the weblog of Alan Knox

Do we want to be associated with a Samaritan?

Posted by on May 2, 2007 in love | 18 comments

The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God. The second greatest commandment, which is like the first, is to love your neighbor as yourself. According to Jesus, the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments: love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).

But he [a lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37 ESV)

This is a sweet, little story that we tell to our children in order to motivate them to take care of people. But, as I was thinking through some of the comments to my post “All people will know that you are my disciples…“, this parable kept coming to mind. Specifically, I wondered, “Why would Jesus choose a Samaritan to be the good example?”

Yes, I know the standard answers: Samaritans and Jews did not get along with one another, so the Samaritan demonstrated love to someone who he was not expected to love. (Notice, for example, that the “lawyer” even refused to speak the name “Samaritan” instead calling the man “the one who showed him mercy”.) This is a great lesson. But, is that the extent of Jesus’ lesson?

Who were the Samaritans? This is how the wikipedia article on the Samaritans begins:

The Samaritans (Hebrew: שומרונים), known in the Talmud as Kuthim, are an ethnic group of the Levant. Ethnically, they are descended from a group of inhabitants that have connections to ancient Samaria from the beginning of the Babylonian Exile up to the beginning of the Christian era. The Samaritans, however, derive their name not from this geographical designation, but rather from the term שַמֶרִים (Shamerim), “keepers [of the law]”. Religiously, they are the adherents to Samaritanism, a religion based on the Torah. Samaritans claim that their worship (as opposed to mainstream Judaism) is the true religion of the ancient Israelites, predating the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

Notice that the Samaritans were different from the Jews with regard to ethnicity, but they were also different from the Jews with regard to beliefs. The Jews thought that the Samaritans held to incorrect doctrine, while the Samaritans thought that the Jews held to incorrect doctrines. They were separated by both ethnicity and beliefs.

Adding this to our understanding of Jesus’ parable, I find it remarkable that Jesus used a Samaritan to demonstrate God’s true love. Emphatically, Jesus has both a Levite and a priest pass by the injured man without stopping. Remember, the Levites and the priests were responsible for guarding the true faith of Judaism. They were responsible for taking care of the temple and the sacrifices. Jesus himself seemed to agree with the Levites and priests with respect to beliefs. So, why did Jesus not use one whose “doctrine” is correct to also demonstrate God’s love? Or, to ask this in a contemporary way, why did Jesus choose a heretic as an example of love? Could it be that the Samaritan’s love demonstrates that he understands (knows) God better than the Levite or priest?

Belief is important. Teaching is important. Doctrine is important. But belief, teaching, and doctrine separate from an active demonstration of the love of God is not truly from God. Could it be that God is more pleased with “doctrinal deviants” who nevertheless love others than he is pleased with “orthodox believers” who do not show his love?

In other words, could it be that what we say we believe is not a good indication that we are disciples of Christ? Could it be that how we live is a better indication that we are followers of Christ? (I need to point out a great quote that Isabel from “amateur” shared in the comments section of a previous post: “What I say I believe is not what I believe; what I believe is what I do.” -Donald Miller.)

Now, please do not misunderstand the purpose of the post. You can call me “soft on doctrine” if you’d like, but it would only show that you don’t know me. I am not suggesting that we stop studying Scripture. I am not suggesting that we stop discussing the meaning of certain difficult passages. I am not suggesting that we stop developing theology. Instead, I am suggesting that these activities are worthless if we do not live what we believe at the same time.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan understood this, while neither the Levite nor the priest understood it. Perhaps it is time for us to associate with the Samaritan – who correctly demonstrated God’s love – instead of the Levite and priest – who only had a correct system of beliefs without demonstrating God’s love.


18 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-2-2007

    I can’t help, when reading this excellent post, to think of how many times I have seen a particular group of people (who many would label as heretics) referred to in this type of manner:

    “They make great neighbors, and even do a better job than most Christians of living a life that shows love to others.”

    But comments like that are always followed with “but…” and the heresy is revealed as the reason why we can just blow these others off and make ourselves feel better about the “truth” we have.

    I never saw the story Jesus told in terms of doctrinal differences, so I think this post is helping me see it in a different light.

    Thanks, Alan. I appreciate it very much!

  2. 5-2-2007

    Alan,

    This was a great post. Thanks for the work on your part, especially the section on the Samaritans.

    I know that we both care about doctrine and trying to be as biblical as possible in belief and practice. We both know it honors God when we keep His word.

    However, your post got me thinking about those Christians in South Asia who I met who could not read. Their only access to the scriptures was what they were being taught. They would probably not care about or understand some of the more minute theological details we sometimes discuss. They do, however, seem to understand the concept of love.

    This is not to say that their churches are free from sin, or that they are living perfect Christian lives. I just want to point out that those who are saved all know that they should love one another, even if they cannot read.

    I do not have the numbers, but I would bet that over 50% of the population of Christians in the world cannot read. Will God care if their doctrine is not perfect in every point? I’m not sure. Will He care if they do not love their neighbor? I think we can be certain of that.

  3. 5-2-2007

    Excelentisimo post! :)

    The way we talk about this is our own ministry is to say that what matters, is not how much one knows of the Gospel, but how much one OBEYS and lives what they know of the Gospel.

    If a new believer knows ten things about the Gospel of Christ and is living eight of those, that person is more mature in their faith than someone like me who might know 100 things, and only living 15 of them.

    There is so much good quotable phrases from this post, but one of them has to be, “Perhaps it is time for us to associate with the Samaritan – who correctly demonstrated God’s love – instead of the Levite and priest – who only had a correct system of beliefs without demonstrating God’s love.” As I read so many of the blogs out there who are defending a belief system, I would love to quote this phrase to them. Jesus himself said at the end of the “Good Samaritan”, GO AND DO LIKEWISE! It is a command of our Lord.

  4. 5-2-2007

    Alan, you’re right, this post does fall in sink with mine. Well, maybe you said it a lot better. Certainly, let us love one another and others the way that Jesus does. I believe that REAL correct belief leads to real love. That ‘correct belief’ is seen as a million miles from being loving only proves how incorrect it actually is.

  5. 5-2-2007

    Alan, great post… definitely not something I realized about the Samaritans and it is an important part of the story.

    I also wanted to say that you make a point to put up a defense in preparation for questions/attacks about not being “soft” on doctrine… I understand why you do that, but I want to raise my recent post’s question again… what is doctrine? What if I felt like you were being strong on doctrine by emphasizing relationship, intimacy, love, unity, reconciliation, good works and the like? What if the “doctrine” of Jesus that we are to keep sound and defend is exactly that???? I think you are defending unnecessarily. Yes, we agree that we must be advocates of the Word and its principles.. and I am seeing more and more that God’s written Word is a revelation of His relational character more than a list of theological theories and do’s and don’ts…

    And this is why it doesn’t matter if you can read. This is why it doesn’t matter if you are disabled. This is why it doesn’t matter except that we come to the Father, the Abba, our daddy, our papa, as a child and let Him reveal more and more of Himself to us.

  6. 5-2-2007

    Thank you! Excellent post and perspective! As we carry out our actions of love, God knows our heart and whether it is a true act of love or just good works. I pray that I will be like the Samaritan, both in my actions and in my heart.
    Father, give me a pure and loving heart.

    Lk6:44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. :45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart.
    Heb4:12 For the Word of God is living and active. ..It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

  7. 5-2-2007

    Steve,

    For some reason, I knew you would drop the M-word. Honestly, we should ask ourselves why certain “cults” are known for living like Christ more than certain “orthodox” groups.

    Eric,

    I appreciate this example from South Asia. Perhaps “car[ing] about or understand[ing] some of the more minute theological details we sometimes discuss” is more of a hindrance, obstacle, or distraction than it is helpful. I’m trying to learn to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” more than I discuss those minute details… I’m still learning though.

    Guy,

    Thank you for the encouraging words! I agree that Jesus commands us to “Go and do likewise”.

    Strider,

    I don’t think I said it better. I love your narrative presentations.

    Bryan,

    I agree that doctrine includes both right thinking and right actions. I used “doctrine” in the sense that I usually hear it used (i.e., doctrine = beliefs). I do not think Scripture makes this same distinction.

    Mary,

    Great prayer! “Father, give me a pure and loving heart”. I also appreciate the Scripture that you added to this discussion.

    -Alan

  8. 5-2-2007

    Awwww, c’mon. I didn’t use “the M-word”! ;)

  9. 5-2-2007

    Alan,

    Now I know why I really appreciate your blog!

    Christians being SEEN to be whom they SAY they are.

  10. 5-2-2007

    Steve,

    You might not have used the M-word, but you thought it!

    Aussie John,

    You are always very encouraging. Your statement sounds like Jesus': “They will see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.”

    -Alan

  11. 5-2-2007

    I know you’re picking on me, and I’m finding a lot of humor in it. But just as you put a disclaimer in your post, I want to make sure to give a preemptive disclaimer here, too.

    I do not want anyone to ever get the impression that I’m a Mormon apologist. I see several things in the Mormon church that don’t sit well with me.

    Ironically, however, the things my Mormon friends and I have disagreed the most on are the same things that my institutional church friends and I disagree on, not doctrine! Strange, huh?

    Anyway, your point earlier was right along with my thinking. I think we need to consider why those who are considered by most to be outside the bounds of “true Christianity” are practicing the “true religion” that the NT talks about.

  12. 5-2-2007

    Steve,

    I’m glad that you cleared things up for those who do not know you. I was thinking about some of our inside jokes a few days ago when we were “rebuking” Theron. Someone stumbling on his site would probably wonder what was going on.

    Anyway, yes, we should be concerned when we question someone’s beliefs, but they are living more like Christ than we are.

    -Alan

  13. 5-9-2007

    Alan,
    I was recommended to read your blog by Dr. Black–specifically, to read this post. I must say that I’ve been thinking about it for days now, and I must agree that this is needed for the church today. I just had one question.

    The Bible paints a pretty harsh picture about false teachers. What are we to do with them? Is there a line between “Samaritans” and “false teachers?” I think the question is more indepth than that (in my head, at least), but I’m sure you understand what I’m asking. I’m certainly not arguing with you–in fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m in agreement with you. Just wanted to know your thoughts.

    Thanks
    Alan Reynolds

  14. 5-10-2007

    Alan,

    Thanks for the response. I had the same basic feeling on the issue, that it seems as though false teachers, as described in Scripture, have twisted motives. Motives can just be so difficult, if not impossible, to determine. Nonetheless, I agree with you on this–and somehow I’ve never seen it or thought about it before.

    I grew up conservative, and in college I worked in a very mainstream (moderate) church. Since I left, I’ve been negative about that particular denomination as a whole. Needless to say, I have been convicted by this post. Quite possibly one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read.

    Alan

  15. 5-10-2007

    Alan,

    As I think about how I should treat other brothers and sisters in Christ, and as I think about things I have thought and said about brothers and sisters who do not believe exactly like me, I am also convicted. God is changing me (and others) in this aspect.

    -Alan

  16. 5-18-2011

    Alan,

    Sounds like a little summary of the book of Job. Job’s friends were quick to demonstrate their orthodoxy and orthopraxy, yet they talked about God rather than to Him. Job on the other hand was willing to sit and talk to God, and God was pleased.

    By the way, facebook won’t let me “like” Miranda’s photo. :-)

    Brian

  17. 11-9-2011

    Love this.

    BTW, I thought it was Dallas Willard who said that, “What I believe isn’t what I SAY I believe, it’s what I do,” — or something to that effect.

  18. 11-9-2011

    This is a nice post. When ever I think of the parable of the good Samaritan I think of loving the “unlovables”. Who ever someone might scornfully pass by or people who’s lives would other wise not cross if one or both were not other wise compromised.

    I am reminded that for some of us who have friends outside the Christian bubble or did not grow up in it, unbelievers or “(Christian) cult members” can be some of the nicest most moral seeming people anyone could ever run across.

    Their doctrine and theology might not be on point but they know how to treat people.

    My daughter just met some Mormons who were paying the rent of a single mom we know. That impressed my daughter. No Christian church we have been a part of as we struggled to secure housing in the last few years has offered to do that for us.

    Acts of love and service melt hearts. It does not matter what else people have experienced or believe they know when they are being ministered to from the heart of God and it draws them into Him.

    The Body of Christ needs to get out of it’s own way and just be real with people. Build kingdom relationships. When we walk in the spirit along side someone who does not agree with us our lives convict and minister. It is not about surrounding ourselves with those who already think like us or making people see things our way before we deem them worthy of fellowship.