Community Group Study Guide Love Thy Neighbor Week 4 – Loving In Spite of the Risks
We began this series by looking at the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). One of the things that stands out most about the man who stopped to help was how much risk he took on for someone he did not even know. For many of us we are willing to sacrifice or take on risk for people close to us, but the thought of opening up our lives or sacrificing for people we do not know is hard to embrace. Yet, with the Good Samaritan we see a man who was willing to be interrupted, he also was generous with his money and took on the risk of potentially being robbed. Jesus tells us that this man had mastered the art of neighboring (Luke 10:36-37). Many of us know we should live like that as we follow Jesus, some of us even desire it to be a bigger part of our lives… but all of us find it challenging. Our culture disciples us against taking risk. On one end we are tempted by comfort and the other end we are moved by fear. To open our homes and live interruptible lives will mean trading off some comforts like “me time”, money, late nights, or early mornings to help a neighbor or friend. To be a neighbor means to push away from worldly fears and all the “what ifs” you cannot control. What if they don’t return the love I show them? What if they are not grateful? What if they do not come to put their faith in Jesus? We learn that much of these outcomes are out of our hands and should not be part of our motivation for generosity and kindness. Jesus talks about the way the world loves which is with strings attached (conditional love), but followers of Jesus are being discipled by God to love in a more unconditional way (Luke 6:32-35). Part of growing in loving your neighbor is to recognize if you’re drifting towards comfort or being motivated by fear.
It is difficult to love your neighbor when you are unwilling to take risks.
Matthew 5:43-48: The Risk of Unconditional Love
Jesus talks about how the world says to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but his followers will love and pray for those who persecute them (Matt 5:43). In doing so we show that we are sons and daughters of God and are being shaped to be like Jesus. This is risky because there is no guarantee that your enemy will change their behavior and there is no certainty that they will deserve it. Yet the reward is that in doing so we model God’s heart and we have a chance to turn an enemy into a friend. Ask God to help you recognize when you are drifting into conditional love and by God’s grace choose to return good when you face evil. When a coworker talks negatively about you, this is an invitation to find something to praise them for or when a neighbor complains about how you were late taking in your trash cans, take the opportunity the following week to bring in theirs. It will be natural to want to love those who love you, but “do not even the gentiles do the same?” (Matthew 5:47).
Hebrews 13:1-2: The Risk of Loving the Stranger
This passage calls us to have meaningful and generous relationships inside and outside the church. Hebrews 13:1 starts off “let brotherly love continue”; when you see the words “brothers” and “sisters” in the New Testament more often than not they are referring to other followers of Jesus. Loving your brothers and sisters in Christ is a great thing and one that we all could do well to grow in. Yet the writer of Hebrews shifts to telling us not to neglect hospitality. If you were to break down the Greek word for hospitality you’d find that it is the words “love” and “stranger” combined. Followers of Jesus are not to be afraid of strangers. The Good Samaritan certainly modeled a love for strangers, likewise Jesus was often approached by strange and random people whom he chose to show compassion to. The risk here is that if we live guarded lives that we often want freedom from interruption and being committed to loving a stranger may mean an unplanned meal with someone you offer food to or instead of judging the person in the coffee shop talking loudly about politics you instead take time to listen to their opinions before casting judgement. Likewise showing hospitality like this may mean greater cost to your comforts like one less quiet night and instead inviting someone over for a meal and embracing the risk of not knowing what they will talk about at the dinner table in front of your kids. Consider, do you have a good balance of brotherly love and love of stranger? Is your love for people weighted to one side more than the other?
Colossians 1:24-26: The Risk of Suffering
There is a chance you will get burned. The Matthew 5:43-48 passage warns us of this, people may not return the love you show them. But even in those moments you do not need to despair because the hidden blessing is that when you suffer for Christ’s sake you fill up “what is lacking in Christ’s affliction”. Colossians 1:24-26 shows us how suffering and being persecuted can model the cross for others and this should lead us towards joy. The risk here is that if you live generously with your money or open up your home and your life you could face a greater degree of suffering either from outright persecution or hardship. On one side it could be the person you reach out to burning you with borrowed money, or lying about your character; on the other side it could be the child you bring into your home in foster care, whom you bonded with, gets placed with a different family. Loving your neighbor is not the safe option, there is risk, but God is in the risk with us for his good.
Jesus shows us how to be a neighbor in his generous and yet costly and sacrificial death. Followers of Jesus will be tempted to avoid risk either because of seeking comfort or due to fear. We are not given an invitation to be careless or flippant, rather we’re encouraged by God to not be risk adverse and instead look for the right kind of opportunities to love those he has put in our lives.
Has this season of “shelter in place” and the spread of COVID-19 made you more or less risk adverse? What are some reasons for the change?
Read Hebrews 13:1-2. What do you think it means to have brotherly love? What does it mean to love strangers? Why is it important for followers of Jesus to have both and not just one of those types of love?
According to Matthew 5:43-48 What do you become when you love someone who does not return the favor? Look specifically at verse 45. Do you think we are drawn to conditional love instead of unconditional love? Why or why not?
What are one or two things you’ve learned from the message, the scripture passages or the study guides? How can you apply them this coming week?