How do you see yourself in this world? For some Christians it is a hostile place filled with persecution and people who cause trials for them. Other Christians say it is a mission field where they reach out to others and show the love of Jesus.
This world is not our home, but it is a place where family and friends, those we love, live. What we do here matters for eternity. And how we treat one another matters to God. God watches the way we live for him here, and so does those who don’t know God.
We’ve been discussing how to live a holy life for God and how to treat other Christians. But I want to switch gears and talk about how we treat unbelievers. What does God expect of us? Is this a hostile world or a place to love others? What do you do when other people mistreat you?
The Hostile World
The Bible presents this world we live in several different ways. In one sense, Christians live behind enemy lines. The devil is in charge of our world (Ephesians 2:1-2). We work for Jesus in a hostile environment.
Jesus told us we would be persecuted and have tribulations in this world (John 16:33). Though God created the world good, beautiful and habitable for us, Satan has corrupted it and tried to destroy it. Everyone begins in this world as hostile toward God.
So as his representatives it makes sense that we will be treated wrongfully. But is that all there is to this world? Should we treat everyone around us as out to get us? That would create quite a paranoid Christian. And there are other passages that teach us to love everyone around us.
So how do we reconcile these two worlds? We are not wrong to think of the world in both ways. We are in enemy territory. John talks about the world in three different ways throughout his writings. When we read John 3:16 God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to save those who are lost.
In other places John talks about the world in very hostile ways. So how do we understand the world? In John 3:16 he talks about the world as the people who inhabit this planet we live on. But another places he is talking about the world system Satan controls.
The world system is evil and hostile to Christians. This is the system where people are against Christian values and the Christian worldview. This is the part of the world that persecutes us and puts us on trial.
But the people in the world are not generally hostile toward Christians. They view us like any other person. They are not out to get us. So we do live in a world that operates against us in one sense. But we also have people who love and care about us.
We must be aware that we are behind enemy lines. We will come across people who want to persecute us and do not like Christians. But even when we meet these people we approach them differently than we would if we didn’t know Jesus.
How do we operate in a world where some people like us and others don’t? Treat it on a case-by-case basis. Don’t think everyone hates you. Don’t cringe every time someone comes up to you. After all, Jesus taught us to love everyone.
This world is your mission field. But you are not out to save people. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. If we are going to love everyone, we must understand what Jesus means by love. So we will turn to how to love everyone we meet the way Jesus does.
The Love of Jesus
Before we met Jesus we loved people with strings attached. I loved my family in a different way than I love my friends. And I didn’t love strangers unless they give me a reason to. Love was more like comradery. I acted differently toward different groups in my life.
But now that I know Jesus, he calls me to love everyone. How do I do that when there are people who don’t love me at all? Jesus taught us to love like he does (1 John 4:19). This love is a different love. There are no strings attached. No matter how others treat me I treat them with the love of Jesus.
Jesus went to the cross, suffering physical and emotional stress and beatings just for me. Though I was his enemy he died for me as my friend. It’s a love that surpasses understanding. He didn’t have to come and die for me to save me from my sins. And yet he did.
When the Holy Spirit grips the heart of unbelievers they begin to see what I saw. They see a God who loves them even though they hated him. It doesn’t make any sense why a God who would be justified in leaving us in our sin and shame still came and brought us into his Kingdom of light.
So we come to him a hating enemy and his love transforms us into his children. We respond to that kind of love with confusion. But when we open our hearts to Jesus’ love it’s contagious. We begin to want to share that love with everyone around us.
Because Jesus loved us first we learn to love others the way he does. No matter how they treat us we treat them as Jesus did with his unconditional love. Our hearts are full of gratitude for his sacrificial love. And we pass it on to everyone around us.
Jesus’ unconditional love first given to us, and now shown through us to others, doesn’t make any logical sense. But it’s not about logic. We care for God’s creation bearing God’s image. We see them the way Jesus saw us before we knew him.
We live in a hostile world but we are the lights of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus commanded us to show his love to everyone who lives in this world. Whether they treat us with kindness or not we love our enemies ().
We’re not here to treat people as friends just so we can tell them about Jesus. They are not our targets or marks. We don’t “love” them just so they will become Christians and go to heaven with us. We must truly love them whether they listen to the message of the gospel or not.
Jesus died for everyone even if they don’t choose to love him and serve him. He has no ulterior motive when he makes friends. But the love of Jesus changes a person. Even if they don’t accept the gospel they won’t be able to forget Jesus.
Loving others is not part of our “job” as we serve Jesus here on earth. We give our love freely. We see people for who they are and who they can become if they meet Jesus as we did. Loving others like Jesus is not an ulterior motive. It’s who we are.
Who Is My Neighbor?
“You must not take vengeance, and you must not hold a grudge against the sons of your people, and you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18, My Translation)
“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39, ESV)
We reach out to our neighbors. Most of us think of neighbors as the people in our neighborhood, those next door. But the Bible defines neighbor in a different way. In the Old Testament Leviticus declares that we must love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18).
It defines how we treat our neighbors by telling us not to take vengeance or hold a grudge against our neighbor. These lights would take quite literally, “the sons of your people” to mean that “neighbor” was a fellow Israelite.
Jesus took this idea to task when he was asked pointedly by a lawyer, “And who is my neighbor?” This lawyer would’ve been an expert in the law, a scribe. You know as well as I that you never catch a lawyer with word games.
But Jesus took the question head-on. Instead of answering it point blank he taught through a parable (Luke 10:25-37). The famous Parable of the Good Samaritan tells the story of a Jewish man who was beaten while traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Jesus specifically speaks of a priest and a Levite who saw the man in pain but passed by on the other side of the road. Both of these men are fellow Jews. More than that, priests were ministers to the people for God. Levites took care of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Because of the laws about the impurities of touching people who had certain conditions both refused to turn aside and help the man. Jesus made these two men fellow countrymen on purpose. He wanted to address the issue of “neighbor” being one of your nationality only.
In a scandalous move the third person to see the man lying in pain on the road was a Samaritans, a halfbreed Jews were taught to disdain. He acts with compassion and turns aside to help the man. He goes the extra mile, taking him into town and paying for his stay and treatment.
Then Jesus asks the lawyer a question. He asks who the lawyer thinks was a neighbor in this parable. Can you imagine the look on the lawyers face when he has to be marginally say, “The one who showed him mercy” (Luke 10:37)? He couldn’t even say the man was a Samaritan.
Our neighbor has only one qualification. A neighbor is a person in need of help. And anyone we meet that we can help we are required by our Lord to do so. If nothing else, those around us who don’t know Jesus need to meet him. Their eternity depends on it.
Doing God’s Work
We often master the techniques involved in compassion ministries but some forget that along with compassion we must speak the name of Jesus. People will wonder why we’re helping them. If we do not tell them it is because Jesus loves them through us they will only think we are kind person.
Along with compassion ministry must come the proclamation of the gospel. This is the only way people will know the reason we show them compassionate and unconditional love. We work for Jesus in this world. It is our mission field. But these are also our family, friends, and neighbors.
Even a stranger is a neighbor. All too often we pass people by who are crying out for help. We can’t help everyone. If you try to help everyone you will end up a person in need yourself. You cannot give what you don’t have. You will only find yourself relying on others when you stretch yourself too thin.
This is not a rude policy and we cannot hide behind it when we are not generous with the resources God gives us. But that’s precisely the point. God gives us resources, makes us a blessing to others because he blesses us. We cannot bless others if we do not have the ability to pour out blessing upon them.
Those you can help the Lord expects you to reach out and help. Sometimes the Spirit calls us to sacrificially give of our resources to help others. These are special circumstances and we must be obedient to the Holy Spirit. But most of the time you must operate out of your own resources.
Every time you help a neighbor in need you are glorifying Jesus (). He put each of us on this earth and enabled us to do his ministry. We are his ambassadors (). We minister for him and when people see us they say Jesus through us.
Do not hesitate to bless others out of the blessings God has blessed you with. You may be the only Jesus people ever meet. Represent Jesus well. Honor him as you help others. Be his salt and light in the world.
You can be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. Love your neighbor as yourself and help them every opportunity you receive. Step out in faith and minister to those around you. Meet the needs of others and share the gospel.
You will find people who don’t want a Christian’s help. You will be persecuted and rejected from time to time. But we must not treat the people in this world as automatically against us. We love them even if they reject us. How do you love your neighbor as yourself today?