Who Is My Neighbor, Really?

The function of “ministry” where it takes place in today’s world can be misunderstood and even taught in a warped way. Not understanding it clearly can also hinder us from identifying our neighbor, whom we are told to love.

There is a well-known story Jesus told in the New Testament about a Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). The story goes that a local man who had been robbed and beaten to unconsciousness was down on the side of a road. His seemingly lifeless body was noticed by two men who were passing by. First came a religious teacher and after him a leader from a well-known local congregation. They were fellow citizens of this beaten man and maybe had seen him at one of the local church meetings. Who knows, they could have been headed to a religious meeting of some sort when they saw this guy beaten up, wounded, and helpless. The religious teacher figured that this man probably was in this situation because he got what he deserved and walked passed him. The religious leader contemplated, “If I help this messy, beat up guy it could very well hinder me from attending a more important spiritual matter at the religious event I am heading to.” So he too chose to pass by this needy man. Finally, a third man (a Samaritan), who was not well-liked by the locals, saw the man and helped him. He cared for and dressed his wounds and took him to a hotel where he paid the owner to take care of him until he was well again.

In no uncertain terms Jesus uses this story to correct any misguided view of ministry. First, he points out the gross inconsistency of how we can claim to be spiritual or Spirit led, while missing identifying our neighbors and the opportunity to show them God’s love. Like these two religious men, we could neglect to see how an unexpected circumstance of an injured man could be God’s agenda for ministry. Are we aware of and recognize the people around us, who are beaten up by sin and darkness, and that we are called to minister in such a way? Could we become so focused on church functions and mission activities, like the two who passed by, that we become blinded from seeing God’s appointments for ministry right around us in our workplace? Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we somehow think that ministry takes place only in special places outside of our regular activities, like our work, it falls short from God’s idea of it.

Ministry in the workplace occurs when Christians see the broken and messy lives of people as ministry opportunities “in disguise”. Like the Good Samaritan, we are called to show our concern for their condition and, when appropriate, get involved with helping in their recovery. Of course, only God can forgive and restore people. However, He wants to use us as His instruments in the process.

Once, when Jesus was walking with His disciples, He observed a crowd of people. He was greatly moved by this crowd and told His disciples that these people are like wandering sheep without a shepherd to guide them. What about you? Do the people at your workplace, with all their problems and troubles, move you to have compassion on them, or do you choose to ignore them and be indifferent to their needs? These people, who God has placed around us, are our neighbors, and we are instructed to love them as ourselves.