pointing to His own example, He says to His followers,
“These things I command you, that ye love one another”; “as I have loved you,
that ye also love one another.” John 15:17; 13:34.
The priest and the Levite had been for worship to the temple whose service
was appointed by God Himself. To participate in that service was a great and
exalted privilege, and the priest and Levite felt that having been thus honored, it
was beneath them to minister to an unknown sufferer by the wayside. Thus they
neglected the special opportunity which God had offered them as His agents to
bless a fellow being.
Many today are making a similar mistake. They separate their duties into two
distinct classes. The one class is made up of great things, to be regulated by the
law of God; the other class is made up of so-called little things, in which the
command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” is ignored. This sphere of
work is left to caprice, subject to inclination or impulse. Thus the character is
marred, and the religion of Christ misrepresented.
There are those who would think it lowering to their dignity to minister to
suffering humanity. Many look with indifference and contempt upon those who
have laid the temple of the soul in ruins. Others neglect the poor from a different
motive. They are working, as they believe, in the cause of Christ, seeking to build
up some worthy enterprise. They feel that they are doing a great work, and they
cannot stop to notice the wants of the needy and distressed. In advancing their
supposedly great work they may even oppress the poor. They may place them in
hard and trying circumstances, deprive them of their rights, or neglect their
needs. Yet they feel that all this is justifiable because they are, as they think,
advancing the cause of Christ.
Many will allow a brother or a neighbor to struggle unaided under adverse
circumstances. Because they profess to be Christians he may be led to think that
in their cold selfishness they are representing Christ. Because the Lord’s
professed servants are not in cooperation with Him, the love of God, which
should flow forth from them, is in great degree cut off from their fellow men. And
a large revenue of praise and thanksgiving from human hearts and human lips is
prevented from flowing back to God. He is robbed of the glory due to His holy
name. He is robbed of the souls for whom Christ died, souls whom He longs to
bring into His kingdom to dwell in His presence through endless ages.
Divine truth exerts little influence upon the world, when it should exert much
influence through our practice. The mere profession of religion abounds, but it
has little weight. We may claim to be followers of Christ, we may claim to believe
every truth in the word of God; but this will do our neighbor no good unless our
belief is carried into our daily life. Our profession may be as high as heaven, but it
will save neither ourselves nor our fellow men unless we are Christians. A right
example will do more to benefit the world than all our profession.
By no selfish practices can the cause of Christ be served. His cause is the
cause of the oppressed and the poor. In the hearts of His professed followers
there is need of the tender sympathy of Christ–a deeper love for those whom He
has so valued as to give His own life for their salvation. These souls are precious,
infinitely more precious than any other offering we can bring to God. To bend
every energy toward some apparently great work, while we neglect the needy or
turn the stranger from his right, is not a service that will meet His approval.
The sanctification of the soul by the working of the Holy Spirit is the implanting
of Christ’s nature in humanity. Gospel religion is Christ in the life–a living, active
principle. It is the grace of Christ revealed in character and wrought out in good
works. The principles of the gospel cannot be disconnected from any department
of practical life. Every line of Christian experience and labor is to be a
representation of the life of Christ.
Love is the basis of godliness. Whatever the profession, no man has pure love
to God unless he has unselfish love for his brother. But we can never come into
possession of this spirit by trying to love others. What is needed is the love of
Christ in the heart. When self is merged in Christ, love springs forth
spontaneously. The completeness of Christian character is attained when the
impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within–when the
sunshine of heaven fills the heart and is revealed in the countenance.
It is not possible for the heart in which Christ abides to be destitute of love. If
we love God because He first loved us, we shall love all for whom Christ died.
We cannot come in touch with divinity without coming in touch with humanity; for
in Him who sits upon the throne of the universe, divinity and humanity are
combined. Connected with Christ, we are connected with our fellow men by the
golden links of the chain of love. Then the pity and compassion of Christ will be
manifest in our life. We shall not wait to have the needy and unfortunate brought
to us. We shall not need to be entreated to feel for the woes of others. It will be
as natural for us to minister to the needy and suffering as it was for Christ to go
about doing good.
Wherever there is an impulse of love and sympathy, wherever the heart
reaches out to bless and uplift others, there is revealed the working of God’s Holy
Spirit. In the depths of heathenism, men who have had no knowledge of the
written law of God, who have never even heard the name of Christ, have been
kind to His servants, protecting them at the risk of their own lives. Their acts
show the working of a divine power. The Holy Spirit has implanted the grace of
Christ in the heart of the savage, quickening his sympathies contrary to his
nature, contrary to his education. The “Light which lighteth every man that
cometh into the world” (John 1:9), is shining in his soul; and this light, if heeded,
will guide his feet to the kingdom of God.
The glory of heaven is in lifting up the fallen, comforting the distressed. And
wherever Christ abides in human hearts, He will be revealed in the same way.
Wherever it acts, the religion of Christ will bless. Wherever it works, there is
No distinction on account of nationality, race, or caste, is recognized by God.
He is the Maker of all mankind. All men are of one family by creation, and all are
one through redemption. Christ came to demolish every wall of partition, to throw
open every compartment of the temple, that every soul may have free access to
God. His love is so broad, so deep, so full, that it penetrates everywhere. It lifts
out of Satan’s circle the poor souls who have been deluded by his deceptions. It
places them within reach of the throne of God, the throne encircled by the
rainbow of promise.
In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free. All are brought nigh by
His precious blood. (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:13.)
Whatever the difference in religious belief, a call from suffering humanity must
be heard and answered. Where bitterness of feeling exists because of difference
in religion, much good may be done by personal service. Loving ministry will
break down prejudice, and win souls to God.
We should anticipate the sorrows, the difficulties, the troubles of others. We
should enter into the joys and cares of both high and low, rich and poor. “Freely
ye have received,” Christ says, “freely give.” Matthew 10:8. All around us are
poor, tried souls that need sympathizing words and helpful deeds. There are
widows who need sympathy and assistance. There are orphans whom Christ has
bidden His followers receive as a trust from God. Too often these are passed by
with neglect. They may be ragged, uncouth, and seemingly in every way
unattractive; yet they are God’s property. They have been bought with a price,
and they are as precious in His sight as we are. They are members of God’s
great household, and Christians as His stewards are responsible for them. “Their
souls,” He says, “will I require at thine hand.”
Sin is the greatest of all evils, and it is ours to pity and help the sinner. But not
all can be reached in the same way. There are many who hide their soul hunger.
These would be greatly helped by a tender word or a kind remembrance. There
are others who are in the greatest need, yet they know it not. They do not realize
the terrible destitution of the soul. Multitudes are so sunken in sin that they have
lost the sense of eternal realities, lost the similitude of God, and they hardly know
whether they have souls to be saved or not. They have neither faith in God nor
confidence in man. Many of these can be reached only through acts of
disinterested kindness. Their physical wants must first be cared for. They must
be fed, cleansed, and decently clothed. As they see the evidence of your
unselfish love, it will be easier for them to believe in the love of Christ.
There are many who err, and who feel their shame and their folly. They look
upon their mistakes and errors until they are driven almost to desperation. These
souls we are not to neglect. When one has to swim against the stream, there is
all the force of the current driving him back. Let a helping hand then be held out
to him as was the Elder Brother’s hand to the sinking Peter. Speak to him hopeful
words, words that will establish confidence and awaken love.
Thy brother, sick in spirit, needs thee, as thou thyself hast needed a brother’s
love. He needs the experience of one who has been as weak as he, one who can
sympathize with him and help him. The knowledge of our own weakness should
help us to help another in his bitter need.
Never should we pass by one suffering soul without seeking to impart to him the
comfort wherewith we are comforted of God.
It is fellowship with Christ, personal contact with a living Saviour, that enables
the mind and heart and soul to triumph over the lower nature. Tell the wanderer
of an almighty hand that will hold him up, of an infinite humanity in Christ that
pities him. It is not enough for him to believe in law and force, things that have no
pity, and never hear the cry for help. He needs to clasp a hand that is warm, to
trust in a heart full of tenderness. Keep his mind stayed upon the thought of a
divine presence ever beside him, ever looking upon him with pitying love. Bid him
think of a Father’s heart that ever grieves over sin, of a Father’s hand stretched
out still, of a Father’s voice saying, “Let him take hold of My strength, that he may
make peace with Me, and he shall make peace.” Isaiah 27:5.
As you engage in this work, you have companions unseen by human eyes.
Angels of heaven were beside the Samaritan who cared for the wounded
stranger. Angels from the heavenly courts stand by all who do God’s service in
ministering to their fellow men. And you have the co-operation of Christ Himself.
He is the Restorer, and as you work under His supervision, you will see great
Upon your faithfulness in this work not only the well-being of others but your
own eternal destiny depends. Christ is seeking to uplift all who will be lifted to
companionship with Himself, that we may be one with Him as He is one with the
Father. He permits us to come in contact with suffering and calamity in order to
call us out of our selfishness; He seeks to develop in us the attributes of His
character–compassion, tenderness, and love. By accepting this work of ministry
we place ourselves in His school, to be fitted for the courts of God. By rejecting it,
we reject His instruction, and choose eternal separation from His presence.
“If thou wilt keep My charge,” the Lord declares, “I will give thee places to
walk among these that stand by”–even among the angels that surround His
throne. (Zechariah 3:7.) By cooperating with heavenly beings in their work on
earth, we are preparing for their companionship in heaven. “Ministering spirits,
sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1:14),
angels in heaven will welcome those who on earth have lived “not to be
ministered unto, but to minister” (Matthew 20:28). In this blessed companionship
we shall learn, to our eternal joy, all that is wrapped up in the question, “Who is