Great Themes of the Bible (#24b - Loving One Another)

"We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

Practically everyone knows something of the mystique of Mount Everest the world's tallest mountain. Its peak stands 29,028 feet above sea level in the Himalayas on the border of Nepal and Tibet. It reaches so high into the heavens that, once near the top, even the strongest and fittest of experienced climbers report having to breathe three times from their oxygen tanks for every step they take! The terrain is so dangerous that a single misstep on its 35-degree slope of frozen debris can mean a slide and fall of some 9,000 feet.

The fascination is difficult to explain but very real nonetheless. The most famous explanation is still the one from George Mallory who perished there in 1924 and whose frozen body was found 2,000 feet from the peak in 1999. When asked why he wanted to scale the mountain, he said, "Because it's there."

Letting Others Die

In what is still referred to as the Mount Everest Disaster, a dozen would-be climbers died there in May 1996.[1] One of the most distressing things that later emerged from that event was that two Japanese climbers trying to reach the summit deliberately bypassed three injured, starving, and freezing members of that ill-fated party without stopping to render aid. When challenged about their failure to help, one of the men said, "We were too tired to help. Above 8,000 meters [26,000 feet] is not a place where people can afford morality."

James Edwards had told that story several times in his own preaching and teaching "to illustrate the true face of egoistic ethics, base and unjustifiable and doubly so in the mountains, where the dangers inherent in climbing should make all climbers their brothers' keepers." Afterwards, however, Edwards had a similar experience.

A few years later, while leading a college study tour to the Middle East, I was hiking up Mount Sinai in the darkness before dawn in order to be on the summit at sunrise. The hike up 7,500-foot Mount Sinai is tame in comparison to Mount Everest, where oxygen deprivation impairs physical exertion and judgment itself. As my students and I neared the top of Mount Sinai we were passed by two Bedouins carrying a man down the mountain. The man was unconscious. His sporadic breathing, rattled and gurgling, indicated he was in critical condition. He was, I suspected, suffering from pulmonary edema, a malady of mountaineering caused by ascending too rapidly. Pulmonary edema is fatal unless the climber affected is taken rapidly to a lower altitude. For a brief moment I considered halting my ascent and helping the Bedouins carry the man down the mountain. But my desire to make it to the top checked my impulse. Without further thought, I gave one of the Bedouins my flashlight and continued upward. They seem to be doing all right by themselves, I assured my uneasy conscience.

The sunrise from the summit was glorious, but it was overshadowed by what transpired on the way down. Not far below the place where we had passed the Bedouins, a figure draped with a blanket was lying on the ground. Two shoes protruded from under the blanket. The man carried by the Bedouins was dead. Whether he died while being carried down, or was put down and died, I do not know. I do know, however, that every step down the mountain smote my conscience. What I had found so loathsome in the two Japanese climbers on Everest had been essentially repeated in my own action on Mount Sinai.[2]
Have you ever had similar feelings at times, after you had turned your eyes away from a painful situation? I have! It's the Parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Luke 10:25-37) all over again. Will I stop, render aid, put the victim on my donkey, and get him to a safer place? Or do I pass by on the other side of the road?

It will hardly do for us to say that there are government programs to take care of those things today. You can't be my conscience, and I can't be yours. I can't love your neighbor for you, and you can't obey the Second Commandment for me. And with gratitude for every government program that actually gets help to hurting people, the government can't be the church for us any more than the church can take over the reins of government.

Thank You for Your Generosity

You are the most generous and kindhearted people I know on God's Earth. You respond to every worthy appeal put to you for families within our church, for people in our community whom we don't know, for children in Russia who are dying of leukemia. And Harvest Sunday is one of my favorite Lord's Days every year. You bring hundreds of pounds and thousands of dollars worth of food here personally for distribution to some of Nashville's poorest families. Thank you!

God's love in a believer's heart shrivels up and dies, if that believer doesn't learn to pass that love along to others. That is what today's text says. Loving others is a proof that you have "passed from death to life" from self-centeredness to self- forgetfulness, from selfishness to generosity, from Satan's rule to God's.

Today, tomorrow, and Tuesday, somewhere around 600 families will be supplied with a great Thanksgiving Day dinner. There will be no strings attached. A good percentage of the people who receive the food won't know who provided it. But somebody in the group is thinking today about how grim life is, how God has turned away from her, or that nobody cares about him. And you will have spoken a positive word of kindness, hope, and love that was desperately needed in that life.

Thank God for your love for others. Thank God for his gifts that allow most of us to be providers rather than recipients this year. Thank God for the kind spirit in your hearts that lets you reach beyond yourselves to others in Christ's name. And thank God for days like this that remind us to love not just with speeches and prayers but with actions and in truth.

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[1] See Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster (New York: Villard Books, 1997).

[2] James R. Edwards, The Divine Intruder (Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing, 2000), pp. 103-104.

Audio - Rubel Shelly | Audio - John York

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