Love Thy Neighbor

Title: Love Thy Neighbor

Bible Book: Proverbs 3 : 27-33

Author: Johnny L. Sanders

Subject: Love; Golden Rule, The



Our subject today is the application of godly wisdom in personal relationships. In another message I would like for us to look and individual relationships - that is, one of one relationships. But in this message we are going to be looking relationships to and within groups. Now, I am going to do something very risky - I would like to share a personal testimony.

This is actually a confession, and not a very flattering confession. I grew up in Tunica County, MS and went to high school at Sledge, which was in Quitman County. Parenthetically, let me add that while I never sought the reputation, some students saw me as one of the most visible Christian witnesses in my high school for several years. Now, let me tell you what they didn’t know - one of Paul’s Harvey’s “the rest of the story.”

I went out for baseball my freshman year and was excited when I not only made the team, but was also named as a starter. Even though I was on the first team, I knew that almost all my teammates knew more about baseball than I. They played during the summer when I was working in the cotton fields. In addition, most of them were older than I, and they had been starters for two or three year. I was accepted because I could make contact with the ball.

My first game was a home game against Walnut. Walnut was a small school but they had two outstanding pitchers, Don and Roy Tackett. Don was the starting pitcher that day. I was hitting in either the third spot. Before I went to the plate, I did some serious praying - specifically, I prayed that the Lord would let me get a hit. I am sorry, but I didn’t pray for my team to win, I didn’t pray for any other player to get a hit, I just prayed that I would get a hit. I really did not want to look bad in front of my teammates and the fans. I also wanted the acceptance that I thought would come with a hit or two in my first game. I really gave no thought at the moment to winning or losing , no thought to my team or teammates - just myself. This is not very flattering, but I don’t know how to soften it.

Well, I got the first hit of the game, and as I stepped off first base, I was surprised to hear a chant from our bench and our fans: “No no-hitter today, no no-hitter today, no no-hitter today!” Once again, my first thought was not that I might have started a rally, but relief that I did not know Don was supposed to throw a no-hitter. If I had known that, I might not have gotten the hit. After all, I had never seen anyone who could throw that hard, except an older neighbor who had spent a little time helping me. But, believe me, I was not thinking about the team. I was now thinking, “A mistake running the bases would really expose my inexperience.” Getting picked off would not have done my pride any good either

Later, we played Walnut at Walnut, and our catcher was at bat. The pitch was inside and Furman pivoted around, and as the pitch reached him he suddenly dropped his hand and slapped the ball. The move was quick and hidden from the umpire behind the plate. There may have been protests, but all I remembered as Furman took first base was that, regardless of the ethics of it, he wanted to help his team win the game. He was willing to risk injury to help his team.

It was only a game but I learned something that day. Furman Westbrook, regardless of what we might thinks about his sportsmanship, had a greater sense of responsibility to his teammates than I - but I was learning. Whether we are a part of a baseball team, a social or civic club, or a church committee, we have responsibilities to others. Christians must not think of themselves first.


A. We Are Commanded to Love Our Neighbors.

This is not a suggestion, it is a command. But how can you command anyone to love someone else? Who could command such a thing? Certainly, no human being can command one person to love another person. As a matter of fact the command might, in reality, have the opposite effect. We live in a day when people might attend conferences and read books on the virtues and rewards of loving one another. But a command might well strike a blow against our pride and result in a rebellion against it. But command it God does, and in no uncertain terms.

When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment in the Law, He answered:

And He said to him, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets " (Matt. 22:37-40).

You cannot please God without loving as He loves. You are not, and can never be like Jesus if you do not love your neighbor. Admittedly, some neighbors are more easily loved than others. Neighbors come in variety packs: individuals, members of families, members of small groups, and members of large groups. The Second Great Commandment covers all our neighbors, however they come and wherever we find them. In 1 John 3:14 - 18, we read:

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

B. Our Lord Has a Good Neighbor Policy (Pro. 3:27-33).

The wisdom about which we read in the Book of Proverbs is practical in its application. The wisdom that has its source in our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer is never serf-serving or self-gratifying. It reaches up to God and out to others. God has commanded us to love one another, and He has both equipped us and empowered us to obey His command. In the New Testament we learn that this is a part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of believers. In Proverbs, we discover that God equips us with wisdom from above to enable us to honor Him in personal relationships. Christians, above all other people should know that “no man is an island unto himself.” God created us with both the capacity and the need for relationships with others, and then He commands to do that for which we were created. There is one big problem here: fallen man comes into the world loving himself, not others.

The wonder of it all is that God redeems those who place their faith in Him, and then He trains and empowers believers so that they might have a meaningful relationship with others. In Proverbs we discover just how practical the wisdom which has its source in the fear of the Lord really is:

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, "Go, and come back, And tomorrow I will give it," When you have it with you. Do not devise harm against your neighbor, While he lives in security beside you. Do not contend with a man without cause, If he has done you no harm. Do not envy a man of violence, And do not choose any of his ways. For the crooked man is an abomination to the LORD; But He is intimate with the upright. The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked, But He blesses the dwelling of the righteous” (3:27-33).

Remember that your neighbor in God’s mind is not simply the person who lives next door. Jesus told the story of The good Samaritan in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” But let’s go on and see, not only the source of this wisdom, but also the course of it.

C. God’s Wisdom Will Find Practical Applications of God’s Commandments.

1. The love God commands is the only kind of love that can be commanded.

You cannot command romantic love Try telling your son to fall in love with the neighbor’s daughter and see how far you get. You cannot command filial love. No one should have to be commanded to love family members, but sadly, if a son does not love his parents he may turn a deaf ear to God’s command. You cannot command brotherly love. You cannot tell the new family in the church that you expect them to become best friends with the Smiths. Then what kind of love does God command? The love God commands is called agape’ in the Greek, and agape’ may be defined as a mental attitude loved. It is a love that is directed by the mind. In reality, it involves the mind, the emotions, and the will, but it is not driven by feelings or the will.

2. The Holy Spirit enables us to love one another.

The love God commands is not self generated, and it is not something we attain or achieve in the flesh. Only born again Christians can practice this kind of love for others. When you are born again you receive a new nature and you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who begins a process by which you will be conformed the image of Jesus Christ (Rom.8:29). Just as it is His nature to love, it will be your nature to love one another.

3. Love for your neighbor is a proof that you are a Christian.

From First John 3:14ff, we learn that this is one of the proofs that we are saved. Failure to love one another is proof that one is spiritually dead. It is the nature of those who are spiritually dead to love selfishly, it is the nature of the Christian to practice agape’ love - they love unselfishly and without consideration for merit. It is natural for the natural man to love those who love them. It is natural for one to love his children. He may even hold a brotherly love for another that would lead him to lay his life on the line for him, just soldiers, policemen, and firemen have often done.

What more can anyone do than lay down his life for his neighbor? That is where the wisdom of God comes into play. Only the believer can possibly understand the deeper needs of a lost person, and only a spirit-filled Christian will seriously seek the salvation of the lost person. Furthermore, the wisdom of God, nurtured and directed by the Holy Spirit, will enable us and motivate us to seek the highest good for others, especially other believers.


A. Godly Wisdom Governs Our Relationship with Individuals.

1. “Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).

2. Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44, NKJV)

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

B. Godly Wisdom Governs Relationships within the Church.

1. Godly wisdom is needed in deacons meetings.

2. Godly wisdom is needed in committee meetings.

3. Godly wisdom is needed in the choir.

4. Godly wisdom is needed in the nursery.

5. Godly wisdom may seek help from others.

a. Some turn to denominational leaders.

b. Some turn to special consultants.

c. Some look to conflict management programs.

d. All should pray for guidance.

e. All should learn to apply godly wisdom in all relationships.

C. Godly Wisdom Governs Relationships within the State.

1. Christians need wisdom in political relationships.

2. Christians need wisdom in relating to others in the military.

3. Christians need wisdom when they go to the polls.

4. Godly wisdom is needed in politics.

5. Christians should avoid demonizing opponents.

6. Christians politicians should love those across the aisles from them.

7. Christian politicians should be honest.

My wife’s uncle was married to Senator Trent Lott’s aunt. And no, I am not ashamed to mention Trent Lott’s name, regardless of what the media thinks of him. Becky remembers Trent when he was a small boy rocking on his grandmother’s front porch. When Becky’s uncle died, Trent Lott flew to Memphis, rented a car and drove to their home to be with the family and to attend the service. I spent some time talking with the senator - before he was Senate Majority Leader. This was before the Clintons brought - well, I will not go into what the Clintons brought to the White House.

Trent Lott mentioned a Louisiana politician, and assured me the man was a Christian. He stressed, “He’s honest.” Pausing for emphasis, he added, “I mean he’s honest.” He went on to tell me of times when this congressman needed to fly across the country and someone would tell him they had a plane leased and tell him he was welcomed to fly with them. The congressman would thank them and then go down to the airport and buy a ticket on a commercial flight. He refused to be compromised.

Senator Lott is a godly man who values honesty. According to family members, the late Senator John Stennis saw Trent as a rising star and promised him that if he would not opposes him the last time he ran for office he would endorse Trent in the next election. Six years later, when Lott ran for Stennis’ seat, Stennis endorsed his opponent

D. Godly Wisdom Governs Our Relationship within Groups.

1. We need wisdom in our Christian circle of friends.

2. Christians should love others in social and civic clubs.

2. Christians should love business associates.

3. We need wisdom in social relationships.

4. We need wisdom in recreational relationships.

This especially important in this age of recreation, with so many people participating in both individual and team sports. In most cases there are rules governing play in order to “level the playing field.” Golf and tennis not only have rules, but traditions that go beyond written rules. Of course, most of the traditions are covered to some extent by the rules. The golfing world learned something the day a young Arnold Palmer went to officials and reported an error and pointed out that he should be assessed a one-stroke penalty.

For years my favorite sport was boxing. I could tell you the top fighters in various weight divisions over a period of several decades, including the well known champions as well as some outstanding fighters few people today would recognize. This opened the door of opportunity for me to witness to Pete Hermon when I was in seminary - as I recall, Pete Hermon was Bantam weight champion from 1918 to 1022. I learned that there were clean fighters and there were dirty fighters. And then there was Young Otto, who for years chased the world champion - a champion who managed to avoid him by sailing back and forth from America to Europe. Young Otto had something like forty-five one round knock-outs. Opponents, knowing his power, could not resist dropping their guard when he faked a low blow.

Many athletes show a lot of integrity in relationships with teammates, fans, and owners. Rocky Marciano was the greatest fighter of them all. He got a late start and was still learning to box afer he won the belt. Roland LaStaza was one of the best boxers I had seen, but he was no match for the power of Rocky Marciano. Carmen (Bingo)Vingo was a promising fighter until he met Rocky. He was never the same again - nor was any other fighter. Rocky helped support Vingo and his family for several years. The picture, I believer it was in RING Magazine, vividly portrayed the power of Marciano - I will not describe the position of Jersey Joe Walcott’s jaw in the photo. Joe Louis out boxed Rocky for several rounds, until he decided to stop moving and trade punches with The Brockton Block Buster. He lasted seconds before Rocky sprang up and landed a short straight right that turned out the lights on the former great champion. Joe Louis glided back and landed with his back on the bottom rope. Then, by the time Rocky fought Ezzard Charles he actually out boxed him.

When a radio station tried to schedule Rocky for an interview he asked who the sponsor was and when he learned that the program was to be sponsored by a beer company he refused the interview - he said that it would be a bad example for kids.

Stan Musial was one of the greatest baseball players ever to play the game. He was also known as one of the class guys of the game. Each year at the end of the season the owner would send Stan the Man a contract - with the salary line blank. Each year Musial would write in the previous year’s salary and return it. The owner would then change it to give him a raise. That does not sound like a lot of athletes today, does it?

I do not know if either Marciano or Musial had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but they had adopted principles that governed relationships with others, Rocky with children and youth, Stan the Man with his boss. Children and young people can learn a lot about relationships through participation in team sports. They are fortunate indeed if they have Christian coaches to teach them - and Christian parents. We were treated recently to repeated play-backs of a brawl that broke out at a Pop Warner football game in California, one of the ugliest scenes America has witnessed.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes seeks to lead young people to go beyond rules and fair play. Christians focus is on relationships, not just rules. Many athletes have been won to faith in Jesus Christ through the witness of Christians in their sport.

E. The Love God Commands Goes Beyond the Love the Word Knows.

1. It is important for us to understand this principle.

a. There is no merit in your loving as the world loves.

b. It is better love as the world loves than not to love.

c. God expects more of us.

d. What God expects He provides.

e. He empowers us to love others.

f. He motivates us to love others.

g. He is our motivation.

2. The Golden Rule Is Our Guide in all Relationships.

“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31, KJV).

a. It applies in individual relationships.

b. It applies in group relationships.

3. Godly wisdom will find a way to make an application of the Golden Rule.

a. Godly wisdom builds relationships in Sunday School.

b. Godly wisdom builds relationships in deacon bodies

c. Godly wisdom builds relationships in missions causes.

d. Godly wisdom builds relationships in Little League.

e. Godly wisdom builds relationships in politics.

f. Godly wisdom builds relationships in the family.

g. Godly wisdom builds relationships in the extended family.

h. Godly wisdom builds relationships in the military.

i. Godly wisdom builds relationships in denominations.

It has been my privilege to serve on various denominational committees and boards over the years, and in this capacity I have had an opportunity to observe relationships - and to build relationships. I have also had the privilege of building relationships with others. There are people I would never have met if we had not been chosen to work together. I have observed that first impressions are not always lasting impressions.

I have seen the denominational worker who says, “We look to you to hold us accountable”. I believe some of them mean it, but I have observed that some are more open to questions and criticism than others. Some may say, “We want to hear what you think and we will do our best to respond to it.” Some mean it, but others have left me wondering. I have know some denominational workers who really listen to you, some who seem to listen but you are never really sure, and some who very obviously do not listen unless they are hearing something that they want to hear.

Now, for a confession: I have often had to change my mind about people. When Greg Irwin was introduced as the attorney for the Louisiana Baptist Convention I wondered if he would simply represent our the Baptist Building staff or would he make a serious contribution to the Executive Board and the convention as a whole. Well, I had the privilege of working with Greg on a committee that studied documents of Louisiana Baptist Convention agencies. Every time Greg met with us my appreciation for him grew. At the last Executive Board meeting someone brought up an issue that provoked a some debate and a lot of questions. My response was, “I want to hear from our attorney, Greg Irwin.” When he spoke we began to move toward a consensus. Greg is of course competent. He is also a man of integrity. But there is more to Greg than that. He is a man who knows how to build relationships.

I could single out any number of outstanding examples of people whom God has placed in a position of responsibility who have responded commendably, but for time restraints. I will name just one today. I had met Dr. Jimmy Draper a number of years before he was chosen as President of LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention). When I was elected to serve on the Board of Trustees I was invited to attend an orientation at LifeWay in Nashville. I will have to admit that I told someone that the purpose of the orientation was to give the leadership at LifeWay an opportunity not only to provide us with information, but it also gave them an opportunity to look us over.

Over the past few years I have cultivated a relationship with a number of people who have been a blessing to me. Dr. Draper is just one of those people, but he stands out because of his gift for building relationships. And, I don’t mean just within the Executive Management Group, LifeWay employees, and board members. Jimmy has known most of those who have been in leadership positions in the Southern Baptist Convention for the last half a century. He is on a first name basis with more outstanding Christian leaders than anyone else I know.

But that is not what I want to share with you about Jimmy Draper. I have had the privilege of listening to people who have known him for many years who do not point to his service as President of LifeWay Christian Resources (with a budget approaching one half billion dollars a year), or the fact that he was President of the Southern Baptist Convention. They may not even mention the fact that he was on Dr. W. A. Criswell’s staff, or that he was pastor of a gigantic church. What they mention that touches my heart is that Jimmy Draper is not only a man of conviction, but also a man of compassion.

He has picked up people on the street and taken them home with him. He helped get someone out of prison, took him to his home, gave him a bedroom and let him live in his home until could get on his feet. A former neighbor referred to the Draper home as the Draper motel. Jimmy stops and helps stranded motorists. He quickly contacts people when news comes of illness or any other crisis. I have been amazed at the attention he has given to notes I have sent him. I have spent quite a bit of time talking with Jimmy Draper about serious issues facing the church today and I have found him to be a man of wisdom and courage but above all, a man of compassion. You see, Jimmy Draper loves people and he finds practical ways do demonstrate that love, not just in working with board members and staff members, but also in reaching out to others with a love that has its source in a personal relationship with a God who is love.


How well do you apply the Golden Rule in your relationship with others? If you know the wisdom of God you will commit yourself to others in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the Love of the Heavenly Father Who gave His Son to die for you.

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