God’s Medicine for a Sick World
January 7, 2007
“Love is the medicine for the sickness of the world.” So said noted psychiatrist Dr. Karl Meninger. He summarized his therapeutic approach this way: “Love cures. It cures those who give it and it cures those who receive it.”
Love truly is good medicine. It has been said that the three most powerful words in the English language are “I love you.” When I returned to my office one day, I noticed that the voicemail light on my phone was lit. The message came from a man in another state. He called to tell me about some of the difficulties in his own life and how he was dealing with them. Along the way he mentioned that he had poured out his heart to his mentor and had told him the whole ugly story of what he had done. When he was finished, his mentor simply replied, “I want you know that I love you.” Then the man said, “Pastor Ray, I can’t tell you what it meant for him to listen to my story and then to say ‘I love you.’”
Such is the power of love. I know that our society sometimes confuses love with sex or with money or with gifts. Many people don’t understand love and are even afraid of it because they’ve never seen the real thing. But even with all our counterfeits, and even with all the misunderstanding, and even in spite of the abuses committed in the name of love, it is still true that what the world needs now is love, sweet love. And not just the word “love,” we need the real thing. We need to see love and to hear it and to feel it and to experience it in our lives. And we need to know how to pass it along to others.
Three times in Romans 13:8-10 Paul speaks of our need to love others. Everything he says is based on one of the most familiar statements in the Bible: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). This, Paul says, is the fulfillment of all that God asks of us. Love your neighbor as you love yourself, and you will have fulfilled the law of God. Let’s unpack that thought by considering three simple statements about love.
I. Love Is an Unpaid Debt
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (v. 8a).
This phrase contains a negative command and a positive exception. The negative command is “Owe no one anything.” That takes us back to Paul’s words in verse 7:“Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” Christians must pay their debts, whether those debts are tangible or intangible.
Does this mean we should never borrow money? The answer is no, the Bible never forbids borrowing. It does, however, warn that the borrower becomes a servant to the lender (Proverbs 22:7) and it repeatedly reminds us that excessive debt leads to shame and sometimes to crime.
Two rules should guide our thinking in this area:
1. Don’t borrow more money than you can honestly repay.
2. Pay what you owe when you owe it.
For instance, if your house payment is due on the 15th and you pay it on or before that date, you have obeyed this commandment of Scripture. However, believers who consistently pay their bills late give themselves and the Lord a bad reputation. Many of us would do well to give special attention to this teaching. I read about a man who owed money to many people, including his fellow church members. One night he waxed eloquent during a prayer meeting: “Lord, give us devil-driving faith.” One of the men praying with him said, “Amen, Lord, and give us debt-paying faith!” Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is get out of debt. It’s a matter of integrity and a matter of financial responsibility. Christians who disobey this command harm themselves and cause others to disrespect the gospel.
Then there is the positive exception: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” Love is the one debt we can never repay. All our efforts pale into nothingness compared to the vast love of God. The least we can do–in fact the only thing we can do–is to love our fellowman in Jesus’ name. Paul is not suggesting that our love should be limited to other Christians. He envisions a love that reaches out to the entire human race. Each day as we get up, we are to think, “Today I will meet many people who need the love of God.” As we walk down the street, we will say to ourselves, “I am put here as an ambassador of God’s love.” Each day in the office or the classroom or working the third shift at the factory, we should look for ways in which we can show love to others.
There is another, more pointed way of saying it. When faced with a difficult situation, we can never say, “I’ve loved that person enough. I’m going to stop now.”Since we live in a fallen world, we will often find ourselves surrounded by irritable, petulant, cranky, annoying, aggravating, frustrating, crabby, unreasonable, cantankerous people. And that’s on a good day! Sometimes people will say foolish things or do things to deliberately irritate us. And let’s face it, some people are just very hard to love. We all know people who seem to have the “spiritual gift of irritation.” They know how to get under our skin, how to “get on our one last nerve,” how to make us edgy, frustrated and upset. Sometimes we work with those people, sometimes we go to school with those people, and sometimes we are married to someone like that. Paul means to say, “You can never give up on people who drive you nuts. You can never stop loving the mean-spirited people in your life. You can never walk away and say, ‘I’m going to hate you now. Love didn’t work.’” True love–the kind that sent Jesus from heaven to earth and all the way to a hated Roman cross–that kind of love never gives up. a
We can outline it this way:
God loved us so much that we could never repay him.
God lavished his love upon us through Jesus Christ.
God calls us to love the unlovely people of the world.
We owe them a debt of love because of God’s love to us.
That debt can never be repaid.
II. Love Fulfills the Law
“For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (vv. 8b-9).
Lest that sound rather theoretical, Paul goes on to say that love is the fulfillment of the law. When we truly love as God loves, we will keep the Ten Commandments. People sometimes shy away from the law as if it were somehow in conflict with God’s grace. But grace, rightly understood, leads us back to the great principles that stand behind the Ten Commandments: Honesty, fidelity, truthfulness, contentment and kindness.
All the “Thou Shalt Nots” ultimately flow from love. If you love your neighbor, you won’t sleep with his wife. If you love him, you won’t kill him. If you love him, you won’t steal his money or his good name. And if you love him, you won’t begrudge him his prosperity or get angry because you have less than he does. The law merely spells out what love looks like in concrete situations.
Sometimes this is twisted by advocates of “free love” and the “new morality” to do away with the commands of God altogether. If you live in love, you don’t need to worry about the commands of God, or so they think. But that is not true. Love by itself can lead you in some dangerous directions. I have known Christians who justified adultery because “We love each other so God must want us to be together.” But that is nothing more that cloaking your sin with a truckload of theological baloney. John Stott puts the matter in proper perspective:
The truth is that love cannot manage on its own without an objective moral compass. That is why Paul wrote not that “love is the end of the law” but that “love is the fulfillment of the law” For love and law need each other. Love needs law for its direction, while law needs love for its inspiration (Romans, pp. 349-350).
In that sense love leads us back to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12 KJV). He who loves fulfills God’s law because love always seeks the highest good of the one loved–which is what the Ten Commandments were meant to teach us in the first place.
III. Love Does Not Harm Others
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (v. 10).
The Contemporary English Version offers this translation of verse 10: “No one who loves others will harm them. So love is all that the Law demands.” This verse explains the list of commandments in verse 9:
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not murder.
You shall not steal.
You shall not covet.
And don’t overlook this phrase–“And any other commandment.” Paul is no antinomian out to overthrow the law of God and say, “Do whatever you want. There are no rules.” To the contrary, he means to establish the truth underneath God’s law by showing that God’s moral law teaches us what love looks like.
Sometimes we sing “Free from the law, O happy condition,” as if that meant we are now free to be selfish pigs, living only for ourselves while the world around us goes to hell. But if you understand the relationship between law and love, you can never stand idly by when you see your neighbor suffering.
Well, then, you may ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Ah, that’s a good question. And it’s not the first time someone has wondered about that. To illustrate the power of compassion, let’s consider the familiar story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus told this parable in response to a lawyer who questioned him regarding eternal life. Eventually the discussion turned on a single question: “Who is my neighbor?” To answer that question, Jesus told about a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
If you’ve ever been to the Holy Land you know how realistic that is. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho drops 3500 feet in only 22 miles. That road, with all its twists and turns, was a favorite haven for thieves. No one ever traveled that road alone if they could help it. The Jews even called it “the bloody way.”
You know the story. As the man traveled on the road, robbers fell upon him, beat him up, stripped him, robbed him, and left him for dead. Soon a priest came along who was traveling the same road. I think he was returning from the big Founders Conference in Jerusalem. When he saw that poor man lying by the road, he crossed over to the other side and kept on walking. Pretty soon a Levite came by and did the same thing.
They Would Have Stopped If …
At this point I need to stop and say that the priest and the Levite were not being intentionally uncharitable. Both men were trained in the Old Testament law. If there had been a law that said, “You shall stop and help a nearly-dead man when you see him lying by the road,” they would have stopped. Since there was no such law, they felt no obligation to stop. And they didn’t.
Then along came the Samaritan. It’s hard for us to fully understand how much the Jews despised the Samaritans. They considered them inferior half-breeds. Observant Jews not only would not speak to the Samaritans, they wouldn’t even speak of them. That’s why in the story, when asked which man was the true neighbor, the lawyer (now fully humiliated and exposed by Jesus) answers, “The one who showed mercy on him.” He still wouldn’t say the word “Samaritan!”
We like to talk today about the “Good Samaritan” and we even name hospitals after him. The Jews wouldn’t have named an outhouse after a Samaritan.
But it was the Samaritan who stopped. When he saw the man, he bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He then put the man on his donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he gave the innkeeper two silver coins and told the innkeeper to look after the man until he returned. He even promised to pay for any extra expenses.
All this for a man he had never met, who was probably a Jew, and who, for all he knew, would not have done the same for him. It’s not as if the man on the road “deserved” help. He didn’t, but he sure needed help. The Samaritan owed him nothing. But he stopped anyway. That’s what love does.
As Jesus told the story, he emphasized that all three men “happened” upon the man by the side of the road. No one planned on seeing him. No one got up that day and said, “I wonder if I’ll have a chance to be merciful today.” It happened by chance. That’s the way it always is. It happens as we travel down the road of life, turn the corner and there before we see a man beaten, stripped, bloody, and unconscious. He didn’t plan to be there, and we didn’t plan to see him.
What will we do? Will we show mercy?
The priest was there . .. the Levite was there … the Samaritan was there. All “happened” to pass by. One man, the least likely, stopped to help.
“Go and Do Likewise”
Note the final words of Jesus to this curious lawyer: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Love demands that we do something. Love is not simply a gushy sentimental feeling for those who hurt. It is back-straining, time-consuming involvement in the lives of others. It’s lighting a candle in a dark room. Let’s go back to the lawyer’s question: Who is my neighbor? In light of this story, we can answer the question this way: My neighbor is anyone in need who crosses my path whose need I am able to meet. In that light you never know when you’ll run into a neighbor. You will find neighbors everywhere you go. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, liked to say, “The world is my parish.” With this story Jesus is teaching us to say: “The world is my neighborhood.”
The real question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” but “What kind of neighbor will I be?”
Do not say, “I will do more when I know more.” No! You know too much already. Act on what you know and God will bless you. Do not say, “If I am ever going down a lonely road and happen to see a dying man, I will stop and help him.” No, that man is all around us. He is young, old, male, female, rich, poor, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, a child, a beggar, a divorcee, a cancer victim, an AIDS patient, an out-of-work engineer, a single parent, a lonely widow, a new arrival from another country. He doesn’t look or act or sound like you, but he is there anyway and God has put him in your path. You can’t avoid him. What will do you? Will you walk on by? Start with the need that is near you and God will give you grace. Your religion is empty if it does not compel you to reach out to those who are hurting whose path you cross.
“Your Brother is Down There”
I read about a man who was standing near a hole that had been dug as part of a large excavation. A number of workers were in the hole removing dirt when the walls collapsed around them. Rescuers began running from everywhere but the man stood by and watched the scene with detachment. Suddenly a woman called out from a nearby house: “Jim, your brother is down there!” Instantly he stripped off his coat and began digging for dear life. Why? His brother was in mortal danger and he must get him out. Who is my brother? Who is my neighbor? My brother is anyone in danger, anyone in need, anyone in pain, anyone in trouble. Look! Your brother is sick, your brother is dying, your brother has lost his job, your brother is homeless, your brother is lost, your brother is discouraged, your brother lies beaten and wounded by the roadside. Do not walk by on the other side. Will you abandon your brother? Will you leave him to die?
Once upon a time a man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out. A sensitive person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.” A practical person came along and said, “I knew you were going to fall in sooner or later.” A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.” A mathematician calculated how he far he fell. A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on his pit. An IRS agent asked if he was paying taxes on the pit. A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.” A mystic said, “Just imagine that you’re not in a pit.” An optimist said, “Things could be worse.” A pessimist said, “Things will get worse.” Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit!
Ever since Eden, the human race has been on a journey away from Jerusalem. We’ve been going down, down, down into the Jericho valley. One day we were attacked by Satan and left for dead. He robbed us of our dignity and stripped us of our righteousness. Along came the Good Samaritan himself—the Lord Jesus Christ. He bound our wounds, he carried us to safety, he paid our debt, and he guaranteed our future. He has shown mercy to us when we were left for dead by the side of the road. Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Here is a message for those who are still lying by the road, wounded and bleeding, forgotten and abandoned. This is for those who feel hopeless and helpless. This is for those who have been destroyed by sin. Jesus comes to help you. Will you not give him your heart? Will you not love him and trust him and serve him? Will you not believe in him? The Good Samaritan comes to save you. Will you not come to him and trust him as Lord and Savior?
Love is God’s medicine for a sick world. The love of Christ is God’s cure for our sin. God has placed us in the world as ministers of healing for those who are sick because of pain, sadness, brokenness, sorrow, and all the tragedies of life. We who know Jesus are to be “doctors of the soul” bringing God’s love into the darkest corners of life. Does that seem impossible? Will it not cost too much? Do you fear getting your hands dirty when you reach out to help the hurting? Here is the answer:
Without Jesus, it is impossible.
Without Jesus, we will never be saved from our selfishness.
Without Jesus, we will “pass by on the other side” every time.
And yes, it will cost you everything. You will end up going places you didn’t want to go, and yes, your hands will get dirty because that’s the only way to help hurting people. But do not despair. Look to your Master and recall what he did for you. Gaze upon the One who left heaven for you. Remember that when everyone else passed by, Jesus stopped to save you. Then in his name and in his power and with his strength and for his glory, Go and do likewise. And the Lord will be with you. Amen.