I want to begin this post with a little bit of scripture:
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, 34 and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 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.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Here we have the classic parable of the good Samaritan. I’m sure most of my readers are quite familiar with it. My purpose in mentioning this parable is to examine the lawyer.
You see, the lawyer asks two questions. The first one is good, and I think, honest. The second question is an entirely different matter, however.
When the lawyer asked Jesus “who is my neighbor?”, what do we think his purpose was?
Was the lawyer trying to ensure that he lived out God’s law to the fullest? Did he ask the question ensure he didn’t miss anyone?
Of course not. Scripture tells us that he was looking to justify himself. The lawyer wasn’t asking Jesus that question in order to get what I suppose you could call an “expansive” answer. Rather, the lawyer was trying to use whatever criteria that Jesus mentioned in order to limit those whom he would treat as a neighbor. He didn’t want lots of neighbors, he wanted as few of them as possible. Hence the question.
His goal was to restrict the amount of love he had to show his fellow man. In other words, the lawyer wanted to be miserly with love. And he was counting on Jesus to help him out with this (boy was he in for a surprise).
In short, the lawyer’s heart wasn’t in the right place from the very beginning. And so his question was wrong from the very beginning. A better question, rather than “And who is my neighbor?”, would have been “How can I live out the law to the fullest?” Such a question comes from a heart that is aligned to God.
Whenever we ask a question which concerns living out our faith, we always need to ask it when our heart is in the right place. If God is not first and foremost there- if serving and loving him totally is not our aim and purpose- then our endeavor is corrupt from the start. Whatever comes of it will invariably be twisted in some way.
I mention all of this because Deep Strength has a couple of recent posts concerning submission in marriage: The problems with intelligent submission being the first, and Wifely submission is easy being the second. Both of these posts draw as their origin a simple enough question: “When should I obey my husband?”
It is my belief that this particular question, just like the question of the lawyer, comes from the wrong place in the heart (perhaps intentionally, perhaps unintentionally) . Its purpose is not “How can I live out the law to the fullest?” Rather, the purpose is to limit obedience, to limit that which must be rendered to another. Much in the same way that the lawyer wanted to limit how much love he had to render to his fellow man.
A better question, one arising from a heart aligned with God, would be more along these lines: “Which action now available to me would be most pleasing to God?” Otherwise stated, “What action would be most loving?”