Loving Neighbors Who are Different from You

Loving Neighbors Who are Different from You

Text: John 4:4-28

Introduction: This morning, we continue in our preaching series Neighboring 101. Two weeks ago we talked about loving our neighbors as friends. We looked at what the Bible has to say about friendship and determined together that a true friend serves his neighbor, loves his neighbor, encourages his neighbor and never quits on his neighbor. Then last week we looked at what the Bible has to say to someone who doesn’t necessarily feel compelled to love his neighbor. The spiritual remedy for a heart that is closed to others is to draw near to God. The closer we get to Him, the more He fills our lives with unconditional love and, as a result, the more capable we are of giving ourselves away to others. So if you, as a child of God, are suffering from a lack of desire to reach out to the people in your life, the answer is to pay close attention to your relationship with God. In fact, I would encourage you to read Psalm 139. There you’ll be reminded that the Lord knows you, is always with you, formed you in your mother’s womb, loves you and sanctifies you. Who wouldn’t want to draw near to someone who values us that much? And if you do move toward God, it won’t take long until you start loving what He loves!!!

In my message today, I would like to look at a well known passage found in John chapter four that demonstrates how Jesus overcame some differences between Himself and a woman who was living an empty life and had no clue what to do about it. Here are four observations about loving your neighbor from the story of Jesus and a woman He met while passing through Samaria.

Jesus loved his neighbor enough to cross a cultural barrier — (John 4:7-9 — There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” — For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans). A cultural barrier is a rule or expectation in any culture that prevents or impedes someone from outside of it from being included or participating equally within it.  In this case, the barrier was significant, at least as far as the woman was concerned. Jews and Samaritans did not particularly enjoy each other’s company. It had to do with a conflict between them that dated back eight centuries to when the Assyrians conquered and exiled the northern kingdom of Israel (See 2 Kings 17-18). As was their custom, they repopulated the region with people from other parts of the empire who brought their own gods with them. In time, the worship of Yahweh prevailed over their polytheistic practices, but in a peculiar form. Samaritans accepted only the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as scripture. In addition, their worship was centered on a new temple on Mt. Gerizim, which towered about the ancient city of Shechem. The Jews worship centered on the temple in Jerusalem. It didn’t take long for a profound bitterness to develop between them. In Ezra 4:1-3 we see a little bit of this. As Ezra the priest was attempting to rally the people to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem following Israel’s return from exile, some enemies heard about it and came “offering help.” Who were these people? They were transplants from other parts of the Assyrian empire sent to live in Jerusalem. They said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.” That conflict between Samaritans and Jews continued for centuries right up until the time of Christ. And that’s why the woman that met the Lord at a well outside a small town named Sychar was surprised He was even talking to her. She recognized that between them stood a barrier that was not going to be easily removed. The thing to note here is that Jesus was unwilling to allow that difference to come between the two. The interaction He was about to have with her was far more important that anything that might separate them. Application: Today we also have some cultural barriers that separate people from each other. Race, religion, political viewpoints and sexual orientation are just a few. However, Christians must not allow these things to prevent us from loving our neighbors in obedience to God’s command. Like Jesus, we have to ignore them and get on with our ministries. Illustration: A while back, a friend of mine told me that he was going to attend an Exodus conference for Christian men and women who struggled with same sex attraction, but wanted to live a pure life. He asked if I wanted to go with him. The truth is that I did want to go, but at the same time, I had some reluctance. I hesitated because I was afraid that I might be grouped together with everyone else. I ended up attending, however, and my heart was broken for the emotional pain and suffering that these dear people go through most everyday of their lives. I was able to pray for them and with them. I left that conference with a love and compassion for them that I had not possessed so long as I allowed that barrier to come between us.

Jesus loved his neighbor enough to focus on her needs —  (John 4:10-19 — Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet). The Lord knew that the Samaritan woman had a serious issue going on  in her life. She was thirsty for God, but didn’t quite realize it. Of course, she was no different from the Jews (or any of us for that matter). Listen to these words from Jeremiah 2:13 that God used to describe the entire nation of Israel – “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” They idea is that they chose to settle for a little bit of dirty water found at the bottom of a broken well (imagery of a world that rejects God), than to drink deeply from the living water that He freely gives to those who ask for it. So to them and the woman, Jesus offered “living water.” The phrase had two levels of meaning: (1) The temporal satisfaction derived from a drink of fresh, running water from a well fed by a spring. It was a continual flow of drinkable water that could sustain human life for a time; (2) The eternally satisfying life brought about by a spiritual rebirth that only Jesus could provide. Jesus, and only Jesus, had the ability to satisfy her spiritual thirst. And though still somewhat confused, the woman was willing to take Jesus up on His offer (Give me this water). Now before this could happen, however, Jesus knew that the woman had to address her spiritual need by acknowledging her own sin. That’s why the Lord told her, “Go, call you husband and come here.” Her answer was a real turning point in their conversation. She was honest with Jesus and herself and said, “I have no husband.” When the Lord pointed out that she was living with a man and had been married five times previously, the woman did not deny her immorality. She simply said, “I perceive that you are a prophet,” because only a prophet would know such things. Now listen to this: Jesus didn’t expose her sin because He found some sort of perverse pleasure in doing so, but because it stood in the way of her taking a drink of the living water He offered. He knew it wasn’t a cultural barrier that stood between them, but a moral one. The sad thing about most people is that they would rather drink from a broken cistern, than get honest and real with God and drink from His well containing living water. Illustration: In his book Sahara Unveiled, William Langewiesche tells the story of an Algerian named Lag Lag and a companion whose truck broke down while crossing the desert: They nearly died of thirst during the three weeks they waited before being rescued. As their bodies dehydrated, they became willing to drink anything in hopes of quenching their terrible thirst. The sun forced them into the shade under the truck, where they dug a shallow trench. Day after day they lay there. They had food, but did not eat, fearing it would magnify their thirst. Dehydration, not starvation, kills wanderers in the desert, and thirst is the most terrible of all human sufferings. In Lag Lag’s case, he progressed from  from a condition called eudipsia, “ordinary thirst,” through bouts of hyperdipsia, meaning “temporary intense thirst,” to polydipsia, “sustained excessive thirst.” Polydipsia refers to the kind of thirst that drives one to drink anything including urine or even blood. For word enthusiasts, this is heady stuff. Nevertheless, the lexicons have not kept up with technology for they have not yet coined a suitable word for the drinking of rusty radiator water. Radiator water is what Lag Lag and his assistant started into when good drinking water was gone. In order to survive, they were willing to drink, in effect, poison. Who would fault them? I don’t think any of us would. In fact, we’d probably do the same thing to try to sustain life. Unfortunately, many people do something similar when it comes to their spiritual thirst. They depend on things like money, sex, and power in the mistaken belief that it will bring them life. Unfortunately, such “thirst quenchers” are in reality spiritual poison. Jesus said that only those who drink from the “living water” that He provides will ever satisfy the deep thirst of their souls. That’s what He offered to the Samaritan woman. Something that would take care of her real need.

Jesus loved his neighbor enough to gently correct any misunderstandings (John 4:20-24 — Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”). Like most people, the Samaritan woman was counting on her own religious system for salvation. Before we speak too critically of her, we would be wise to consider that this is how most people are when it comes to the matter of eternal life. No matter what religion they choose to follow, when it comes down to it, religious people tend to believe that if they can follow the rules as they’ve been taught (i.e. worshipping on the right mountain), then it’s going to be okay with them when they die and face God. Jesus did not agree, however, and was quick to correct this misunderstanding. He explained that soon (“an hour is coming” refers to the time after His death, burial and resurrection) worship would not be limited to only two recognized sites — Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem. Instead, true worshippers (followers) would be free to worship the Father anywhere in Spirit and in truth. Here’s what He was talking about: (1) When Jesus uses the word spirit He is characterizing what God is like — He is spirit.  He is invisible and unknowable unless He chooses to reveal Himself by the Holy Spirit. So only those who are born of the Holy Spirit are able to worship God. That’s why Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:6 — that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. It was another way of saying, “you must be born again. (2) He also mentions truth as a prerequisite to worship. Here the word refers to Jesus, through whom God has revealed Himself (John 1:18 — No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known). Jesus not only spoke truth, but embodied it (John 14:6 — I am the way, the truth and the life). Application: Put it together and what do you get? The Lord wanted the Samaritan woman to know that in order to worship God one had to be born again by acknowledging that He was the truth of God dwelling in human flesh.

Jesus loved his neighbor enough to direct her to Himself (John 4:25-27 — The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”). Never one to miss a golden opportunity to set a captive free, the Lord identified Himself as the “Messiah.” And, guess what! The woman who at first wanted to keep to herself and take care of her own matters, was now beginning to think differently of Jesus. To her amazement, the One who sat by the well and asked her for a drink was none other than the Messiah of God! When the disciples returned they were surprised that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman reflecting their own prejudice against her. But our Lord did not harbor such feelings. He came to seek and to save the lost. And it turns out, she was lost as they come! That’s why He revealed Himself and His mission…to deliver the downtrodden and oppressed.

Let’s finish with three observations about how the Samaritan woman immediately began loving her neighbors.

 The woman opened her eyes to her neighbors (John 4:28 — So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people). Once she understood who she was talking with and the truth Jesus was proclaiming, she headed for home to her own people. She deserves some credit here. The Samaritan woman didn’t ignore the people she lived with. She immediately reached out to her neighbors.

 The woman shared her experience with her neighbors (John 4:29– “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did). At this point she was still riding the spiritual high of her conversation with Christ. The fact that He could describe her past relationships with such accuracy obviously meant that He was more than a man. I suspect her listeners began to wonder just who Jesus was as well.

 The woman asked a thoughtful question of her neighbors (John 4:29-30 — Can this be the Christ? They went out of the town and were coming to him). The way she asked it, she was expecting everyone to agree that Jesus was/is indeed the promised Messiah. She must have sounded pretty convincing since after she asked the question the people sought Him out for themselves. If you think about it, that’s pretty good neighboring no matter how you look at it. Anytime we can motivate someone to seek out Jesus for themselves as a result of testimony, we’ve done well.

Conclusion: As we practice neighboring, we’re going to meet people who are very different from us. Their lifestyles may in fact be offensive to our values as Christians. But that can’t stop us from reaching out. People need the Lord and it’s our duty to do what we can to help them find Him. The Huffington Post ran a beautiful story about a church in Honolulu called Bluewater Mission. This small church started a restaurant called Seed, which gives people a second chance at work and at life. The article focused on a woman named Mary Nelson, who started working at Seed last year. It was only the second job the 53-year-old had ever had. At the age of 14, Nelson’s mother committed suicide and she started working on the streets of New York City as a prostitute. At the age of 18 she tried to start a new life in Hawaii but she kept working as a prostitute. Then when she was in her early 50s some Christians at Bluewater Mission persuaded her to leave the streets and try working at Seed. She spent the first six months washing dishes because she wanted to be far away from what she called, the “good people.” But after a lot of hard work and love from the people at church she began to respond to the love of God. Today Nelson says, “Now, I get to be the person I was never able to be. I get to help people without someone trying to take advantage of me.” Nelson noted that what she makes in a month at Seed, she used to make in one night on the streets. She had it all: new cars, jewelry, travel, nice condos—though, sometimes, beatings, rape and “so much horror” came with the price. “You can’t buy what I’m going through right now,” she says. “I never thought that I’d be this person I am now.” Recently, Nelson went with her church on a trip to the Philippines to reach out to prostitutes. She told the reporter, “I want those women to know there’s hope. You can change. There are people out there that really want to help and you’ve got to … believe. Just like you went out there and took a chance on the streets, you’ve got to take a chance on this as well.” That’s what can happen when we ignore our differences and love our neighbors.