What Comes Before Loving Your Neighbors

What Comes Before Loving Your Neighbors

Text: Psalm 139:1-24

Introduction: We’ve been talking for the last couple of months about loving our neighbors. Thank you to those who have shared with me stories about the steps of faith you’re taking to serve others in love out of obedience to God. May I encourage you to keep up the good work. God continues to use you to build bridges to de-churched (those who have some sort of church background but no longer attend) and un-churched people, both of whom, studies show, are distancing themselves from Christians because they question our motives. As you and I continue to persevere, I’m confident the Lord will honor our efforts and more of our neighbors will reconsider their view of Christ-followers and take that next step toward Him, which is our highest hope. And if you’re a little tired because of the effort required to reach out to your neighbors, don’t forget the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

This morning I want to talk to anyone who might be struggling with a lack of compassion for their neighbors. While there can be a lot of reasons for this, I know that at least for some it has to do with an inability to receive love from God. Here’s what I mean: Before we can give love away to others, our own need for it must be satisfied. Let me illustrate what I’m trying to say. Laurie and I flew to Mexico two weeks ago. During our pre-flight video, parents with children were instructed that in the event of a loss of air pressure in the cabin, oxygen masks would automatically descend from a compartment above. If this were to happen, they were told to do something that at first might seem somewhat selfish. The video said that they were to put the mask on themselves before assisting their children. That might seem a bit unnatural for most parents. After all, we usually take care of our children first. But in this case, if a mom or dad didn’t do it in this order, there was a higher possibility that both might suffer from a oxygen deprivation. I’m sure you understand how this could happen. If the parent struggled getting it on the child and in the process lost consciousness, then both might really suffer as a result.

Did you know that when it comes to loving our neighbors, things need to happen in the same order? As Christians we must first allow God to fill our hearts and minds with His love, and then we are free to minister to others and care for them. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the person who is not connected to the Lord will struggle to love anyone else.  That’s why I want to look at Psalm 139 with you. It was written by King David as a hymn to be sung in worship by God’s people to remind us of how God feels about us. It provides five truths that put is in the right place with the Lord so that we can bless others. Let’s look at them together.

 God knows us(Psalm 139:1-6 — O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it). Consider the verbs in these verses. (1) You have searched me; (2) You know me (when I sit down and rise up); (3) You discern my thoughts from afar; (4) You search out my path and my lying down; (5) You are acquainted with all my ways; (6) You know (what I’m going to say even before I say it); (7) You hem (confine) me in; (8) You lay Your hand upon me. Given these statements about God’s awareness of what is taking place in our lives, is there anything that He doesn’t know about us? No! He knows all of our thoughts, motives and actions. Now think about that for a second. The Lord is aware of everything good thing about us and every bad thing. It says that He hems us in from behind, goes before us and guides us by His steady hand. Application: What kind of comfort do you think David found in God’s actions? Do you wonder if it depressed him to be known by God in this way? Not when his response is, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me…” Knowing that God protected David and that nothing would happen to him apart from the Lord’s knowledge and guidance was a great comfort to the king. May I suggest that it should also comfort us to realize that He knows everything taking place in our lives. In fact, nothing happens to us that He does not know about or occurs apart from His care and attention. After all, we are His children and the apples of His eye. Illustration: Marsha Kaitz, a psychology professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, did a test to see how well mothers know their babies. According to the Associated Press, the forty-six mothers chosen for the test had all given birth in the previous five to seventy-nine hours. Each woman had breast-fed her newborn. The moms were blindfolded and then asked to identify which of three sleeping babies was their own. A high percentage of the mothers (70%) correctly chose their baby. Most of the mothers said they knew their child by the texture or temperature of the infant’s hand. The women apparently learned the identifying features during routine contact, said Kaitz, because they weren’t allowed to study their babies to prepare for the experiment. Did you know that the Lord knows you better than a mother knows her own child? And just like a child is to its mother, you are very precious to Him.

God is with us — In another Psalm (23:4), David said of the Lord…”Thou art with me.” In Psalm 46 God is called an ever-present help. In the New Testament, Jesus reminded His disciples of the same thing…”I am with you always (Matthew 28:20).” The writer of Hebrews (13:5) wrote that God “will never leave us or forsake us.” And here in Psalm 139 we hear it yet again in verses 7-12 — Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you). God wants us to know that He has no plans to leave us. Where we go, He goes. There is simply no place where we can be that does not include the presence of God. Now think about that. Wherever you find yourself in life, you are never alone. God is always with you. Even if you were lying in the grave (Sheol – the place of the dead) or ascended to heaven, God remains with you. I have to confess that this truth is one I think about and meditate on constantly. Probably like most of you, I have felt very alone at different times. But to know that my feelings don’t align with reality makes a great difference in how I face hurts and pains.  Illustration: I remember when Jeremiah and Jordan were very young and we took them on a tour of a large underground cave. At one point, the guide had the lights turned off to show us just how dark it really is a few hundred feet below the surface. At the moment the lights went out, Jeremiah grabbed my hand and held on for dear life. He endured the ten seconds of pitch black because he knew I was there with him, keeping him safe!  Never forget that God is always with us doing the same thing.

God made us (Psalm 139:13-16 — For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them). We are God’s handiwork. He has made us just as we are and the Bible says two things about His creative effort.

  • We are fearfully made. This statement deals with our attitude toward the Creator. In other words, the knowledge that God fashioned us in our mother’s wombs should cause us to revere (show deep respect for) God. After all, we’re accountable to Him for our lives. If we live by faith in Him and walk in the power of the Spirit, God is pleased with us. If we turn from the Lord and go our own self-centered way, God is displeased and will discipline us so that we can learn to submit to Him. Illustration: So the purpose of our fear of God is to drive us in the direction of holiness. When I was a kid, I feared my dad when I did wrong because I knew that he was an effect disciplinarian who wanted me to learn to do what was right.
  • We are wonderfully made. This statement deals with our attitude toward His creation. God’s work in making us is truly marvelous! To deny this is to criticize Him. Now I’m sure all of us have some feature we don’t like about ourselves. But perhaps we need to learn to think about it another way. One of the things that makes us so valuable is that there is not another person just like us. We are unique in our personalities and looks. Imagine if we all looked and acted the same. What a boring place this world would be. God made you who you are and then He stood back and said, “You are wonderfully made.” For any of us to think otherwise, is to call into question the creative expertise of our God in heaven. Application: Illustration: I recently read that the first full-length animated movie was made in 1937 by Walt Disney. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs won him an honorary Academy Award which featured a large Oscar with seven smaller ones next to it. What was so remarkable about the movie? It is actually made up of over one million hand drawn pictures each of which appears on the screen for 1/24th of a second. That’s a lot of special effort for a 90 minute children’s movie! That’s what it took to make the first full-length animated picture. I promise you God put more creativity and imagination into making you than Disney did into his pictures. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

God loves us (Psalm 139:17-18 — How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you). I have a question for you. How do you know what is important to someone? The answer is…by the value you place upon something. We have places to live, clothes on our back and food in our cupboards, but few people would argue that we love these things more than our families and friends. We place a much higher value on them because things can be replaced, but not people. Now get this: God thinks about us so much because He loves us with an everlasting love. Someone has said, “You cannot make God love you and you cannot make God stop loving you. He loves you by His choice.” Application: The One who knows you the best and is with you always, loves you the most. We tend to be preoccupied with those things that are most important to us. God, it turns out, is preoccupied with us! We are never out of His thoughts.

God sanctifies us — sets us apart — (Psalm 139:19-24 — Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting). Is it just me or do these words seem out of place to you too? After sharing that God knows us completely, is with us always, made us fearfully and wonderfully and loves us unconditionally, the Psalmist goes in a completely different direction. Because of what seems like a very stark transition, some people believe that this portion of text actually belongs to another Psalm. I don’t agree. It seems more likely to me that the psalmist was reflecting on the fact that God searches the hearts of people, and knows all their conduct. This includes every act of rebellion that we commit. People who are out of fellowship with Him have no joy or peace and, if they continue in their sin, are in danger of His righteous judgment. That’s why the David ended Psalm 139 with a genuine plea that God would expose any offense in his life. He wanted to enjoy sweet fellowship with God and would let nothing get in his way! Application: Some people wonder how the conviction of sin can be the actions of a loving God, especially since it makes us feel so bad inside. The answer is very simple. God knows that the best possible life is the one where we are in an intimate relationship with Him, walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. Sin breaks our fellowship with God and must be confessed and repented of if we’re going to have real joy and be filled with the kind of love that cares for our neighbors. So his prayer is actually one that we should all pray. Lord, If there’s anything in my life that would keep me from enjoying my relationship with you, please bring it to my attention and I’ll deal with it according to Your Word. Illustration: Did you know that there is a Christian version of the famous story written by Charles Dickens…a Christmas Carol? It’s a musical called The Gospel According to Scrooge. Several of us acted in that show and if we didn’t know the story well before it started, we do now. You may remember that Ebinezer Scrooge loves only money and hates everyone else, including himself. In the Christian version, the emptiness of his self-centered soul is exposed and he’s driven to confession, repentance and the grace of God. Of course, it’s the turning point in the musical with the audience witnessing a complete transformation of Scrooge. Just as a side note, in one of our performances, the young man who played Scrooge was wearing a wig that made him appear to be bald. After, he gave his life to Christ, he was celebrating that he was a new man. He changed out of his bedclothes, took off his head stocking and unfortunately, his wig came with it. Not missing a beat, he said, “I’m completely changed! Why, I even have new hair!” The audience roared and cheered. And after Scrooge decided to follow Christ, what’s the first thing he did? He started being a loving neighbor by giving away his money to those in need including the family of Bob Cratchet. That’s the peculiar thing about God’s judgment. When we realize we’re up against it, the wise and sensible response is to avoid it by receiving His mercy and kindness and repenting of our sin. That’s what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 2:4,  “God’s kindness leads us to repentance.”

Application: If you want to love your neighbor, you must first love yourself. Now you can base your own sense of worth on the stuff of the world (appearance, possessions, personality, power etc), but I’ll warn you…it’s all passing away. And it you choose to find your value as a person in those things, you can count on being disappointed. On the other hand, you can put your trust in the eternal truths of God’s Word. You can recognize that you are so important to Him because God knows you, is with you, created you, loves you and sanctifies you. I have spent the past forty or so years of my life, coming to grips with these unchanging spiritual realities. As God has transformed my mind, I no longer accept the lies of the enemy about my value as a person. I admit it has taken awhile, but today I really trust in His eternal truths. And guess what? Now that He has satisfied that longing in my life, I’m free to minister to others without thinking about anything coming back to me in return. Let me encourage you, this weekend, to spend some time meditating on how the Lord feels about you and see if it doesn’t increase your ability to love your neighbors.

 Conclusion: Scientists have tried to determine that value of a human life. In an article published by the British science magazine New Scientist, they noted the following thoughts:

  • In wrongful death lawsuits, juries and judges decide what amount should be paid in each case. For the overwhelming majority of cases, there is no actual value placed on the deceased person’s life. As one legal expert notes, “There’s damages for pain and suffering before you die, there’s damages for loss of income to your family after you die. But for the life itself that was lost, it’s worth nothing.”
  • The families of US soldiers who die on active duty receive between $250,000 and $800,000.
  • The US government paid $10,000 to the family of a brother and sister mistakenly shot and killed at a checkpoint in Iraq.
  • The total value of the basic elements in the human body (carbon, calcium, iron etc.) for a 175-pound man: $118,000.
  • The largest life insurance policy ever purchased in the US was by a Silicon Valley billionaire. Apparently his life was valued at $201 million.
  • Cost per day to protect the lives of the two recent presidential candidates: $40,000.

In the minds of men, it seems that it’s pretty difficult to pin down the value of the life of one person. But, what if God were to give His answer to the question? What do you think He would say? I mean, how much are you…a person he knows completely, who is always under His watchful eye, whom He formed in your mother’s womb, who loves you unconditionally and sanctifies you every day, worth? The answer: You’re priceless! If you can wrap your mind around that, you will find the deep longings of your soul satisfied in Him and be free to love your neighbor.